The Glorious Proliferation of Trees
From the metaphysical to the metaphorical, from the mechanical to
the medicinal, trees are sources of wonder and joy, nourishment and nurture.
Metaphysically speaking, the Torah teaches that the Tree of Life was a link to
eternal existence. Metaphorically speaking, the Torah compares mankind to the
trees in the field (Devarim 20,19),
and indeed, we exist in a symbiotic relationship with them – so much so, that we
speak of ourselves as being “rooted” in reality with ideas that “bear fruit.”
In their mechanical and physical aspects, trees are no less
remarkable. Did you know that there are almost 247 billion trees of all sizes
in the United States?
That is a blessing because even a single tree produces some 260 pounds of
oxygen per year, and thus two mature trees can supply enough oxygen per year to
meet the needs of a family of four. Trees contribute to the water supply, as
well, with our national forests serving as the originating point for drinking
water used by some 3400 communities and 60 million individuals. Trees provide
shade and wind buffering that reduce annual cooling and heating costs by 2.1
billion dollars, reducing the temperature in buildings some 20 degrees in the
summer. Trees are an abundant source of raw material in the form of wood and
paper. An average family uses about 750 pounds of paper every year, and 95% of
the homes built in this country are made of wood. And these figures don’t even
begin to speak of the food that comes from trees.
A Season of Silent Celebration
These statistics bear witness to the extremely productive role
played by trees in the worldwide ecosystem, yet we celebrate their New Year
during their deepest stage of hibernation, in a still and seemingly lifeless
period in the midst of the winter when not a leaf is left to rustle or a fruit
remains to be plucked. What is it that causes us to remember the tree at the
nadir of its yearly cycle, and how can we understand human productivity in this
Indeed, lack of productivity makes many of us uncomfortable and
is particularly difficult for the “movers and shakers” – the trendsetters and
money makers – who spend their lives amidst the constant hustle and bustle of
the fast-paced metropolitan hubs.
In this, the fifth or so generation after the birth of the
“Industrial Age,” the goal has been and continues to be efficiency – cheap,
mass-produced items whose worth is measured in quantity rather than quality.
Indeed, progress in every area of life has come to be based upon that end. In
this regard, fruits are plucked before they have ripened, and all sorts of
services have been “outsourced” or computerized. The secular media mill is
expected to churn out new material each day, and therefore often settles for
banality and mediocrity in an effort to feed the voracious appetites of
readers, listeners and viewers. Children are placed in a school setting which
expects students to learn more and faster by bombarding them with an enormous amount
of facts and figures, often at the expense of quality, sensibility and balance.
Growing up in this world, it is no surprise that many feel very
uncomfortable when faced with periods of dormancy – times when life seems
unproductive, torpid and inactive, and when creativity and inspiration are on
the wane. Therefore, it behooves us to try to get to the root of the matter and
then make concerted efforts to reach up to pluck potentially fruitful insights
that can excite our taste for and appreciation of those periods in our lives
that are relatively “passive” and appear less productive. Let us now discover
from the “tree of life” how to reinvigorate our own lives by learning to view
this phase of “cyclic hibernation” as an essential stage that prepares us for
the next step in our growth and renewal
Growth Beneath the Surface
Although imperceptible to the external observer, on Tu BiShevat,
the life-giving sap, hidden deep within the tree’s core, starts flowing upward,
triggering the tree’s awakening. Although human growth is not necessarily tied
to the seasons, we, too, undergo transformations – spiritual and psychological
restorations that occur well beneath the surface, often hidden even from
ourselves; and it is apparent that the winter months lend themselves to the
kind of solitude and isolation that is conducive to contemplation and inner
As our Sages have informed us, “The greatest of blessings comes
from that which is hidden from the eye.” Nonetheless, we have been instructed
to begin proclaiming at this time the beracha
of “Shehechiyanu,” expressing thanks
and praise for this auspicious time.
If it is better to keep
this transformative process hidden while it does its work, why do we forgo the
benefits of concealment by openly declaring the greatness of this period
through our berachos? Perhaps we can
venture to say that our proclamation of gratitude and total acknowledgment of
the true Source of blessing enables us to tap into an even greater beracha of renewal and growth than does
our silence. The blessing of Shehechiyanu
acts as a catalyst, catapulting us above and outside the realm of teva (nature), and therefore, we no
longer need be concerned with remaining concealed. Now, all of our potential
mitzvos and ma’asim tovim can
unassumingly begin to be revealed, each in its ideal time and appropriate
The illusionary forces of stagnation that correspond to the depth
of winter only exist in those who don’t recognize from where the “fruit” of
their actions evolves. By binding our souls to the Creator with cords
(blessings) of praise and sincere appreciation, however, as through the beracha of Shehechiyanu, we can overcome all impediments, thereby clearly
recognizing the great value of each and every stage of our existence,
sustenance and development. A seed represents potential. Only after sprouting
and undergoing a lengthy gestation period does the seed gradually grow and
develop until reaching fruit-bearing maturity. So also do we grow and develop
in a slow and gentle unfolding from birth to adulthood. Like trees, however,
people cannot truly reach maturity until they actualize their potential by
producing luscious “fruits,” which are their mitzvos and ma’asim tovim.
Individual Place of Development
There is another insight that can deepen our understanding and
appreciation of the different stages of life. Most trees produce their fruits
after relatively few years. One notable exception, however, is the olive tree,
which does not begin to bear its highly praised and valuable fruit for many,
many years. What can we learn from this phenomenon? Perhaps it is to make us
cognizant of the fact that each person’s potential for development has a
different timetable. Assuming that we are making our best efforts, we should
never become frustrated or envious if we see our peers “succeeding” in ways
that we have not. There are early bloomers and late bloomers, but if each of us
develops our potential, we will, in the proper time and setting, merit to bear
In summary, let us approach this season of potential renewal
realizing that even during the quiet, seemingly less productive, or even
challengingly restrictive periods of our lives, there is hidden within us a
reservoir of potential spiritual influx waiting to be tapped, bringing with it
an elevating surge of renewal and inspiration. By acknowledging our belief in
the absolute governance of the compassionate Creator, we can remove the
personal impediments of imagined limitations, thereby enhancing our potential
for rejuvenation, change and growth. May we all together raise our voices in
thanks, proclaiming Shehechiyanu for
our existence, veki’yemanu for our
growth and sustenance, and vehigianu
for developing and bringing us la’zeman
hazeh – to this special moment in time.
All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia
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