Rabbi Label Lam Pictures of Potential and Prosperity
Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l in his inimitable style describes the fascinating beauty of a fruit’s progressive development. Beginning as an unripe, green fruit camouflaged behind the verdant leaves, the fruit informs everyone that it is not yet ready for consumption. If one would try to pick the fruit during this incipient stage, one would struggle to wrestle it off the tree. At this early stage of growth, the fruit remains hard and bitter and its seeds are yet undeveloped to reproduce a further fruit. Phenomenally, Hashem has built into the growth of a fruit indicative signs of when it is still unready to consume.
Now take the fruit when it is fully ripe. That same fruit effortlessly drops into your hands when picking it off the tree and offers a sweet and delicious burst of flavor when taking a bite.
Consider as well the colors of those fruits which are ready to eat and need no additional preparation prior to consumption. You will see bright, beautiful, attractive colors: red, orange and yellow amongst others. Those foods, however, which require further preparation, such as a potato, do not possess such vibrant colors. They externally appear drab and dull and less aesthetically appetizing. It is almost as if the food is announcing, “Don’t eat me until you prepare me!”
In view of the breathtaking magnificence of Hashem’s world, one can only help but wonder what Chazal mean when they say, “One who is engaged in learning Torah and interrupts to say, ‘How beautiful is this tree! How spectacular is this plowed field!’ is liable for his life” (Avot 3:9). If the world has been created with such exquisite brilliance, what is wrong with taking a moment to enjoy its splendor?
Perhaps we can explain this difficulty by exploring a minute, yet significant detail in the Mishnah. Why did Chazal especially choose to highlight that which a person interrupts his learning for with the examples of a tree and plowed field? Why not say that the individual pauses to gaze at a colorful flower, a delicious fruit, a clear blue sky or an elaborate garden? Why particularly focus on these two wonders of nature over any other?
In many traditional Jewish homes around the world, there are two types of pictures on display: children and tzaddikim (righteous individuals). Lovely pictures of smiling children and grandchildren along with inspiring photos of great Torah Sages bedeck the walls and mantels of our homes. Specifically photos of young, undeveloped children find a place alongside mature, accomplished Torah giants. The same phenomenon can be seen in an airport. There are signs for departures and arrivals, the beginning and end points of a trip. What is the significance of this?
That is what our Mishnah comes to address. When looking at a plowed field, there is one idea which comes to mind: potential. By plowing, planting and nurturing a field, one will ensure the growth and development of a beautiful garden. The field’s potential will be actualized. In contrast, staring at a tree sends a different message: accomplishment. After years of nourishing and tending to a young sapling, it will grow into a tall, sturdy tree.
A human being undergoes this very same process. Man, writes the Maharal, is called Adam from the word adama, earth. Born as an untilled field, man must conscientiously spend years of plowing, planting and watering his heart and mind until he grows into a robust tree. He must harness his pure potential and cultivate himself to achieve productivity. Only then, after a lifetime of nurturing his character and expanding in depth and breadth will he unearth his inborn potential. He will rise to unimagined heights as a flourishing tree with far-reaching branches of wisdom.
We can now appreciate why it is common to place pictures of children and Torah scholars around our homes. Looking at the face of a child, one sees a world of potential. A child motivates a person to maximize his life and utilize his innate capabilities to attain unbelievable heights of greatness. On the other hand, the face of a tzaddik bespeaks accomplishment and actualized potential. It inspires one to grow and develop into a spiritual giant of unparalleled proportion.
This is precisely what our Mishnah wishes to convey. A person who looks at a plowed field or tree amid his learning and fails to take to heart their messages is liable for his life. Upon gazing at a field and seeing its promising future, a person’s reaction must be to immediately resume learning and growing. He should think to himself, “I am like a plowed field, which if seeded and cultivated will grow beautiful trees. If I choose to plant seeds of wisdom in my mind and actualize my latent potential, I can reach superb heights of greatness.”
