Trees, Protection, and the Three Weeks

By: Rabbi Lee Jay Lowenstein

On my first Outward Bound program, I had an experience which I have used as a Mashal to explain many different circumstances. One such circumstance includes the three weeks of mourning and the month of Av.

In the White Mountains, for close to four days, we had been hiking deep into the trail, when we came to a particular campsite that exhibited remarkable foliage growth. Despite no recent signs of deforestation or conflagration, the area was populated by an overabundance of tall spruce, birch and lodge pole pine with very few saplings or smaller growth. As a newcomer to the wild, who struggled through thick underbrush and dense growth to find the previous camp sites, II thought this was somewhat out of the ordinary.

I questioned an instructor about this area's unusual growth, and why there were so few smaller trees here as opposed to other locations. He explained that an unusually tight grouping of upper-level foliage had consistently blocked sufficient sunlight through to the earth preventing the young saplings from gaining adequate nourishment. His comments deeply struck me because of the truthful metaphor I found for much of what we tend to do as parents and educators.

While humans are more inclined to look at ourselves as belonging to the family of Animals, the Torah sees us more akin to the Plant Kingdom. "Tzadik KaTamar Yifrach" – "The Rightous blossom like the stately palm tree;" "Ki HaAdam Eitz HaSadeh" – "For is Man like a tree of the field?" are two often quoted verses that reflect this parallel relationship. There is more implied by the term "Family Tree" than just convention.

As we grow into tall cedars and spread out our many branches to capture the sunlight, we often are guilty of neglecting to allow sufficient light to penetrate to the young one beneath us. This is not a malicious act, it is within our "nature" to take care of ourselves and want to protect our children from harm. But, only if we are willing to remove our protective armor and allow our children to face the potential perils of exposure, will we also grant them the opportunity to live, thrive, and grow.

It may seem odd that the most calamitous month of the Jewish calendar should be called "Av" which means Father. For those who choose to see the "G-d of the Old Testament" as the G-d of wrath and vengeance, they can sadly point to many examples of this sort of fathering. But, as children of Avraham Avinu, of G-d's messenger of Chesed and kindness, we know Him as the A-lmighty who is Compassionate in His ways.

What could be worse from the child's point of view than the removal of the protective wings of a parent? When seen from the perspective of an immature child, it would seem to verge on abandonment. Yet the sophisticated will perceive that this is not an act of abdication of parenthood but a tender acknowledgement that there are lessons which we have demonstrated that we are unable to learn while under the comfort of the parents' home. So too for us, we could not see the gift that we possessed and the A-lmighty deemed that we leave His Palace and face the harsh realities and in doing so, come to a greater awareness of His love and our need for His protection.

G-d is the Master Gardener and from Him we must learn what it means to be a parent. To choke our children of creativity, independence, and growth by overzealously watching their every move, although it may be considered generous to guard them from all pain and harm; this is not what He wants us to do or be.

May it be His will that as we grow during these times of National reflection, that we ponder alternative plans for the "Forestation" of the Jewish people, and that we may witness the sprouting of the times of our redemption as we witness the glory and beauty of the growth of the next generation.

Rabbi Lowenstein learned at Yeshivat Neveh Zion in Telshe Stone, Ner Israel in Baltimore, and under Rabbi Yochanan Zweig at the Talmudic University in Miami Beach. He is currently the Director of Development for the Atlantic Seaboard Region of NCSY and a member of the Canfei Nesharim Rabbinical Advisory Board.

Originally posted in "On Eagles' Wings" August 3rd 2005

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