There is no force in this world greater than that of a man determined to rise.
Trees are so beautiful! The reason why our home city of Palm Beach Gardens is so pretty because of the emphasis that it places on planting trees wherever possible, and it has thereby been officially designated as Tree City USA. Our city logo is the Banyan Tree, and we have an entire department in City Hall dedicated to trees.
We Jews make a big deal out of trees too, as we celebrate the New Year for Trees—Tu B’Shvat. There is no other living being that we honor with a New Year recognition. So closely connected are we with trees that the Torah tells us that “Man is the Tree of the Field.” Why do we identify with trees more than anything else?
The giant sequoia trees, also known as Californian Redwoods, can reach staggering heights of up to 350 feet! The oldest living trees among them are estimated to be 3500 years old, going back to the time when the Jews were still slaves in Egypt! The secret to the survival of these silent giants lies beneath the surface. Their roots are relatively shallow, but they interlock with each other, thus fusing the forest above into one massive foundation below the surface. With this kind of support, no wind in the world could topple these colossal creatures. When the root is strong, there is no reason to fear the wind.
In 1921, the young town of Tel Aviv celebrated the arrival of a distinguished visitor: Mr. Winston Churchill, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Tel Aviv’s mayor, Meir Dizengoff, gave Churchill a beautiful reception on Rothschild Boulevard. To impress his guest, he had municipal employees import a row of trees from the Mikveh Israel school, and plant them right in front of his house on the main thoroughfare.
The reception was elegant and festive, but as soon as the band began to play, and throngs of locals crowded around to shake Churchill’s hand—all the newly-implanted trees suddenly came toppling to the ground. Churchill aptly told Dizengoff: “Mr. Mayor, without roots, nothing will grow here….”
Man is exactly the same in the sense that who we are is far more about what lies beneath the surface than about what meets the eye. Our convictions are much more powerful than our actions. There are multiple layers to our consciousness: our most deeply held convictions are the roots that stabilize and ground us. Our values are the branches that help us bear fruit, and our actions are the leaves that are here for only a short time and then they blow away. Don’t invest your energy in your leaves alone, because they are meant to leave!
If we could be like trees, focusing our efforts on nurturing our roots instead of our attributes, we, like the soaring sequoias, would be indestructible.
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The Torah portrays a magnificent example of this as the Jewish People stood before the Red Sea, an insurmountable obstacle that blocked their way to the Promised Land. With the Egyptian army behind them in hot pursuit, they were stuck. When Moses instructed them to march forward into the Sea, the Nation stood paralyzed. One man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, manifested the courage of his convictions as he singularly marched forward into the sea with the astonished people watching him in disbelief. As he waded into the waters, nothing happened until the waters covered his nostrils. When he continued to march undeterred, exhibiting unshakable faith in G-d Almighty, it was at that moment that the sea split, a miracle that we celebrate to this very day at countless Seder tables across the world. Nachshon was deeply conscious of and drew his strength from his roots.
Our sages explain that this epic narrative was much more than a historical account, it was a metaphor for all future generations as to how we are to overcome our challenges. Like Nachshon before whose faith the sea split, whenever we encounter obstacles in our way, it is the strength of our confidence in G-d that will carry us through to where we need to be.
The earth-shattering novelty that we learn from Nachshon is that our perception changes our reality. Many of the most famous Biblical characters of the Torah experienced miraculous results when they mustered the strength to believe against all odds. Abraham, Elijah the Prophet and Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa all experienced miracles of epic and unprecedented proportions when the circumstances they faced forced them to exhibit faith in the face of fear.
We might be able to accept this idea academically, but in practicality it seems far fetched, to say the least. Yet amazingly, cutting-edge scientific research has proven to be perfectly consistent with this seemingly outrageous position.
Every living being is made up of cells that are made up of molecules. They are in turn made of atoms. Atoms themselves are made up of subatomic particles moving at high velocity, known as protons, electrons and nucleons traveling at high speed like miniature solar systems. This is also known as energy.
Though scientists have debated the nature of energy as either being a wave or a particle, recent scientists have concluded that it is in fact neither. Energy is actually an endless field of potentiality bouncing around the atom in much the same way that a basketball is all over the court.
The reason that electrons have been seen behaving in different ways is actually because they were under observation! Max Planck (1858-1947) was a Nobel-Prize winning physicist and father of Quantum Theory. He is one of the most venerated physicists of our times.
In an interview with “The Observer” on January 25,1931, Max Planck said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as a derivative of consciousness.”
Clearly, even modern science agrees that what goes on in in our hands is a direct result of what goes on in our hearts! What happens to us is directly related to whats happening inside of us.
Before the Alter Rebbe passed away on Motzei Shabbos (24 Teves 1812), his grandson the Tzemach Tzedek prayed the evening service—Maariv—in his presence in a melancholy tune. After he finished and just minutes before his own passing, the Alter Rebbe chastised the Tzemach Tzedek:
‘Your inner state of mind affects reality! Do not sing songs with tunes of depression. The world is like a mirror. When you reflect an image of sadness and dread, that is what comes back to you. The Divine energy mirrors your inner reality.’ (Igros Kodesh Tzemach Tzedek p. 324)
Indeed, the Zohar —the foundational book of Kabbalah— (Volume II, Tetzaveh, p. 184b) magnificently states: ‘The Lower World is always ready to receive…the Upper World only gives according to the state of the Lower World. If it is a state of bright countenance from below, in the same manner will be shone from above. But if it is in sadness from below, it is correspondingly given sadness from above.’
Like Nachshon who drew strength from his deepest faith, we too must nurture our roots. The purpose of prayer, especially morning prayer, is to nourish our convictions as we brace ourselves for the inevitable challenges of the day. It’s a time to reflect and meditate on our faith in G-d, the mission that He has empowered us to fulfill, and on the strength with which He has endowed us. Frequent prayer is vital to maintain healthy roots. If your cell phone needs a recharge at least once a day, don’t you think your soul needs that too?
I got up early one morning
and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish
that I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me,
and heavier came each task.
“Why doesn’t G-d help me?” I wondered.
He answered, “You didn’t ask.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty.
but the day toiled on, gray and bleak;
I wondered why G-d didn’t show me.
He said, “But you didn’t seek.”
I tried to come into G-d’s presence;
I used all my keys at the lock.
G-d gently and lovingly chided,
“My child, you didn’t knock.”
I woke up early this morning,
and paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish
that I had to take time to pray.
May your branches reach high as your roots run deep!
Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens
6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418
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