The same should occur when seeing a tree. “Just like a tree, I can become tall and great if I continue growing.” Immediately upon contemplating this, one ought to be inspired to continue learning. If he does not, however, he is “interrupting his learning.” He is failing to connect his learning to his life. Looking at a field and imagining his prospective accomplishments or staring at a tree and appreciating what heights he can grow to should have sent him back to his Torah learning.
This is the lesson of our Mishnah. We are most definitely to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the world, but for the purpose of enhancing and deepening our relationship with Hashem and His Torah. When this is done, we can be certain that we will grow from a small child into an accomplished learner and from a little seed into a strong tree.
As we enter the month of Elul and contemplate how we can grow and improve, we must always remember our potential and aspirations for achievement. We all can rise to the occasion and develop into that person we wish to become so long as we cultivate and nurture ourselves. It may take much effort, but it is certainly worthwhile. For when we do so, the beautiful trees and fruits we produce are simply breathtaking.
Rabbi Chaim Rosenfeld For You, My Sister
One Rosh Hashanah morning, a 21-year-old girl entered shul with her 20-year-old sister. Looking forward to a beautiful day of davening and connection with Hashem, they were soon to realize that there was one small problem: they forgot to bring two Machzorim. Now, had it been a weekday or Shabbat, the problem may have been mitigated as many of the prayers over the course of time become memorized. But on Rosh Hashanah, saying the many tefillot by heart is almost out of the question. And so, left with only one Machzor which included all the prayers recited throughout Rosh Hashanah, they decided that they would sit next to each other and share the prayer book. After all, that was the best they could do.
Two hours into the davening, the girls received a tap on the shoulder. It was the woman sitting behind them. She was frustrated. Loud enough for those nearby to hear, she said, “For the past two hours, you both have been talking to each other while everyone is trying to daven! It is very disrespectful!” Little was this woman aware that in fact these sisters were not talking to each other, but to Hashem. Sitting there now were two sisters who were just publicly humiliated. Davening continued as the girls got through the prayers without attracting much attention.
Shortly after davening, the 21-year-old girl turned to her sister and said, “You know what? Chazal (our Sages) say that when a person is humiliated and does not respond, it is a favorable time. Let us use this opportunity to daven for each other. I will daven for you that you find a shidduch this year and you daven for me that I find a shidduch this year.” And so, the two sisters poured their hearts out to Hashem on behalf of one another.
Seven months later, one of the girls got engaged. And as expected, the simcha in the house of these girls and their family was genuinely palpable. Reminding themselves of what had happened months ago on Rosh Hashanah, they were both thrilled.
And sure enough, the very next night, the other sister got engaged.
We must never underestimate the inner strength we possess within ourselves. Both at our ability to remain calm when matters don’t go our way as well as the efficacy of our prayers, each and every one of us can certainly overcome the challenges we face. And we never know, sometimes to our tremendous delight, such an event will not only build us as a person, but will find us a wonderful spouse.
Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser The Perfect Forest
והיה כי יביאך ד' אלקיך אל הארץ
And it will be when Hashem, your G-d, brings you to the Land… (Devarim 11:29)
After my wife and I had finalized our engagement, we both were beyond excited. However, for certain reasons, my Rosh Yeshiva in Aish HaTorah shortly thereafter recommended that our engagement be broken off. Respecting his opinion and understanding where he was coming from, I knew that I should listen to him.
When I later approached my kallah in Tzfat and broke the news, her reply was, “Baruch Hashem.” “What do you mean ‘Baruch Hashem’?” I said. “I thought you wanted to marry me?” “I want what Hashem wants,” she said. “I thought that Hashem wanted me to marry you and I was very happy. Now that you are telling me that the engagement is off, it seems that Hashem does not want us to get married. Were we to do so, it may be a mistake. That is why I say, ‘Baruch Hashem.’”
