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(5742) Rashi (Deut 20:19): "is the tree of the field a man". The reason man is specifically compared to the vegetative type


In the Torah portion Shoftim we are commanded to treat trees with respect, for “Man is a tree of the field.”1 What is the resemblance between the loftiest creature and lowly vegetation?

The special quality of plants and trees lies in their attachment to the earth, the source from whence they derive their existence and nourishment. This is particularly true with regard to trees. Other plant life, such as grain, vegetables, etc., do not exist in such a continually attached state, for they soon wither and die. The fact that trees are able to withstand winter’s frosts and summer’s heat indicates that they have a particularly strong attachment to the earth, an attachment that enables them to endure difficult times and continue to bear fruit.

Man is a microcosm;2 just as the world as a whole is composed of inanimate matter, vegetable matter, animals and men, so too are these qualities to be found within each and every individual.

A person’s emotive traits are likened to vegetation,3 for they embody growth and development. And although intelligence grows as well, intellect also has an “animal” aspect in that it constantly undergoes movement and change, similar to an animal’s ability to roam. Further, man’s emotive traits tend to be self-limiting — a kind person is inevitably gentle, a severe person will almost always deal with others in a stern manner. For this reason too, the emotive traits are likened to vegetation.

Comprehension, however, understands things as they truly are, not as the person wishes them to be. The conclusions drawn from a concept will vary according to the concept itself, leading sometimes to kindness and sometimes to severity.

Just as in the macrocosm, vegetation is unique in its constant unification with its source, so too within man, the emotive powers are always attached to a person’s essence. This also explains why emotional traits and tendencies are so powerful, and why it is so very difficult for a kind person to become severe, etc.

By likening man to “a tree in the field,” the Torah is in effect telling us that the true test of an individual is not so much his intellectual qualities but his emotional ones; it is they that take the measure of the man.4

It follows that man’s labor and toil with regard to self-improvement is to be directed more towards refining his emotional traits than towards refining his mind;5 perfecting and polishing one’s emotive character has the greatest impact on a person’s essence.

In fact, refining one’s emotive traits is deemed to be so important that intellectual comprehension is not considered complete if it does not affect one’s emotions — “Know this day and take this knowledge unto your heart.”6

Just as this is so with regard to each individual, so too regarding the Jewish people as a whole:

All Jews are descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and as such are constantly attached to them and their qualities. The main qualities of the Patriarchs lay not so much in matters of intellect as in emotion,7 for Avraham epitomized kindness and love, Yitzchak severity and fear, Yaakov mercy and beauty — the three traits that encompass the emotional spectrum.8

These sterling qualities — the “trees of the field” — are the birthright of each and every Jew. They must merely be revealed, refined and developed to the greatest possible extent.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXIV, pp. 115-119.
1.    Devarim 20:19.
2.    Tanchuma, Pikudei 3. See also Avos d’Reb Nasan ch. 31:3.
3.    Torah Or 4a.
4.    See Hemshech Te’erav III , p. 1221.
5.    See Ma’amarim titled Al Ta’atzar p. 6ff, Ain HaKadosh Baruch Hu Ba 5685; VaYisa Aharon 5694.
6.    Devarim 4:39.
7.    See Torah Or , beginning of Torah portion Va’eira. See also Tanya ch. 18.
8.    See Tanya ch. 3; Torah Or 1b.


1. On the verse: “Is the tree of the field a man?” the Talmud asks:

“Is then man the tree of the field? This can only be explained if we connect the verse with the words immediately before it where it is written, ‘For you may eat of them, but you shall not cut them down’; but then again it is written, ‘It you should destroy and cut down’? How is this to be explained?-If the scholar is a worthy person eat from him (learn from him - Rashi) and do not cut him (shun him – Rashi), but if he is not destroy him and cut him down.”

One must understand:

Since the Talmud asks “Is then man the tree of the field?” it proves that the opinion of the Talmud is that the reason that man is likened to a “tree of the field” is

not just because a tree serves as an analogy from which one can  understand one (or several) of the qualities and properties of man

For if the verse means to compare them to certain parts, it then would have no reason to ask “Is then man the tree of the field?” – since there are man aspects in which man can be compared to a “tree of the field” but rather

that man is a “tree of the field”.

A “tree” depicts (not just parts or secondary aspects of a man, but,) the entirety of man – “man is a tree of the field”

And one could say that this is also understood from that which one does not recite Tachanun on the fifteenth day of Shvat (Tu b’Shvat) – Rosh Hashanah for trees and that it is a custom to eat fruits of the tree on this day etc. (And we connect it with the verse: “ for man is a tree of the field”)

For if “tree of the field” is not more than an analogy to man – then there is no sufficient reason for one to “celebrate” the tree’s New Year. It is therefore understood that “man is a tree of the field” means, as aforementioned, that a person is a “tree of the field”. Therefore the New Year for trees has a connection to a person

It is not understood:

1)      How is the Talmud’s question: “Is then man the tree of the field?” resolved with the answer: “If the scholar is a worthy person eat from him etc.”, since that aspect is also, seemingly, not more than:

a)      An analogy (mashal) and allegory (nimshal) from a “tree of the field”

b)      Even more so,(an allegory) in only one aspect –

Therefore the question of “Is then” still remains:– Can one, because of this, call man a “tree of the field”?

