Parshat Shoftim – Leah Goldsmith
“When you shall besiege a city for a long time in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by forcing an axe against them, for you may eat of them. You shall not cut them down, for the tree of the field is like a man…”
The Torah compares the soul of man to the life force of the fruit bearing tree. This is done on the backdrop of the battlefield of our parsha(weekly portion). Our sages bring down that the armed conflict of war is won when the arm and head become partners against the adversary. This is best demonstrated in the mitzvah of tefillin that are worn on the arm and head – the symbols of true righteousness and judgment in serving Hashem. When man wears the tefillin he can remove false pride and concentrate his intentions on not what he has achieved, but that that the Almighty brings him his achievement. He knows (in his head as he ties his arm) that Hashem is totally there for him, his appeal to arms is in the name of G-d. This is the connection between the arm and head at the hands of faith. Every morning when this is done it is likened to pouring water into the soul, revitalizing it and bringing it to life.
A perfect example of this is King David who managed all of his operations and maneuvers (including in his personal life) in complete faith. He lived a life of complete self sacrifice, and was preserved because of his direct grasp of the concept of Hashem leading his victory. (We remember when he comes against Goliath he says that he doesn’t come by himself but in the name of Hashem who will fight the battle). David perceived that all of reality relies totally on Him- Hashem, examples of trials being family issues (in which there were many), usual kingly duties and intrigues, standard offense warfare, preventive warfare, to other realms of psychological warfare like contending with the yeitzer hara(evil urge). He wrote his book of Psalms as a direct response to these threats, demonstrating completely receiving the yoke of heaven. This perception of the Divine brought him to an embodiment of complete victory in ALL of his wars.
When a person is faced with torment, whether it be on his job, within his family, close environment, or on a wider range like government, national, international, he can win when he cancels his self will (ratzon atzmi). This rectifies him and brings him to a higher place. When he stands stubbornly stuck in the predicament, sure of his being shortchanged, right, unforgiving, feeling no justice- he cannot win.
How does the tree fit in here? The Ba’al Shem Tov brings down from the holy Zohar that food is full of spiritual sparks. Therefore without knowing why a person becomes hungry he has an inner need to receive these sparks, more than just physical hunger.
Plants, fruits and vegetation are on a higher level than meat. They are witnesses to the shorshut elokit- of Hashem rooting himself in the lower world. Hashem built this lower world on the crust of earth in order for us to feel Him. If He would disguise Himself in heaven, it would only be for angels to enjoy Him. Here we feel Him. A tree has arms that reach down and drink the life force found in the lower levels of the earth. If there is no water, there is no fruit. A person serves Hashem through yeitzer tov but the real test is can we serve him when there us a war within us, when we have a yeitzer ra, when we are on a lower step? Our job is to win the war by climbing humbly back up the steps. This is a strong form of worship because serving G-d does not only happen when we are clear headed, level headed. Winning the war occurs when we feel so low, we actually reach to the roots, the lowest place in the low world even covered by the crust. Then we triumph.
We are standing in preparation for the Days of Judgment and a new year. We are in the month of Elul. This is a good time to fix and forgive. Let bygones be bygones. A person is likened to a tree. In order to grow he needs water. It doesn’t matter if it’s tap water, mineral water, Perrier, Holy water or even dirty water. It all works because in all cases the tree, as long as it is watered gives sweet fruit. “I will make thee and the environs of My hill a blessing. I will send rain in its season, rains that bring blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit and the Land shall yield its produce and My people shall be secure on its own soil”- Ezekiel 34:26-28
Let us imitate this imagery. If dirty water is dumped on you, you can react as if it were any other water. You can cancel torment, swallow your pride and win the war. This is the water of life. The head of the tree gives fruit but the arms bring it life sustenance from the low places of the earth. (Does this remind you of the double blessing given to the portion of Josef?)
Shabbat Shalom to all- Leah Goldsmith