As soon as she finished explaining what she meant, all I could think of was how I now needed to marry her. “She is so special,” I said to myself. “That is the kind of wife I am looking for.” But it didn’t seem like those dreams were going to materialize.
A week later, I found myself davening at the Kotel. On my way out, I stopped off by the water fountain to take a quick drink. Making the requisite blessing of Shehakol, I pressed down the button and began drinking. And then I heard a voice behind me. “How did you know it was going to work? Maybe when you pushed the button, no water would have come out, and you could have said G-d’s name in vain!”
Looking back behind me, there she was. Aside from never having considered the possibility of water not actually flowing out, I was taken aback by the beautiful commitment and connection my previous kallahhad to Torah and mitzvot. And there I was thinking again, “I need to marry her; she is so special.”
As the days passed, my kallah eventually learned that I had grown especially depressed due to the breakup. Possessing a Breslov flair, she was accustomed to entering the forest and praying. At this point, she was staying in Har Nof, next to the Jerusalem Forest. And so, one day, when she went into the forest for her usual hitbodedut (meditation), she davened that I be able to cope with what happened and happily move on in life.
But, as Divine Providence had it, it was clear that we were supposed to get married. We shared much in common and my Rosh Yeshiva agreed that we should get reengaged. And so we did. We went on to choose a wedding hall, after which my now renewed kallah proceeded to fly to America.
Sometime later, she called me and said, “I have been thinking about it, and I want to get married on Eretz Yisrael.” Wondering what she meant by this, I asked, “What do you mean ‘on’ Eretz Yisrael?” “I don’t want to get married in a wedding hall,” she explained, “I want to get married on the land of Israel itself. I want to feel the earth underneath my feet.” While the idea sounded nice, I wasn’t sure how the logistics would work out. Asking her what she had in mind, she said, “It’s simple. Go and grab your mountain bike and ride around until you find a nice spot.” Being that I am an athletic mountain biker, I happily embraced the challenge.
Although I knew that it wouldn’t be too easy to find the perfect area, I ambitiously headed out on the excursion. I was looking for a large area which had extra space to accommodate parking and provide the convenient amenities for elderly people, including my Rebbe, the Pinsk-Karliner Rebbe zt”l, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah. After five hours of maneuvering just about through all of the Jerusalem Forest, I finally came across a site I felt fit the criteria.
Calling my kallah later that night, I related what I had done and described to her the exact location I had found. When she heard what I had to say, she couldn’t believe it. “That spot in the forest is the exact same place I davened for you when you were feeling down.” And indeed, that is where we got married.
Every year, my wife and I along with our children revisit that same spot in the forest. My wife puts on her wedding veil and walks around me seven times just like a kallah does to her chattan, and all our children stand there laughing. With tears of joy filling our eyes, we daven together for our children and Am Yisrael. And let me tell you, it is beautiful.
Many times throughout life we face situations which leave us depressed and despondent. Feelings of hopelessness set in and we slowly lose our inner tranquility and peace of mind. But then, matters improve, and we see a brighter future beckoning on the horizon. Life returns to normal and we regain our inner composure. It is then that we come to realize that even during those gloomy moments we were being supported. We were being carried by a loving hand and listened to by an attentive ear. At the very moment we felt things could get no worse, our greatest salvation was conceived. Hashem never abandoned us; He was only clearing the way amid the forest for our most beautiful future.
A Short Message From Rebbetzin Yaffa Jungreis
Introducing every chapter of Pirkei Avot is the short dictum underscoring that every Jew shares a place in the World to Come. Yet what relationship exists between this maxim and Pirkei Avot? The answer is that before attempting to coach anyone and teach them how to behave, one must first and foremost convey feelings of validation and worth. By accentuating another’s potential and greatness, they will be inclined to listen to your advice and inculcate your directives. For this reason, before every chapter of Pirkei Avot which advises us how to act, a short reminder of who we are and where we are heading is highlighted. We are all on our way to the World to Come and possess the tremendous capability of achieving our potential and attaining greatness.
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