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Shevat: Strong Like a Tree

The passing traveler gazes in awe at the strong arms upraised to the heavens.  Back straight and wide, limbs long and sturdy, skin tough with age: there is wisdom etched into every line.  Little wonder we are compared to the trees of the fields. Ever growing, never stagnant, trees are like humans in their continuous search for meaning - for bigger and better and stronger than before.  Rooted firmly in the ground, with arms in the sky, they reflect the dichotomy of our existence; an earthly soul tied to a physical body; mortals who walk this world and who yet nevertheless reach for the heavens.  Indeed, with a lifetime spanning centuries, the tree almost approaches the immortality our souls are fashioned from.  

‘Tree, oh tree, with what should I bless you?’ asks the now sated traveler, having feasted on the tree’s luscious fruits and rested in its cool shade.  ‘Should I bless you that your fruit be sweet? Your fruit is already sweet.  Should I bless you that your shade be plentiful? Your shade is plentiful. That a spring of water should run beneath you? A spring of water runs beneath you.  There is one thing, though, with which I can bless you. May it be G-d’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds should be like you…’ (Ta’anit 5b)

A healthy tree may be hard to differentiate from an unhealthy one.  It may appear to be strong and steady, even whilst the rot twines through its limbs.  The most telling parameter of success for a tree is when it produces offshoots which are just as healthy and strong as itself, when all of its seeds become trees just like itself.  

We too, have a great wish that our children should be like us, and instinctively we measure our success by theirs.  We invest decades of hard work into our children and our youth, and we hope that they too will grow up to be the kind, mature, loving adults that we are.  We set them up to succeed in the lofty goals and aspirations that we dreamt of for ourselves, and we hope that they will not deviate far from the path that we have set them upon.  We pray to merit that they will know G-d as we know G-d, that they will walk in His light, that His Hand will hold theirs.

Yet the truth of this success lies within us.  If we want our children to be strong and healthy and to embrace their Jewish identity, then we ourselves must be strong and healthy.  We ourselves must embrace and celebrate our Judaism and our commitment to it.  We must harken to the constant quest inside of us which calls us to do bigger and better every moment of the day, to break through barriers and self-imposed limitations.  For the opposite of growth is death.  We must stand tall and strong in our beliefs.  For those who sway in the winds of others are never at peace, never calm.  

We do not have to tell our children how to live their lives.  For their roots come from us.  All we need to do is nurture it within ourselves, and our growth will shape the future of our children and the future of our world.

On the 15th of this month, we celebrate the birthday of the trees as they begin their yearly rebirth.  For growth is always a celebration.  We too, are growing, even though it may yet be unquantifiable, invisible.  This growth too, should be celebrated.   And when we grow spiritually, we are tapping into the tree which we ourselves are rooted in; we are connecting to life itself.  For ‘Etz Chaim Hi’ – ‘The Torah is a tree of life’, promising immortality to all those who cling to it.  ‘Its ways are sweet, and all of its paths bring peace.’  Indeed, what more could we ask for ourselves and our children?


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