12 November 2015

"To Be Like A Tree"

30 Marcheshvan 5776
Rosh Chodesh Aleph

(Continued...)

Excerpt from the book The 6 Constant Mitzvos by Rabbi Yehuda Heimowitz and Rabbi Shai Markowitz..

To Be Like A Tree

Rabbi Schorr elaborates on this  theme. The Torah likens man to a tree: ...For a man is like a tree of the field (Devarim 20.19). Many homiletical interpretations have been offered to explain the comparison. Rabbi Schorr notes that the Torah does not compare man to vegetation, only to trees. The difference between the two is that vegetables must be planted anew every year, while trees produce a crop annually. But although fruit grows year after year, the tree must not be neglected. It needs pruning, digging, fertilizing and so on. So too, a person should be like a tree in that he should strive to condition himself to the point where he naturally "produces" rich spiritual crops year after year. However, he must never be content with past accomplishments. The work must be constant, the "tree" must be cared for so that its crops will continue to be luxuriant.

As Rabbi Schorr notes in another context - and which illustrates the principle expounded by the Gaon - there are many, many things that are the ratzon Hashem, the will of God, that are not under the rubric of the 613 commandments. The entire Book of Bereishis is an example. Netziv comments that the Sages refer to it as Sefer HaYashar, the Book of Uprightness, because it depicts the conduct of the Patriarchs and their servants, and serves as a demonstration of how God wants Jews to behave. Avraham prayed for the wicked people of Sodom. Yaakov behaved honorably even when dealing with the charlatan and swindler Lavan. Yosef was the exemplar of virtue even in the Egyptian hotbed of perversion. Eliezer earned extensive mention in the Torah as an example of how even the servants of the Patriarchs conducted themselves. True, there are hardly any formal commandments in Bereishis, but it is filled with the "will of God," or, as the Gaon puts it, the trunk, branches, twigs, leaves and fruits of the 613 root commandments.

Rabbeinu Tam (Sefer HaYashar) likens man in his ideal state to an inverted tree, with its roots in heaven and it's growth on earth. If man acts as God wants him to, he plants his spiritual roots in heaven, where they derive energy and nourishment from the will of God - and the result will be that his every deed will be a reflection of the will of God. But if man chooses to ignore God's will and plants his roots in the earth, everything that his tree produces will reflect the materialism of his desires.