2)      How, in general, is it fitting to describe the quality of man, a species that speaks (medaber) – as a “tree of the field” – namely, that he has the properties of a “vegetative” specie (tzomeach)?

It is true that man also possesses the aspect of “growth” (specifically the growth of one’s hair and fingernails etc.)..


1)      Man possesses an even greater quality – the aspect of “Chai” (living)

 (note: as is known, man is comprised of all four categories: domem (inanimate), tzomeach (vegetative),chai (living) and medaber (speaking).)

2)      And the main thing: This does not represent the quality of man (a medaber) – therefore how is it fitting to say that “man is a “tree of the field”?

2. The special quality - that distinguishes the vegetative species (compared to the speaking and living species), is that it does not cover up or “hide” its true vitality. It is always connected (by its roots) to its source, the power of growth (koach haTzomeach) in the earth, which makes it “alive” and growing.

When one detaches a plant from the ground , it stops growing.

We do not find with a “chai” and “medaber” that they must be bound to their root and source: They are not connected to the earth, even though it (also) was the source of the “chai” and “medaber” species – (as it states:) “Everything is from the earth”;

Yet after the creation (birth) of every chai and medaber - it is not confined to its root and source (which gave birth to them). Also the sustenance of the chai and medaber is in a manner that they do not need to be connected to the source of their food.

But the Tzomeach is constantly connected to the power of growth in the ground.

We find something similar to this in fish. They must constantly be in water, the source of their vitality. And when they are separated from the sea, they immediately die. And on the contrary, - it is more extreme than Tzomeach. For their entire being remains in the source of their vitality – in water.

But - this is the very point:

The innovation of Tzomeach over fish is that, even when they are growing above ground, outside of their source, such as trees that grow higher than three handbreadths (tefachim), ten handbreadths or extremely high – nevertheless they constantly remain connected, through their roots which are in the ground – to the power of growth in the ground (koach Hatzomeach).

Also, with fish, a singular fish is not entirely connected to its specific source of vitality (chayut prati). It must travel around, even from a river to the sea (or the opposite) – which is not the case with Tzomeach.

3. In the vegetative species itself, there is an advantage of “tree of the field” – actual trees- over the other vegetative species.

Other vegetative species – like grains and vegetables etc. – do not remain alive (as a plant that is connected to the ground) from year to year (perennial). They lose their existence. However, trees produce fruit from year to year – they can withstand all types of changes: Summer, Winter etc. and their existence is not ended.

This indicates a very strong connection with the source of their vitality, which gives them a great strength to not be affected by the changes of seasons – they remain alive and also grow from year to year.

4. Man is a “microcosm” (olam katan). Just as the “world” (macrocosm/olam Gadol) is divided into four categories: domem (inanimate), tzomeach (vegetative), chai (living) and medaber (speaking). So too man, even in his spiritual aspects, contains these four categories.

As is known, the characteristics (middos) of a person are considered the Tzomeach of a person’s soul, for in middos there is growth from small to large,

Concerning intellect (koach haseichel), not only is there growth from small to larger, but there even is the aspect of “Chai” which manifests itself in movement and changes from place to place, similar to an animal which travels from place to place.

Accordingly, intellect is not (“connected/mechubar”) bound and subjected (untergevarfen) to one nature. The purpose of intellect is to understand something (not the way it wants to be understood, but) the way it is. Therefore one fluctuates and changes position, sometimes (in the direction of) Chesed (kindness), sometimes severity (gevurah) - until one comes to a logical conclusion that there must be (for example) kindness (in one situation) and severity – in another situation etc.

However Middos (in and of themselves) are constrained by their nature. Kindness remains (in and of itself) in the channel of Chesed (kav haChesed). So too, the attribute of Severity in the channel of Gevurah (kav haGevurah). It is just that they “grow” from small to large.

5. Just as Tzomeach in the “larger world” (olam Gado) is distinguished, as aforementioned, with the quality that it is constantly connected to its source. So too the property of Tzomeach in man, his Middos – have a quality over intellect. For they, specifically, are (constantly) connected to their roots – the inner soul of man (pnimiyut nefesh haAdam).

