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Torah Thought for this Week

Prepared by Rabbi Asher Zeilingold   

We recently celebrated Tu Bishevat - the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat, which the Torah designates as the New Year for Trees.  

In the Torah (Deut. 20:19) we find that we, people, are compared to trees. Our Sages tell us that there are many areas in which we can indeed compare ourselves to trees, and there are many practical lessons that we can learn from the planting and the growth of a tree.  

Trees are always growing. We may not notice it easily, but as long as a tree is alive it is constantly and continually in a state of growth. Even in the winter, when the tree appears to be dormant, the roots are actively providing nourishment and are preparing for a new spurt of growth. What appears to be an interruption in the process of growth is really only a temporary pause to gather new strength for further growth, to produce new and fresh fruit. This is the reason why the plant and vegetable world is called Tzomeach in Hebrew. Tzomeach means growing.  

The first lesson that we should learn from a tree is that we should be constantly growing. Obviously, there comes a time in life when we stop growing physically, but our mental and spiritual development should never cease. We should make a continual effort to become better people. This is achieved by making a serious effort to constantly improve and refine our character traits, and to increase our knowledge of, and commitment to Torah with all its teachings.  

When a tree grows from a seed, we see the tremendous growth, not only in terms of quantity, but also, and more so, in the quality of what is produced. A tree is entirely different than the seed we planted. So too, when we talk of growth, in the deeper sense, we must try to grow, not only by striving for a higher level of excellence, but also by becoming completely different. Sometimes, when we are aware of a bad habit, we think that we cannot change ourselves. Tu Bishevat teaches us that if we have the right attitude, we can become a new person with a new perspective on life.  

The purpose of planting a tree is to be able to enjoy its fruit. As we toil and labor in the vineyard of life, we must be aware that our objective is that our endeavors should yield fruit for ourselves and others to enjoy. We may not see the results of our labor immediately, but, as the Psalmist says, 'Those who sow in tears, will reap with songs of joy.' If there is the determined attempt, we will enjoy the fruits of our labor.  

There is another very important lesson that we can learn from a tree. The strength of a tree depends on its roots that are hidden from sight. A tree can appear to be strong and sturdy, but if its roots are weak, it will not be able to withstand a harsh wind. So too in our lives, we must be able to hold out against many harsh winds in the forms of isms and ideologies that are antithetical to Torah and its way of life. Our strength to be able to defy these brutal forces comes from our Emunah and Bitochon, belief and trust in G-d. These are the roots that give us life. Our belief and trust in G-d cannot be seen by another person, but we know that the deeper the roots, the more energy we will have to be able to grow and flourish.