Living in Malibu, we celebrate trees and the gift of nature every day. The Jewish calendar reserves one day each year, the New Year for Trees -- on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat (this year Jan. 26) -- as a time for us to contemplate our affinity with our botanical analogue and the many lessons it can teach us about our own lives.
The tree's primary components are: the roots, which anchor it to the ground and supply it with water and other nutrients; the trunk, branches and leaves which comprise its body; and the fruit, which contains the seeds by which the tree reproduces itself.
The spiritual life of us humans also includes roots, a trunk, and fruit. The roots represent faith, our source of nurture and perseverance. The trunk, branches and leaves are the body of our spiritual lives -- our intellectual, emotional and practical achievements. The fruit is our power of spiritual procreation -- the power to be a light and influence to others, to plant a seed in a friend or stranger and see it sprout, grow and bear fruit.
The roots are the least glamorous of the tree's parts -- and the most crucial. Buried underground, virtually invisible, they possess neither the majesty of the tree's body, the colorfulness of its leaves, nor the tastiness of its fruit. But without roots, a tree cannot survive. From it stems the trunk of our understanding, from which branch out our feelings, motivations and deeds.
A soul might grow a majestic trunk, numerous and wide-spreading branches, beautiful leaves and lush fruit. But these must be equaled, indeed surpassed, by its roots. Above the surface, there might be much wisdom, profundity of feeling, abundant experience, and copious achievement; but if these are not grounded and vitalized by an even greater faith and commitment to the core of our values, it is a tree without foundation, a tree doomed to collapse under its own weight.
On the other hand, a life might be blessed with only sparse knowledge, meager feeling and experience, scant achievement and little fruit. But if its roots are extensive and deep, it is a healthy tree: a tree fully in possession of what it does have; a tree with the capacity to recover from the setbacks of life; a tree with the potential to eventually grow and develop into a loftier, more beautiful and fruitful tree.
The Talmud relates, a man was traveling through the desert, hungry, thirsty and tired, when he came upon a tree bearing luscious fruit and affording plenty of shade, underneath which ran a spring of water. He ate of the fruit, drank of the water and rested beneath the shade.
When he was about to leave, he turned to the tree and said: “Tree, O tree, with what should I bless you?
“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 already plentiful. That a spring of water should run beneath you? A spring of water runs already beneath you.
“There is one thing with which I shall bless you: May it be G‑d’s will that all the trees planted from your seeds should be like you...”
Based on the teachings of the Rebbe adapted by Y. Tauber.