Tammuz 5763 – Seminary Roots

1 Tammuz, 5763

From the desk of: Rabbi Gamliel Shmalo

I was trimming trees and pulling up weeds out in the garden the other day, quite happy that my pomegranate was flourishing after a hard winter pruning. This tree gives particularly large, tart, and deep red fruit; but the wood of the tree is unusually soft, and by the end of the summer the branches tend to sag excruciatingly low under the weight of the crop. This winter I finally decided to cut the trunk back hard and now it appears that the experiment worked. Several weeks ago new branches developed with fresh young leaves, almost purple as they first opened, delicate yet powerful factories that began turning solar znergy, water and CO2 into sugars. As the last blossoms of the season fade, those complex sugars are forming the earliest of the young fruit, and by Rosh Hashanah we should have an above average yield.

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that Hashem your G-d has given you…” Summer in the Judean hills.
This tree has been with our family for ten years now – it’s four months older than my oldest sons – and we’re all well acquainted with this yearly cycle of this faithful tree: leaves to sugars, blossoms to fruit.

But then the Midrash refers to an odd “tapuach” tree. I don’t know what species this is, although (despite the translation) it is clearly not a Malus domestica, the domesticated apple familiar to us all, nor is it a pomegranate. The fantastic midrashic tapuach breaks the logical cycle that our beautiful pomegranate both demonstrates and shares with all the other fruit trees on our planet: the tapuach is unique in that every year it bears its fruit before its leaves develop. But if the tapuach doesn’t have leaves, where does it get sugars and starches to produce fruit?

To explain the phenomenon, the Rabbis cited the verse from Tehillim 103: “Bless Hashem, His angels, those powerful in strength, who act on His word, who listen to the voice of His word.” The fresh young leaves of most deciduous fruit trees are also made of complex sugars, which the tree stores in its roots during the winter. In the spring, the tree uses its stored energy to build new leaves, which in turn generate more sugars, which are the building blocks of the fruit. But it seems that there are some creations that are so powerfully strong – they have so much stored up energy – that they can sprint straight to the goal, the production of the fruit, and then take care of the “means” well afterwards. In the case of the angels, they go straight to the action – “who act on His word” – and only afterwards meditate on the wisdom behind the commandment – “who listen to the voice of His word.” In the case of the tapuach, the tree draws on its stored energy and immediately produces fruit. It germinates its leaves only afterwards.
And Israel is the tapuach of the nations, because we also placed goal before means, when we proclaimed “na’asseh – we shall do” before “nishmah – we shall listen.” Normally, the motivation to act (the fruit) follows the conviction engendered through contemplation (the leaves): first comes listening and only then acting. In the case of Israel, powerfully strong, we sprint to the goal – the action – and then return to contemplate the wisdom of the commandments.

From where does the tapuach get its strength if not from the leaves? From the energy produced by the previous year’s leaves, stored in the roots. And from where does Israel get its motivation to act if not from the contemplation of the commandment at hand? From our roots as well: from our connection to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs; from the clarity of the Exodus; from previous experience, study and enlightenment.

Your time in seminary was an easy time for developing your roots. You produced through both study and experience the clarity and conviction that has been stored through cold – but passing – winters. Now, when called upon to act, you can draw upon the energy of the “powerful in strength,” and produce immediate fruit.

But the cycle must not end there. Steeled by the commandment successfully performed, you must continually reflect upon the commandment’s significance, unfold a new leaf, generate more energy, and grow the root even deeper. Store through the next winter; produce in the spring.

May you continue to act, to study, to reflect: to grow your roots. And may your fruit be always fragrant and sweet.