Parshas Shoftim: A Tree of the Field, A Man of the World

IMG_3508 copyIn this week’s parsha, Parshas Shoftim, the Torah commands us regarding fruit trees, which may not be cut down or destroyed: כִּי-תָצוּר אֶל-עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ, לֹא-תַשְׁחִית אֶת-עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן–כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל, וְאֹתוֹ לֹא תִכְרֹת:  כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר – When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them, for from it you will eat, and you shall not cut it down; is, then, the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you? (Devarim 20:19)

The tree has many aspects and directions of growth: the bark of the tree grows upward, reaching toward the heavens as it grows; the roots grow downward, firmly entrenched in the soil; and the branches and leaves grow outward.  And the tree’s fruit sustains those who are fortunate to partake of its bounty. 

Do not cut down this source of life, sustenance and beauty. 

The words of the verse, כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, can be interpreted homiletically, and can be read as “because man is a tree of the field.”

From here we can derive an important lesson regarding the task of man in this world.  We are in the month of Elul – the time for change, growth, and the blossoming of repentance and return… The Torah reminds us that man is a tree of the field; there must always be room within man for growth and change. 

In what way is man like a tree of the field?

As the tree bark grows upward to heaven, we too must ensure that in all that we do – בְּכָל-דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ, in all your ways you shall know Him (Mishlei 3:6) – we are always growing upward toward Hashem, striving to reach ever higher heights in our avodas Hashem and actions and interactions bein adam la’Makom (actions between man and G-d).

As the tree roots grow downward, firmly entrenched in the soil around them, we too must ensure that in all that we do – עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא, לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ; וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר, it (the Torah) is a tree of life to all who hold fast to her, and those who hold on to her are fortunate (Mishlei 3:18) –  we are planting our roots, strengthening ourselves and growing deep within ourselves in our avodah bein adam la’atzmo (interactions between man and himself). 

And as the tree branches and leaves grow outward, we too must reach outward to those around us – לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ; אֶעֱשֶׂה-לּוֹ עֵזֶר, כְּנֶגְדּוֹ – It is not good for man to be alone, I will make for him a helper opposite him (Bereishis 2:18) – as we develop, enhance, and strengthen our interactions bein adam la’chavairo (interactions between man and fellow man). 

And perhaps then, when we grow upward to Hashem, downward within ourselves, and outward toward others, we will be worthy that the tree of man will remain strong against the winds of change, its fruits will be sweet and its shade pleasant. 

One Sunday morning, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l (1910-1995), gathered his students in Yeshivas Kol Torah and said, in a somber and serious tone of voice, “A terrible thing happened in my neighborhood and I must make you aware of it.”  The students gathered around in anticipation of the dire news that the gaon was about to deliver.  A hush of trepidation fell over the study hall as the gaon began to speak.

R’ Shlomo Zalman related that on Shabbos, he had seen a man dragging benches to the Shul for a seuda in honor of his son’s engagement.  The man’s son, who was walking at his side, did not so much as lift a finger to help his father.  “I could not contain my bewilderment,” the Rav told the students, “and I asked the chassan to explain why his father was doing all of the shlepping.  He proudly explained that even where there was an eruv, he himself did not carry on Shabbos and was therefore unable to lend a hand.”

“This reply enraged the Rav.  The very idea of so-called religiosity taking precedence over honoring one’s father was anathema to him… the gaon viewed this as a prime example of distorted logic.” (And From Jerusalem His Word, p.139-141)

As we journey through the powerful month of Elul, let us strive to grow up to Hashem, as we strengthen ourselves from within, all the while reaching out to those around us. 

כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה – For indeed, man is a tree of the field

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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