From the Rebbe’s Torah
Humor to begin with:
I told my brother not to stand too close to the trees in our backyard.
I don't know why, but they seem shady…
The prohibition against cutting down fruit trees is taught to us in this week’s parsha. The Torah says that it’s forbidden because “man is a tree of the field.”
The Talmud asks: “Is man a tree of the field?!” Why such a blatant and outright statement?
The Talmud answers that we are comparing man to a tree of the field in this strong manner because if someone (a member of the human race — who are like “trees”) is a Torah sage who is “decent,” you should “eat from him” — meaning, let him give you his fruit and teach you Torah — and “don’t cut it down,” so to speak.
But, if he does not behave properly, it is a tree that can be “cut down” — meaning: you should not “take fruit/teachings” from him.
The Talmud offers a very specific inference from a tree — to a certain specific case. Wouldn’t it make sense that if we are simply stating, “man is a tree of the field,” there would be more of an overall connection?!
Also, it would seem that there are many objects which could serve as a metaphor for this idea, starting from other growing plants, and ending with anything which produces something else… So how does this lesson answer the question?
And so, in fact we will see how the answer of the Talmud does indeed infer a much deeper and overarching comparison between man and the “trees of the field.”
The essence of each individual is their emotions. That’s why it’s particularly hard for a kind person to be tough, and for a tough person to be kind. It’s because our emotions are tied to the innermost makeup of our soul — the nature we were created with.
Because of this, plants are used by the Torah as a metaphor for emotions. Just like emotions are tied to the innermost makeup of the soul, so are trees palpably tied to the source of their life.
Trees and plants are always connected to ground, which is their life-source. If they are cut off, they wither and die out. As opposed to people and animals, who walk around without an “extension cord,” and to remain alive, only need to eat from time to time. If you had landed from Mars and saw humans milling about, you may have thought that they live on their own power.
So plants, in general, show us what they are. They don’t hide it. They’re constantly connected.
But among plants, this applies to trees especially. Because most other plants are seasonal, and are not always around. Trees are the kind of plant which are universally present year round.
It is always around to show its connection to its source. And it is constantly connected. It’s the strongest connection which enables it to live off that connection all the time.
Back to emotions: Just like trees, emotions are connected to the deepest part of the soul. And when we work on our emotional attributes we are rectifying the deepest part of our souls.
Working on our emotions can include channeling them in a way more in line with G-d’s positive and negative commandments. It can be working on our love of G-d, through thinking more about Him. It can be to be more kind. It can be to be more accepting.
Story about bettering our treatment of others — working on our emotions:
The rabbi of Krakow, Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (1560-1640), known as “the Bach,” had a wealthy disciple whom the Bach taught to be generous with the gifts G‑d had bestowed upon him.
One day, an innkeeper complained to the Bach that someone was trying to wrest the lease of his inn for himself, offering the landowner larger sums of money. If he succeeded, the innkeeper’s livelihood would be decimated.
The Bach called for his wealthy student and shared the innkeeper’s plight. The disciple knew the landowner, and agreed to intercede to ensure he would not lease the inn to anyone else. First, however, he had to travel to the grand fair in Leipzig. Afterwards, he would head to the innkeeper’s town and attend to the matter.
The innkeeper begged him to take care of his matter first. He worried that by the time the merchant returned, he would have already lost his home and his source of income.
The wealthy man sat the distraught innkeeper down, and told him that he had to bolster his faith. “You don’t need to help G-d with your calculations,” he said. “G‑d will take care of you. Have no fear.”
When the innkeeper came home and told his wife the plan, she was completely distraught and berated her husband for letting the man delay his assistance.
In the end, however, it all turned out for the best. When the wealthy man returned from the fair, he traveled to the innkeeper’s town, spoke to the landowner, arranged for the innkeeper to retain his lease, and elicited a guarantee that the landowner would not lease the inn to anyone else for the coming ten years.
The innkeeper and his wife were relieved, overjoyed, and immensely grateful.
Many years later, the wealthy disciple passed away, predeceasing his teacher. He appeared to the Bach in a dream, and said that he wished to convey what had happened to him when he arrived in Heaven:
“After my case was heard by the Heavenly Court, I was thankfully judged favorably, and brought into Gan Eden. The aroma of Gan Eden was like nothing I had ever smelled, and all I felt was goodness.
“Suddenly, I saw an angel walking toward me. It blocked my way forward, and began to drag me back out of Gan Eden!
“I asked: ‘Who are you? And why are you taking me out of this wonderful place?’
“He said: ‘I am the angel created by your mitzvah of saving the innkeeper and his family from financial ruin. But you have no idea how many tears, how much heartbreak, and the amount of marital strife you caused by delaying your help until you got back from the fair.’
“The angel brought me back to the Heavenly Court, who ruled that I would need to wait at the gates of Gan Eden for the same amount of time I had made the innkeeper wait until I helped him.
“I wanted to convey this story to you so that others can be taught about the importance of not delaying assistance to those in need,” the wealthy man’s soul concluded.
Changing our essential emotions is hard, like a tree which is tied up with its source and will die if moved. However, with perseverance, we can change them, and when we do, it can be in an even more permanent way — just a tree can be transplanted, and then thrive in an even healthier manner.
Now we can understand why the Talmud answers the question of “is a person a tree” by answering that we should only accept knowledge from a “decent Torah scholar.” The meaning of a “decent Torah scholar” is that he is not just a scholar; rather, his intellect has affected his emotions, and he is also a good person emotionally. This is an overall message and comparison, which applies to all.
That is why the Torah says that “man is a tree of the field.” The tree symbolizes us and our emotions, and if it “gives fruit” — meaning that our emotions are proper and decent, we are the trees we should be.
Shabbat Shalom. Let’s all be fruit-giving trees.
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