Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l in his unique style describes the fascinating beauty of a fruit’s progressive development. Beginning as an unripe, green fruit camouflaged behind the green leaves, the fruit informs everyone that it is not yet ready for consumption. If one would try to pick the fruit during this early stage, one would struggle to wrestle it off the tree. At this early stage of growth, the fruit remains hard and bitter and its seeds are yet undeveloped to reproduce a further fruit. Phenomenally, Hashem has built into the growth of a fruit indicative signs of when it is still unready to consume.
Now take the fruit when it is fully ripe. That same fruit effortlessly drops into your hands when picking it off the tree and offers a sweet and delicious burst of flavor when taking a bite.
Consider as well the colors of those fruits which are ready to eat and need no additional preparation prior to consumption. You will see bright, beautiful, attractive colors: red, orange and yellow amongst others. Those foods, however, which require further preparation, such as a potato, do not possess such vibrant colors. They externally appear drab and dull and less aesthetically appetizing. It is almost as if the food is announcing, “Don’t eat me until you prepare me!”
In view of the breathtaking magnificence of Hashem’s world, one can only help but wonder what Rabbis mean when they say, “One who is engaged in learning Torah and interrupts to say, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How spectacular is this plowed field!’ is liable for his life” (Avot 3:9). If the world has been created with such exquisite brilliance, what is wrong with taking a moment to enjoy its splendor?
Perhaps we can explain this difficulty by exploring a minute, yet significant detail in the Mishnah. Why did Rabbis especially choose to highlight that which a person interrupts his learning for with the examples of a tree and plowed field? Why not say that the individual pauses to gaze at a colorful flower, a delicious fruit, a clear blue sky or an elaborate garden? Why particularly focus on these two wonders of nature over any other?
In many traditional Jewish homes around the world, there are two types of pictures on display: children and tzaddikim (righteous individuals). Lovely pictures of smiling children and grandchildren along with inspiring photos of great Torah Sages decorate the walls and mantels of our homes. Specifically photos of young, undeveloped children find a place alongside mature, accomplished Torah giants. The same phenomenon can be seen in an airport. There are signs for departures and arrivals, the beginning and end points of a trip. What is the significance of this?
That is what our Mishnah comes to address. When looking at a plowed field, there is one idea which comes to mind: potential. By plowing, planting and nurturing a field, one will ensure the growth and development of a beautiful garden. The field’s potential will be actualized. In contrast, staring at a tree sends a different message: accomplishment. After years of nourishing and tending to a young sapling, it will grow into a tall, strong tree.
A human being undergoes this very same process. Man, writes the Maharal, is called Adam from the word adama, earth. Born as an untilled field, man must conscientiously spend years of plowing, planting and watering his heart and mind until he grows into a robust tree. He must harness his pure potential and cultivate himself to achieve productivity. Only then, after a lifetime of nurturing his character and expanding in depth and breadth will he unearth his inborn potential. He will rise to unimagined heights as a flourishing tree with far-reaching branches of wisdom.
We can now appreciate why it is common to place pictures of children and Torah scholars around our homes. Looking at the face of a child, one sees a world of potential. A child motivates a person to maximize his life and utilize his innate capabilities to attain unbelievable heights of greatness. On the other hand, the face of a tzaddik bespeaks accomplishment and actualized potential. It inspires one to grow and develop into a spiritual giant of unparalleled proportion.
This is precisely what our Mishnah wishes to convey. A person who looks at a plowed field or tree amid his learning and fails to take to heart their messages is liable for his life. Upon gazing at a field and seeing its promising future, a person’s reaction must be to immediately resume learning and growing. He should think to himself, “I am like a plowed field, which if seeded and cultivated will grow beautiful trees. If I choose to plant seeds of wisdom in my mind and actualize my latent potential, I can reach superb heights of greatness.”
The same should occur when seeing a tree. “Just like a tree, I can become tall and great if I continue growing.” Immediately upon contemplating this, one ought to be inspired to continue learning. If he does not, however, he is “interrupting his learning.” He is failing to connect his learning to his life. Looking at a field and imagining his prospective accomplishments or staring at a tree and appreciating what heights he can grow to should have sent him back to his Torah learning.
This is the lesson of our Mishnah. We are most definitely to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the world, but for the purpose of enhancing and deepening our relationship with Hashem and His Torah. When this is done, we can be certain that we will grow from a small child into an accomplished learner and from a little seed into a strong tree.
As we enter the month of Elul and contemplate how we can grow and improve, we must always remember our potential and aspirations for achievement. We all can rise to the occasion and develop into that person we wish to become so long as we cultivate and nurture ourselves. It may take much effort, but it is certainly worthwhile. For when we do so, the beautiful trees and fruits we produce are simply breathtaking.
