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The Real Leader

In addition to symbolizing the beginning of a Jewish New Year, the concept of Rosh HaShanah also indicates the timing of Heavenly judgment on His creation.  With so much judgement being dealt to the world lately, it seems like every day is Rosh HaShanah.  But the Oral Torah unveils that Tu-B’Shevat (i.e. 15th day in the month of Shevat) is the Rosh HaShanah of the trees.  Whether it’s the halachic implications pertaining to the mitzvoth of Orlah, the Tithe, Shemittah or even the opportune time to pray to HaShem for a beautiful and kosher Etrog, it’s clear that there’s much Torah and Mussar one can learn if only he’d have enough mercy in his heart to feed his own soul.  Our Sages teach that one can learn life changing Mussar from every dot in the Torah, let alone from an entire word, such as a tree.  

כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה (דברים כ יט)

“…is man tree of the field…” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

Ki HaAdam Etz HaSadeh

While teaching Am Yisrael the intricate laws of a holy war, Moshe Rabbeinu allegorically questions the nation about whether man has achieved the status of becoming an Etz HaSadeh (tree of the field).  The Oral Torah has Rabbi Yochanan elaborating that this Etz HaSadeh symbolizes a scholar (i.e. expert) who teaches the public.  He rules that if this Etz (i.e. scholar) is providing fruit-bearing lessons, we shall learn from him as if we’re eating the fruit of the tree.   But if it’s really a non-fruit bearing Etz, Rabbi Yochanan continues, then the mitzvah is to cut it down and destroy it (i.e. ignore & reject the scholar).  At first look, it seems unreasonable and demotivating to every scholar and expert that is just starting their career.  It’s rare for someone to yield fruit right from the get-go.  Even the best experts needed time, persistence, and perseverance in order to gain enough popularity that will yield fruit.  Are we really expected to be an overnight success or risk rejection?   Does this mean that we, the students, should only learn from the most popular teachers who were an overnight success?  

הֲיֵשׁ בָּהּ עֵץ אִם אַיִן וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם וּלְקַחְתֶּם מִפְּרִי הָאָרֶץ...(במדבר יג כ)

“..does it have a tree in it or not; you shall be strengthened and take from the fruit of land.”  (Numbers 13:20)

To eliminate the typical presumption that bearing fruit means material success or popularity, we must first note that Moshe Rabbeinu also gave the same advice to the Meraglim (the Spies), some 39 years earlier.  Before sending them off on what ended up being a tragic mission, Moshe Rabbeinu instructs the leaders of each Tribe to take advantage of the teachings of the Etz, if they find him.  Rashi explains that the Etz being referred to was none other than the righteous prophet Job—i.e. if he is still alive, go learn from him and you’ll be strengthened because of it.  Why are the most successful leaders among Am Yisrael instructed to find and learn from the Etz (i.e. Job)?  Weren’t the Meraglim already successful and in charge of millions of students?  Better yet, why does Moshe Rabbeinu imply that HaShem expects all of Am Yisrael to become the Etz?                 

The truth is that neither Moshe Rabbeinu nor Rabbi Yochanan are validating the experts based on their success or popularity.  In fact it’s often the opposite. These questions make it obvious that the Etz is not necessarily someone who is popular or successful, but rather a real leader worthy of learning from.  Rabbi Yochanan narrows down the difference between the good and bad Etz to a simple formula—does the Etz have proper character (good middot) or not?  As he says: “In the case of a Torah scholar who is of proper character, you shall eat (i.e. study) from him, and not cut him down.  But in the case of a Torah scholar who is not of proper character, you shall destroy him and cut him down (i.e. shun him).” If he has good middot then it’s clear that the Etz (scholar) believes his own teachings, drinks his own cure, and is a living proof of the benefits of eating his own fruit.  If he does not possess a good character, then it means he’s either selling you something he doesn’t really believe in, or he’s a tree with bad fruit that could destroy you.   

In the seemingly endless rat-race to become the next Shark Tank entrepreneur in the community (i.e. New Money), Motivational Speaker, Celebrity, or so-called Expert, many are motivated to change the world around them, while forgetting to include themselves in that world.  The desire to better the world seems noble at first, so long as the world doesn’t find out you’re not taking his own medicine.  Do you tell everyone the secret is humility while simultaneously praising yourself with your inner voice? Are you one of those Motivational Speakers that suffers from depression?  Are you a Celebrity Expert who made more money from being a Celebrity than being the Expert you claim to be?  Do you even use your own product, advice or system?        

"עֵץ חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ..." (משלי ג יח)

“It is a tree of life for those who cling to it…”  (Proverbs 3:18)

There are countless people that HaShem has put in a position of power in order to influence the public to do good and even bring them closer to Him.  Rabbanim, Rabbaniyot, teachers, colleagues, or even friends are constantly trying to influence one another.  Yet, it’s all too common today to see the public influencing the leaders’ behavior even more than he’s able to influence them.  Money, status, comfort, and popularity are just some of the tools the Yetzer Hara uses to fool us daily.  Many times, the noble aspiration to change the world leads you to simply ignore your own self-development and sense of truth.  To keep things going, the newly developed ego that’s developed is appeased with each session that you’re able to project your ideas on others.   It’s even more appeasing when they give you compliments for telling them what they wanted to hear, instead of what they needed to.  The wisest of all men, King Solomon, wrote clear and direct instructions that we’re supposed to cling onto the Tree if we want life (eternity).  He did not limit the advice to just the student, since teacher (Etz) needs to just as much.   Further, this also answers why Moshe Rabbeinu says that all of Am Yisrael shall become an Etz.  Following your own advice, teachings and beliefs is something that everyone can do.   Instead of trying to becoming something everyone else wants you to become, why not try going after the ultimate aspiration in life—becoming Etz HaSadeh.  



1 Gemara: Rosh HaShanah 2A

2 Biblical prohibition that forbids eating fruit produced by a tree during first 3 years after planting

3 Restarting the calendar for the calculation of the Tithe (Ma’aser) that must be paid, since fruit of one year cannot be used to pay the previous year’s Tithe.

4 End of the Sabbatical year

5 Bnei Yissaschar (quoted by Book of Our Heritage pg. 332)

6 Gemara: Taanit 7A

7 Gemara: Ta’anit 7A

8 Gemara: Sotah 49B Pnei HaDor K’pnei HaKelev

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