Harav Ahron Halevi Soloveichik

Parshas Shoftim

Today’s sedrah remarks that “Man is like the tree of the field.” We even celebrate a New Year of Trees. What can a Torah Jew learn from this?

Trees, in fact almost all growing things, are comprised of three parts: roots, body and fruit. Roots are generally concealed underground. They are nonetheless a major source of nourishment for the tree. Besides, the roots determine the strength of the tree. When the roots are deep and wide the tree can withstand storm-winds. If the roots are shallow, any wind may topple the tree, no matter how sturdy the trunk.

The greatest bulk of the tree is the body - trunk, branches and leaves. These are the tree proper. The body constantly renews itself and grows throughout its life. Fresh leaves, new branches, increased girth - these are so much part of the tree that its age can be reckoned by the rings in the trunk. But necessary as the roots are, impressive as the size of the trunk and thickness of the foliage, the perfection and perpetuation of the tree lies in its fruit. Only through its seeds can new trees spring forth, far from the parent tree and long after the parent’s tree’s life.

“Man is like the tree of the field” in a spiritual sense - for that is the concern of the Torah. What are the three divisions in the Jew’s Torah life?

Roots: The source of nourishment of the soul is emunah, faith. Hidden, unobtrusive, unarticulated, it binds the Jew to his source. He may obtain profound wisdom and learning saintliness, yet his roots still continue to nourish him, to give him vitality and purpose to his Torah and mitzvos. The deeper the Torah learning and the more pervasive his mitzvah living, the more penetrating is his sense of emunah in G-d and His Torah, his awareness and closeness to his Creator.

Trunk and body: Torah demands constant growth and development. The scholar never ceases to learn, for increased wisdom is increased challenge to learn. The Jew never graduates. Observance of mitzvos increases with time too with warmer enthusiasm and appreciation. There is hiddur mitzvah, the beauty of mitzvos, going beyond the minimal, basic requirements of the mitzvos be cause love of the mitzvos creates thirst for mitzvos. All pleasure become jaded with time and age but the delights and satisfactions of Torah and mitzvos grow deeper. The growing Jew constantly adds to his store of learning, constantly refines his character and conduct. His age is measurable by his achievement. Time means growth, not merely accumulated years.

Fruit: But the fulfillment of the Jew is not in his own development nor even perfection. The Jew must make his influence felt in his home and family, in his congregation and community. He does not selfishly hoard his learning and Yiddishkeit. The learned and pious father must insure his children’s learning and mitzvah observance. “All of Israel is responsible for one another.” None of us can be isolated. We have the duty of helping and teaching others to live Torah lives. We make fruits by providing Torah schooling for children. Only then does a Jew achieve his goal, for his nourishing faith has produced a robust and growing life of Torah and mitzvos for himself and an enriched Jewish life for all whom he can reach.