The Gemara (Taanit 23a) talks about a man who planted a carob tree – and someone asked him why, since it would take 70 years to grow, and he wouldn’t be alive to see it. The man’s response was that it would be for his descendants, his children, and grandchildren.
Here, we see Chazal present a pure form of metaphoric genius. It encapsulates so much of what we do as Jews, and why.
We are blessed today to have magnificent Jewish education. Not only in day schools, but in the home, and through our upbringing, youth movements and summer camps, gap years, trips to Israel, Poland, and Europe. These opportunities nurture the mind and the soul with a Jewish identity.
Before us, were generations who would have dreamt to see the State of Israel, and before us, were generations who would have loved for their grandchildren to use their candle sticks every Friday night for Shabbat. They would have wanted their great, great grandchildren to know their story, to tell it to generations later, and for that to continue endlessly. The carob tree of Jewish identity has grown, and we have received it, but we must remember that it is exquisite and fragile; we must keep it going.
In Parashat Beshallah (Exodus 15:17), the verse tells us: “You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain” – which is the mountain of inheritance. Ibn Ezra explains that this verse is a prayer for when the Jewish people come to Eretz Yisrael, and they be planted there permanently, not exiled. Further, he quotes the verse: “I will plant it on a higher mountain, the height of Israel, their branches produce fruit and become a great seeder.” (Ezekiel 17:23). The generations to come should stay firmly planted and bear fruit for Am Yisrael! Just like the carob tree will bear fruit for Am Yisrael in the generations to come.
We know that Torah is like a tree of life! (Proverbs 3:18), but the verse tells us, it is a tree of life “for those who grasp it”. If we grasp and hold onto that way of life that we have, which is our identity, then we can be sure it will grow, like the carob tree to the generations after us. What is the essence of this identity that we wish to pass over? How can we break it down?
We plant for ourselves a life that consists of mitzvot as we grow over the years from childhood to Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and reaching milestones, finishing our time in midrasha/yeshiva, marriage, building a family, and so forth.
Yet, the verse tells us, “Ki Ner Mitzvah v’Torah Ohr, V’Derekh Chaim Tokhakhot Mussar” (Proverbs 6:23). There are mitzvot which are like a candle, there is Torah which is light, and there is the derekh chaim with virtues.
The carob tree does not just consist of the practical halakha that is being passed on. It is about the Jewish experience which is multi-layered. Mitzvot are not permanent, just as a candle goes out, so do mitzvot, which come once or twice a year, or once during the day. Torah is light, it is endless. It is something we learn, but it is also something part of us internally, as well as externally. It is accompanied by the mitzvot, but it is also accompanied by virtues and authentic values, or mussar. Those values are integral to the carob tree. As the verse tells us “one whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, to what may he be compared? To a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few” (Avot 3:17). When the carob tree grows, it needs roots, and the roots of mussar, virtues of the Torah are which guide us tremendously. Those roots make us better people, who truly want to serve God.
Trees grow upwards, as humans should, and in fact, the Torah tells us that humans are compared to trees (Deuteronomy 20:19). Growing upwards is an indication of passing on values. Just as we learn from the gemara (Shabbat 21b), we follow the ruling of Beit Hillel as we light Chanukah candles by counting upwards. Going forward means we have nowhere to stop, it is endless. There is more meaning as each day and each generation passes by.
The carob tree which grows and reaches a generation continues. Our identity grows and reaches the next generation, and it is planted again. Our job is to bear fruit for Am Yisrael – through the Torah that shines bright, accompanied by mitzvot and a path of life which we prioritise our virtues to God and the world around us.