This is also the reason why Middos (emotions of the heart) have in them , as we see, a tremendous steadfastness (tokef Gadol). So much so, that it is extremely hard for them to change “position”, to alternate (as mentioned previously concerning trees). It is very difficult for a kind natured person to change to be a harsh person (and so too the opposite)

Nevertheless, it (should) be noted that it is possible – even though it is not common, and not prevalent. A person can, with his intellect, overcome his natural characteristics. So much so that one can change from bad to good - just as trees, through the great effort of uprooting them from their place and planting them in another place - can grow in the new environment and sometimes – (thrive) better and with greater force than in their original place

And this is also the reason that intellect is not bound to the nature of a person (as we see, that one can understand and even grasp a concept that is contrary to his nature) – because a person’s intellect (seichel/”chai”) is, outwardly, not so connected to the root of his soul. (just as an animal/“chai” in the “larger world”, which is not (constantly) connected to its roots)

6. With this, one can understand why the verse states: “man is a tree of the field”. The aspect (thing/zach) of man is a “tree of the field” ( as above par. 1) – because, specifically in Middos , the level of Tzomeach within it, manifests itself visibly (their root and source , the way it is) in the Pnimiyut of the soul.

And one could say that, therefore the main Avodah of a person is (not particularly in the aspect of intellect, but mainly) in the refining and polishing of Middos.

Because the rectification of Middos affects the Pnimiyut of the soul. Therefore a person prepares for his completion (shleimus) specifically through this Avodah. So much so that even the completeness of his intellect (“And you shall know”) is accomplished through his effecting his personal Middos (“And you shall take it to your heart”)

And this is why the Talmud explains that the aspect of “man is a tree of the field” is manifested in that which: “If the scholar is a worthy (hagun) person eat from him”.

The explanation of “worthy” is that the Torah scholar not only has the quality of intellect (knowledge), but (also) that his intellect rules his Middos. For this brings him to conduct himself in a manner that is “worthy”.

And specifically, from this type of Torah scholar, one should “eat” – learn and receive from him, because “man is a tree of the field”.   When is a person a complete “man” (adom) (from whom one can learn)? – (specifically) when he is a “tree of the field”. Namely, when the level of Tzomeach in him, his middos, are the way they should properly be (Kedeboi lemehavei).

7. Just as this is with every individual, so too is it with regards to the entire Jewish people collectively:

All Jews stem from the three Patriarchs: Avrohom, Yitzchak and Jacob. And it is in a manner that they are constantly connected to the Patriarchs.

As Rashi states on the verse: “For I view it, from the mountain peaks”:

“I gaze at their origins and the beginnings of their roots, and I perceive that they are well founded and powerful etc. because of the patriarchs and the matriarchs”.

What elicits (drigt zich) this connection of every Jew with the three Patriarchs? –

not (so much) the aspect of intellect, but rather

the aspect of Middos.

As is known – the three Patriarchs correspond to the three Middos: love, fear and mercy (which are representative of all the attributes). And the Patriarchs bestowed these Middos to their descendants for eternity. So much so that the level (bechina) of the Patriarchs is “constant . . at all times in every person”.

The reason for this is:

The concept of inheritance is connected to the essence of the (both the) bequeather and the inheritor.

Therefore, the reason that the Patriarchs bestowed on their descendants, through inheritance,

 is not (so much) because it is connected to the Patriarch’s standing in intellect and understanding of G-dliness,

(For example: The level of Avrohom - intellect hidden from all conception (Av Ram – seichel haNe’elam mikol ra’ayon))

for intellect does not have (so much) within it, the connection with the essence and Pnimiyut which is transferred through inheritance. But rather, it

is because it is connected through their Avodah in Middos –love fear and mercy.

For the nature of their Middos is connected with the Pnimiyut of the soul.

8. One of the lessons which one must plainly take out from this aspect is:

The source of vitality of a Jew is Torah (as it states:) “For it is our life”. However, life’s arrangement, for most people is comprised (according to Torah) in a manner that “the sole occupation of Torah (Torah umnatan) is minimal,

and in general, confined to Torah scholars (yoshvei ohel) who reside in the environment (tents) of Torah, -

not like fish of the sea which are constantly found in the source of their vitality.

(However, most people) go forth in the world and must conduct their life-mission (shlichus) there, in order to make an abode for G-d in this world.

However, one must remember, that “man is a tree of the field” - a Jew must constantly be bound to the source of his vitality: The vitality (and enthusiasm which is) in Torah and Mitzvot, which he had when he resided in the tents of Torah – before he reached the time of “pursuing” (lirdof) (a livelihood) –

He must be constantly bound, so much so, that he feels that he presently“connected now” to that time.

In other words, one must not feel that once ago he learned in a Cheder or Yeshivah, and he remembers now, how he once felt and acted – but rather, he must now feel the connection with that time, so much so that he feels that this is his present vitality now, and that this comprises his (entire) being.

On the other hand, those that occupy themselves solely with Torah (yoshvei ohel), must know, that the sole study of Torah is not sufficient. For with intellect alone, which fluctuates, one cannot be certain that, afterwards, when one leaves the tents of Torah, that one will remain properly bound to Torah.

Only when the study of Torah is in a manner of “And you shall take it to your heart” is Torah etched (eingekritzt) in the person in a manner of: “I do not change”. And in whatever situation a person may find himself, he remains bound to the source of Living Water – Torah and Mitzvot.

(m’Sichas Motzaei Shabbat Vaeira 5739

Shabbat Parshat Beshalach 5740)

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