Friday, January 29, 2010

Man is a Tree of the Field

Tu B'Shevat cometh! I sort of feel like it's one of those chagim that becomes irrelevant or insignificant in the Diaspora. It's the kind of holiday that makes sense when you're lucky enough to be living in the Land of Israel, but when you're in the U.S. or somewhere else, it's difficult to connect. After all, here in Connecticut we had a big, blizzardy snowstorm yesterday that resulted in me nearly killing myself twice. I'll admit it looks beautiful outside, but it definitely doesn't compare at all to it being the New Year of Trees in the Jewish calendar. In Israel, this is the time in which the earliest-blooming trees start to show their flare. Jews mark the day -- which happens to fall on Shabbat this year, January 30 -- by eating fruits, including grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates; these all are fruits of Israel named in the Hebrew Bible/Torah.

We also remember, or we're supposed to, that "Man is a tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19). At least, that's what tells me. So what does it mean, that "Man is a tree of the field"? To me, it means that there is a field of HaShem's creation, and man is the tree in that field of creation, standing tall and firm through wind, rain, and everything else nature and HaShem throw our way. Trees are quite resilient, withstanding the pressure of heavy snow, the break of lightning, and the gale-force wind that blows houses and cars away like leaves. Also, trees stand firm through all seasons, going through cycles of life while firmly rooted in the earth. They lose leaves, gain leaves, stand dry and bare, and blossom beautifully. Man, too, is like a tree. We stand firmly, rooted in the religion and ways of our forefathers, our roots spread the world over, connected to each and every Jew so that together, with our roots intertwined, we can withstand all that history has thrown at us. As the seasons come and go, man also is like a tree. Our life-cycle events come and go. We grow sick, and healthy, we experience simchas of joy and beauty and instances of sadness and bareness. Our emotions and outlooks sway in the winds of change, but it is our roots that help us stand firm through even our darkest moments and heaviest storms.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. This is simply my understanding of the verse. As such, then, on Tu B'Shevat, those of us in the Diaspora must transplant ourselves to Israel, where the earliest blooming trees are starting to show their color and bounty, giving off new fruit and new hope. Thus, we, too, can stand as the tree of the field, remembering that there are cycles in life and that now is a time for us to bloom, to stand as tall as we can, showing our bounty and our pride in our roots and resilience.

At this time of newness and bounty, how do you understand the phrase, "Man is a tree of the field"? There are plenty of explanations on the web. Simply Google the phrase and see what you find!

Shabbat shalom, friends!

Note: You also might want to read something I wrote *WAY BACK* in 2006 about the roots of trees and standing during kaddish.