By Rabbi Label Lam
BITACHON AND HISHTADLUT Trust and personal Effort
And the Lord, your God, will bless you in all that you shall do.” (Devarim 15:18)
The Sh’lah (Shnei Luchot Habrit) writes that one who is honest in business is promised by Hashem that he will be blessed with success. It is imperative to be honest in business. One must realize that no one makes one penny more or one penny less than what Hashem has allocated for him that year. One might be inclined to respond that if so, he may as well sit home and not work at all. Whatever will be, will be, no matter how much effort I put into it. So why do anything? Therefore the Torah tells us, “…and the Lord, your G-d, will bless you in all that you shall do.” This is stated specifically in the Sifrei, “Is it possible that one will receive the bracha even if he sits idle? This is not true. The possuk says, ‘in all that you shall do.’ One has to do is some minimum effort. Then Hashem will deliver what has been allocated for him.”
To generalize, Rabbi Dessler (along with the Chazon Ish) teaches that given the illusory “nature of nature”, each individual must find their appropriate balance between personal effort.
For You, My Sister
One Rosh Hashanah morning, a 21-year-old girl entered shul with her 20-year-old sister. Looking forward to a beautiful day of praying and connection with Hashem, they were soon to realize that there was one small problem: they forgot to bring two Machzorim. Now, had it been a weekday or Shabbat, the problem may have been mitigated as many of the prayers over the course of time become memorized. But on Rosh Hashanah, saying the many tefillot by heart is almost out of the question. And so, left with only one Machzor which included all the prayers recited throughout Rosh Hashanah, they decided that they would sit next to each other and share the prayer book. After all, that was the best they could do.
Two hours into the praying, the girls received a tap on the shoulder. It was the woman sitting behind them. She was frustrated. Loud enough for those nearby to hear, she said, “For the past two hours, you both have been talking to each other while everyone is trying to pray! It is very disrespectful!” Little was this woman aware that in fact these sisters were not talking to each other, but to Hashem. Sitting there now were two sisters who were just publicly humiliated. Praying continued as the girls got through the prayers without attracting much attention. Shortly after praying, the 21-year-old girl turned to her sister and said, “You know what?
Chazal (our Sages) say that when a person is humiliated and does not respond, it is a favorable time. Let us use this opportunity to pray for each other.
I will pray for you that you find a shidduch (spouse) this year and you pray for me that I find a shidduch this year.” And so, the two sisters poured their hearts out to Hashem on behalf of one another.
Seven months later, one of the girls got engaged. And as expected, the simcha in the house of these girls and their family was genuinely obvious. Reminding themselves of what had happened months ago on Rosh Hashanah, they were both thrilled. And sure enough, the very next night, the other sister got engaged.
We must never underestimate the inner strength we possess within ourselves. Both at our ability to remain calm when matters don’t go our way as well as the efficacy of our prayers, each and every one of us can certainly overcome the challenges we face. And we never know, sometimes to our tremendous delight, such an event will not only build us as a person, but will find us a wonderful spouse.
By Rabbi Chaim Rosenfeld
Miriam arrives home quite late one night and says to her worried Moishe, “Sorry I’m late. I had to come home by train because I couldn’t get the car to start.”
“Why?” asks Moishe
“I think there’s water in the carburetor,” replies Miriam.
“How on earth can you know that?” says Moishe. “You don’t even know how to open the hood or to change the time on the car’s clock yet alone know where the carburetor is.”
“Maybe so,” says Miriam, “but I still think there’s water in it.”
Moishe then says, “OK, I’ll go along with you. Maybe you’ve been taking some classes at the auto body shop without me knowing. Let’s check it out. Where did you leave the car?”
Miriam replies, “In the lake!”
First/second aliyot: Moshe instructs the Chosen People to eradicate any remnant of idolatry and strengthen all aspects of service to G-d. All offerings must be brought to the “Chosen” place, the Bait Hamikdash, so that worship is an act of humility and selflessness, rather than a self-indulging “need”. An even greater danger to our uniqueness is the innate desire to compromise and assimilate Torah values with other forms of worship. (the Chanukah bush syndrome)
third/fourth Aliyot: Moshe forewarned the Jews against incorporating any pagan practices, and against the false prophet, idolatrous missionaries, and the Ir Hanidachas – the Apostate City. These must be destroyed along with their material belongings. When using the world in accordance with the wishes of the Creator, we declare the existence of a Creator who has a divine purpose for creating the material world. When we misuse the physical in the service of “gods who are not G-d”, we negate the Creator’s purpose for creating the universe. Therefore, they and all their belongings must be destroyed.
fifth/sixth/seventh Aliyot: The remainder of the Parsha, details those Mitzvot that set us apart from all other nations: Kashrut; Maasrot – Tithes; the Shmitah – sabbatical year; the laws regarding lending money; the Eved Ivri – a Jew who is a slave; the consecration of the first born animal, and a review of the main Yomim Tovim – holidays: Pesach, Shavouth, and Succoth. Rav S.R. Hirsch points out that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not reviewed in Sefer Devarim because there were no changes in the practices of those Yomim Tovim when living in the desert or living in Eretz Yisroel.