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What We Can Learn From Trees

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Tu B’Shevat is not just “another day.” It’s the Rosh Hashanah for trees, one of four roshei hashanah that occur in the Jewish calendar year (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1).

What’s so important about a New Year for Trees?

We live in a world filled with dark foreboding, ominous news and difficult tests. There is little obvious basis for hope, but we Jews always live with hope.

Where is the hope?

“Days are coming when Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill the face of the earth like fruit” (Yeshayah 27:6/Haftarah Parshas Shemos).

Why is Redemption compared to the growth of a tree?

Even the mightiest tree arises from a tiny seed, invisible not only because of its size but because it is buried underground. No one but Hashem knows it exists. It draws nutrients from the earth and sustenance from the rain that seeps downward. Perhaps the seed will not survive; it may be eaten by an animal or simply be too weak to flourish.

But some seeds do survive. They put out tiny, threadlike filaments, which in turn absorb more nutrients. All this takes place in darkness under the earth. And the tiny plant grows. When the air begins to warm in the world above, those filaments poke tiny tendrils above the soil. A tender shoot creeps up through the surface of the earth and absorbs the warmth of the sun. Now additional strength flows into the plant and the root branches out below, absorbing more moisture and nutrition, pushing deeper and becoming stronger.

Above and below, the plant grows, the tendrils becoming thicker and longer. As the days warm, the shoot grows more quickly.  Soon it becomes visible. As it reaches upward, it strengthens itself below, its roots thickening and lengthening to support the growth toward the sun.

What does this have to do with us?

“A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow tall.  Planted in the house of Hashem, in the courtyards of our God they will flourish. They will be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be – to declare that Hashem is just, my Rock in Whom there is no wrong” (Tehillim 92).

Plants are not all alike. Grass is different from a tree, as we see from the same Psalm: “When the wicked bloom like grass and all the doers of iniquity blossom, it is to destroy them till eternity….” If our roots are deep and our head is trying to reach toward Shamayim, we will be strong and stable, but if our roots are shallow like grass and our head is near the earth, we may be vulnerable on the Day of the Great Mowing.

Let’s try to learn from the life of a tree. We live in a loud, brash world. It is considered commendable to be aggressive, to prevail over others, to be “number one,” to push ahead, whether on the highway or in business, where the motto is, “kill the competition.” Look at football, for example, where the idea is to push your opponent down and out of your way.

This culture is totally opposed to the culture of Torah. We say every morning (Mishlei 3:19), “What are we? What is our life?…What is our strength? What is our insight?…Are not all heroes as nothing before You, the famous as if they never existed, the wise as if devoid of wisdom and the perceptive as if devoid of intelligence? For…the days of their lives are empty before You. The preeminence of man over beast is non-existent, for all is vain….”

We can learn this from the growth of a tree. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork. Day following day…and night following night bespeaks wisdom. There is no speech and there are no words; their sound is unheard” (Tehillim 19).

Everything holy is hidden.

Hashem is supremely hidden. By definition, He is not perceptible. Those who try to emulate Hashem also try to emulate His invisibility. For this reason, a tzaddik is a hidden person, always trying to flee from recognition. He does not need recognition; his status and stature are from Hashem. “Do not seek greatness for yourself and do not covet honor” (Pirkei Avos 6:5).

The more kedushah, the more hidden.

“Indeed, He will hide me in His shelter on the day of evil; He will conceal me in the concealment of His tent” (Tehillim 27).

The Aron HaKodesh was hidden even when the Beis HaMikdosh was standing, let alone today, when no one knows where it is. Only one person, the kohen gadol, entered the Kodesh HaKadoshim on only one day of the year, Yom Kippur, and that person and that day were enwrapped in sanctity.

About the Author: Roy Neuberger's latest book, "2020 Vision" (Feldheim), is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Russian with a Georgian edition in preparation. An e-edition is available at www.feldheim.com. Roy is also the author of "From Central Park to Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul" (available in English, Hebrew and Russian, Georgian edition in preparation) and "Worldstorm." Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com. Roy and his wife speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. He can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com or through his websites www.tosinai.com and www.2020visionthebook.com.


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