Various insights on the parallels between man and
"The foundation of chassidus and the root of G-dly
service . . . " begins the Mesilas Yeshorim. The
attribute of chassidus, in that context, is a
structure, and, therefore, requires a foundation, whereas
`service' is a growth, and requires roots.
Service of Hashem is a process of growth in man, but it must
begin from the root, for if there are no roots, there can be
no thriving. Whatever a man sows inside his heart, will
continue to wax throughout his lifetime. Avodas Hashem
grows and develops in a process only when there is a root
that can nurture this growth.
Along this line of thinking we can begin to understand the
concept of growth and structure with regard to child rearing
and to self improvement. If we wish a child to grow into a
Torah scholar, a man who adheres to the mitzvos, we must sow
within him the seed of Torah. This is what Chazal meant by,
"As soon as a child begins talking, his father must teach him
Torah and krias shema. What is meant by `Torah'? Says
Rav Hamnuna, `Torah tzivo lonu Moshe' (Succah 42)
(from Zeriya Uvinyon beChinuch p. 10 by HaRav Shlomo
"For man is like the tree of the field" (Devorim
20:19). Is then, man, really like a tree? Since it is
written, "For from it shall you eat, yet you shall not chop
it down," and it is also stated, "You shall destroy and chop
it down," we are puzzled. [This comes to teach that] If a
Torah scholar is upright, you shall `eat' from him and you
shall not destroy, but if not, you shall destroy and uproot
him (Taanis 7a).
Even if we cannot altogether fathom the words of the
gemora, we can understand that the scholar referred to
is a man in his prime, one who is producing fruit, in an
environment of those willing to ingest. The analogy to a tree
is apt. Why? Because producing fruit is an outgrowth of
sowing, cultivation and growth. If he is decent, it is
fitting that "You shall eat thereof and not destroy it."
Let us examine an additional source:
The gemora in Gittin (57a) tells of a custom
prevalent in Beitar: when a male child was born, the parents
planted a cedar, and when a daughter was born, they would
plant a different kind of tree. When children got married,
the respective parents would chop down their children's trees
to form their wedding canopy.
This custom seems to express this selfsame idea. Children
under the wedding canopy are at the brink of a new stage in
life, having completed the stage preceding their marriage.
This juncture is the time to utilize the plantings, the roots
which, by the very virtue of their power of growth, were able
to produce these adults from the infant boy and girl.
"For man is like the tree of the field..."
A celebrated principal of a talmud Torah in Bnei Brak
which instructs in Yiddish was once asked of what benefit
this extra language was to the beginners. Was it not too much
of a strain to teach Chumash together with a foreign
language? Superfluous, as well? The children were learning it
by rote without even understanding the meaning of the
"True," he replied, "but this is what I was taught by Maran
the Brisker Rov zt'l. He said that this method
provides a special element of holiness since it is a
transmission of the very manner in which generations upon
generations of Jews were taught Torah at the inception of
their education. This method, form and practice, in of
itself, is a built-in boost for the children's future success
in Torah study for the rest of their lives; it has a special
segulah element to almost guarantee and safeguard
their futures. This is the root of the cedarlike strength;
planted in tender hearts, it will grow to stalwart
The comparison between man and tree, as it is repeated
throughout the Torah and teachings of Chazal in many forms,
lends a common denominator to chinuch and Tu BeShevat,
the Rosh Hashanah of trees. This date comes to draw the
parallel between the growth of the tree and that of man,
beginning from the time of planting and throughout the stages
of development and growth, of itself and the production of
its fruit, for itself and for the coming generations.
The first rule we learn from the tree is that every stage of
development is a direct outgrowth of the stage preceding it,
cause and effect. There is a clear and orderly process.
If we feast our eyes upon an orchard during the harvest time,
we readily realize that these trees were first planted, then
hoed, cultivated and tended steadily. No stage of development
was skipped over. Rather, each one was a step following the
previous one, and each previous one, a necessary and
indicative step for the coming one.
When we see a Torah scholar, a devout and learned Jew, we
realize that his achievement does not result from mere
automatic heritage, a gift bequeathed by virtue of birth and
ancestry. He attained his stature by toil, by molding his own
character, stage by stage, growth upon growth, until he
reached the level he acquired. He plowed, planted,
fertilized, irrigated and cultivated the growth all along
until he was able to produce those fruit.
Our awareness of this rule, of this fundament in avodas
Hashem, obligates us to invest great efforts, thought,
and caution in each stage of the growth process, in every
action, since each step leads to the next, and each step is
the forerunner of the growth of the next step. The care
invested in one level will prepare the success of the next
level, and so on. Each is like a root for the end product to
come, on a stage-by-stage process, one preparing the way for
the next stage, without skipping over anything.
Whatever one sows is what one reaps, even if it be a small
deed. Sometimes, a single deed can become the root and cause
for the growth of a fine tree, of which both trunk and fruits
do credit to the investment. Alternately, a wild root left
untended or allowed to spoil can produce bitter fruit.
The Alter of Kelm writes, "Before my window I see a planted
vineyard, pleasing to the eye and tempting to the taste. Who
produced it? The lowly earth! And yet I have seen the same
earth produce briars and brambles or even harmful drugs. How
can we explain this contradictory fact?
"The truth is that soil has the potential power to produce
delectable fruit and also undesirable thorns. It all depends
on the sower; if he sowed good seeds, he can hope to harvest
good fruit. If not . . .
"So is it with man, who is compared to a tree. If man sows
good thoughts and worthy hopes and aspirations, he will reap
good will and positive fruit. One who sows animal-like
desires will produce ambitions full of vanity, devoid of
purpose and benefit. Man is like the soil; he will produce
what is planted and nurtured within him.
"This is the meaning of, `He satisfies the will of each
living thing.' (Tehillim 145) Every will, motive or
goal that a person sows in himself is given chance to grow.
Hashem will allow each person to choose whatever he wishes to
produce. If we see that a person is greedy, covetous,
rapacious, if he derives pleasure from evil or vain things,
it is because he sowed those seeds himself and they were
allowed to grow and develop. Conversely, one who sowed good
in his heart, will reap a harvest of goodness and
satisfaction in goodness.'
(Based on Chochmah Umussar, vol. II, Essay 40)