Man is Like a Tree

In what way does man resemble a tree? and what was the manna like?

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Differences between Fruits and Vegetables

In honor of Tu b'Shvat, we will briefly discuss the virtues of fruits of the tree. First, the halakha:

The blessing recited over fruits of the tree, such as grapes, pomegranates, apples, pears, walnuts, and almonds is "Borei pri ha'etz".

Over fruits of the ground, such as corn, lentils, peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers, the blessing "Borei pri ha'adama" is said.

Vegetables grow relatively fast. Within a few months from the time of planting they are ready for harvest, and the basic potency of the earth is more evident in them. In contrast, fruits undergo a complex procedure. In the first years, the tree needs to grow and take shape, and afterwards, in a relatively long process it receives food from the earth, absorbs it, and produces its' fruit.

One might say that earth-grown vegetables express the essentials and simplicity of life, whereas fruits grown on trees express enhancement and complexity, and usually fruits have a deeper and richer taste.

Trees are Comparable to Man

Trees are comparable to man – both must undergo a prolonged process until they reach maturity, but afterwards, their fruits are superior. And just like a tree whose fruit for the first three years is forbidden to eat due to the law of 'orlah', so too, a Jew must first learn Torah and be educated in the mitzvoth before he begins to accomplish things in this world.

Fruit of the Tree and Man

From the beginning, man was to have eaten only fruit from the tree, as it is written (Genesis 2:16): "You may definitely eat from every tree of the garden." Even grain, man's most important food, grew on trees. And according the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, the 'etz ha'da'at' (tree of knowledge) was wheat (Talmud Berachot 40a). Animals were meant to eat vegetables and weeds.

After the sin, man fell from his status and in order to rectify himself, was compelled to eat vegetables grown from the ground – or in other words, to make simpler and more fundamental 'tikunim' (rectifications). And even wheat fell from its original status and became a wild plant.

This is what our Sages said (Talmud Pesachim 118a): "When the Lord said to Adam "And thorns and thistles shall it (the earth) bring forth for you," tears ran from Adam's eyes, and he said: Creator of the Universe! Shall then I and my ass eat of the same crib?" But when he heard the Lord say: "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread," he felt relieved. In other words, upon realizing that although he was ordered to eat fruits of the ground, through his labor and efforts of plowing, planting, harvesting, grinding, kneading and baking, he could elevate the food of the ground and make it suitable for himself – he was reassured.

Today, although man's main staple comes from the fruit of the ground, there is still great importance to fruits of the tree, which raise and enrich the quality of man's life, and connect him to a higher level. In the future, after the world is perfected, man's food will once again be fruits, and he won't have to bother planting every year.

As our Sages said (Talmud 111b): "There will be a time when wheat will rise as high as a palm-tree…but in case one fears trouble in reaping it (because of the height of the palm-tree)…the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring a wind from his treasure houses which He will cause to blow upon it. This will loosen its fine flour, and a man will walk out into the field, and from it, will take a mere handful which will be sufficient provision for himself and his family." Concerning the Land of Israel, they said: "In the future, the Land of Israel will produce 'gluska'ot' (prepared cakes) and 'klei milat' (nice clothing)" (see "Pri Tzaddik", Tu b'Shvat 1).

Manna – Educational Dietetic Food

"The Israelites were to eat the manna for forty years" (Exodus 16:35). The manna was educational bread – it taught belief in Divine supervision. Since the Israelites could not preserve the manna from one day to the next, everyday they had to believe that God would also make the manna fall the following day.

The manna also educated towards proper eating (dietetic) habits, for the devourers who wanted to eat more than they needed, and thus gathered multiple pieces of manna, its husk became thicker, until in the end, they received only the amount they were meant to get for that day.

The manna also educated towards Sabbath observance by means of a double portion falling on Friday.

And since the Israelites were free from the concern of making a living, they could direct themselves to Torah study throughout the forty years. This is what Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: "Torah was given to learn only to those who ate manna. How so? A person would sit and learn, and not know how he would have food to eat or liquids to drink, and how he would have clothes to cover himself" (Mechilta, B'Shelach).

The Spirituality in Food 

The holy Arizal explained that every food has a spiritual source, and when a person eats, his body is nourished from physical substance within the food, while his soul receives its nourishment from the spirituality in the food. Consequently, it is obvious that the spiritual source of the manna which fell from the heaven was extremely high, giving Israel strength to engage in Torah and grasp its profound ideas.

Precisely because of the manna's tremendous spirituality, there were some among Israel who complained about its taste being too bland and about the spiritual tension they sensed as a result of eating it.

The Holy Fruits of Israel

Rabbi Natan Shapira, a student of the holy Arizal asked: Why was it that when our forefathers were in the desert, they merited eating the heavenly manna, but when they entered the Holy Land, it ceased to fall?

He answered: The desert and 'chutz l'aretz' (lands outside of Israel) are impure places that are not able to absorb holiness into its fruit, and therefore it was necessary to shower manna from heaven so the Israelites could absorb the Torah. However, in Israel – the holy land – holiness is revealed and incorporated in the blessed fruits, and consequently, there was no more need to shower manna for them from the heavens.

Rabbi Shapira's companion, Rabbi Moshe Zechut, added that, on the contrary – the holiness in the fruits of the Land of Israel exceeds that of the manna;  through eating them in holiness, a 'tikun' (rectification) and clarification of physical reality is made (from Rabbi Natan Shapira's book "Tov Ha'aretz").

Rabbi Kook explained that the holiness of the Land of Israel is revealed naturally, whereas the Divine Presence which descended with us to the Diaspora had the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. This, however, is not a complete holiness. Our greater aspiration is to reveal holiness naturally in the Land of Israel (Orot 77).

Living Outside of Israel is Akin to Idol Worship

The Sages said (Talmud Ketubot 110b): "Anyone (Jewish) who lives in the Land of Israel – is like someone who has a God, and anyone who lives outside of the Land – is like someone without a God." They also said: "Anyone who lives outside of the Land of Israel – it is as if he worships idols."

Seemingly, this is extremely difficult: We see that there are tremendously dedicated, religious Jews living outside of Israel. Why would they be considered as being without a God and idol worshippers?

However, one must realize that the main foundation of faith is to know that God is one and is revealed both in heaven and on earth. The basic sin of idol worship is that it separates and divides the world into various domains. The foremost division is between heaven and earth, spiritual and material. And since outside of the Land of Israel holiness can be revealed only in spirituality, with certain alienation towards nature, the impression is given that the word of God is revealed only in the spiritual domain, and as if it cannot be revealed in the actual, physical reality.

This is similar to someone who does not have a God and worships idols. In the Land of Israel, however, where settling the land is an intrinsic part of faith and mitzvoth, and where fruits are naturally holy – the unifying faith is revealed.

Consequently, the building of the Land of Israel is the foundation of the Redemption, for through it, holiness can be revealed in all its levels throughout the entire world, and thus there will be peace between the spiritual and the material, peace between nations, and peace between all of the various viewpoints.



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