Welcome to our new weekly dispatch from Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum of Chabad Prospect Heights. Each week, Rabbi Kirschenbaum will share his thoughts on the weekly Torah portion and its practical application.
To view his entire newsletter, please click here. This week the comments are on Shoftim (Judges).
Value in Packaging
I have a friend who will not buy avocados on principle. "Fifty percent of the weight is the seed," he explains. He loves purchasing apples, grapes and bananas, but avocados and mangos are out. Peaches and dates are borderline -- he'll buy them on occasion, with deep misgivings.
My friend has a point - the whole fruit business is a scam. Trees need to procreate; that's why they grow seeds. But trees are not very mobile, leaving them with the problem of how to get their seeds planted a reasonable distance away (if both you and your offspring are immobile, you can't throw them out of the house at age 35). One way would be to tap a passing bird, animal or human on the shoulder and say: "Excuse me, sir, can you please take these seeds and drop them off some distance away, preferably some place with good soil, sunshine and an abundant water supply?" But most passersby would probably mumble something about a doctor's appointment and slink away. So the tree packages its seeds in colorful, tasty and nutritional pulp, and markets it as "fruit".
"Man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19).
We resemble the tree in numerous ways: in our ceaseless "upward" striving, in our need for "roots", in the way that our lives fork and "branch" off in different directions, among others. Chief amongst them, of course, is the way that everything we are and do is focused on the generation of seed.
Man is a spiritual being, which means that we not only reproduce physically -- by giving birth to children -- but also spiritually: we replicate ourselves by seeding our ideas, feelings and convictions in the minds and hearts of others. And here, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we find an interesting parallel between the way that the fruit tree dispatches its seeds and the way that we disseminate our thoughts and experiences.
The fruit tree's vehicle of reproduction consists of two basic components:
1) the seed, into which the tree distills its very self - its characteristics, its nature, its quintessential treeness;
2) the "packaging" that makes it attractive and palatable to its curriers and consumers.
Both are necessary. Without the packaging, the seed wouldn't get very far, or would do so only with great difficulty. On the other hand, if a tree were to produce a most luscious and attractive fruit but neglect to include a seed, nothing would happen. There would be no shortage of consumers, but no progeny.
When we seek to "reproduce" spiritually by communicating our thoughts and feelings to others, we, too, package our seeds. We envelop them in intellectual sophistication, steep them in emotional sauce, dress them in colorful words and images. If we didn't, our message might not get very far (my avocado-shunning friend, for one, would not display much interest). But the important thing to remember is that there must be a "seed" in there. If the fruit of our mind doesn't encase a piece of our soul, what's the point?
The Rabbi and his Driver
A renowned rabbi, a brilliant philosopher, was held in high regard by his driver, who listened in awe at every speech while his boss would easily answer questions about morality, ethics and philosophy. Then one day the driver approached the rabbi and asked if he was willing to switch roles for the evening's lecture. The rabbi agreed and, for a while, the driver handled himself remarkably well. When it came time for questions from the guests, a man in the back asked, "Is the epistemological view of the universe still valid in an existentialist world?" "That is an extremely simple question," he responded. "So simple, in fact, that even my driver could answer that, which is exactly what he will do."
Signing off from Monticello, NY
Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum
firstname.lastname@example.org for comments, questions or suggestions
Click link to read Rabbi Kirschenbaum's entire Chabad Prospect Heights newsletter.