Joining the Marine [Park] Core!
Establishing Deeper Roots
Rabbi Hillel L. Yarmove
This year on erev Shabbos Chazon, we in Lakewood, New Jersey, like so many other people living in the northeast quadrant of the United States, experienced extremely turbulent weather—in this case, a uniquely massive thunderstorm. To declare that the winds blew forcefully and the rains fell heavily would be an understatement of the crassest kind.
Indeed, I have weathered (pardon the pun!) many hurricanes and other tempestuous conditions in my day, but this time I shall have to admit that, yes, I was a mite scared. And my fear was certainly not diminished by the driving rains, which produced veritable walls of water that seemed ready to deluge not just our streets but our houses as well. (In fact, many people in our Ir HaTorah did experience heavily flooded basements—and worse.)
So I really shouldn’t have been surprised to see that at the end of our street a neighbor’s Norway maple tree (Acer platanoides) had been upended: not only that, but a goodly portion of the homeowner’s lawn and even some sidewalk had followed suit. Since I discovered this scenario in the wee hours of Shabbos Chazon on the way to my weekly k’vasikin minyan, I really couldn’t make out the fine details of the damage because of the darkness. When I finally saw it by day, I was utterly shocked.
I must have shaken with trepidation because I couldn’t help but remember that this year Shabbos Chazon had fallen out on the ninth day of Av—so today was literally Tisha B’Av. Might this thoroughgoing upending of a sturdy Norway maple then have been some type of drastic warning? That’s what I thought at the time. But in retrospect I now believe that I was being taught a lesson in how to achieve perfection in midos and character fulfillment.
The third chapter of Pirkei Avos contains a startling comment by Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah: “Anyone whose wisdom is greater than his actions, to what may he be compared? To a tree whose branches are many but whose roots are few: indeed, the wind may come, uproot it, and flip it over” (3:17 [my translation]). Later in the same Mishnah, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah asserts that the opposite is also true: “Anyone whose good deeds are greater than his wisdom is like a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Why, even if all the winds in the world were to blow [simultaneously] on this tree, they would not budge it from its place!”
Pelledig—especially in light of my discovery on the following day that this Norway maple seemingly had sported very few roots worthy of the name! How it had stood for so many years without being uprooted by a single strong gust of wind or by a stiff breeze is still a mystery to me.
Elul is right around the corner. This year I want to take a lesson from the Drei Vochen in general and Tisha B’Av in particular. Why not let this lesson be something that I witnessed as a consequence of the pre-Tisha B’Av thunderstorm and its accompanying seven inches of rain—so unusual and so very frightening?
And what might that be?
Now is the time to strengthen our roots—to foster and promote deeds of loving-kindness which will show our deep concern for family, teachers, friends, neighbors, and students. After all, the roots of our beloved Yiddishkeit must be nourished through our own efforts: it does not help the rooting process if we merely discuss what we must do. We have got to proceed with vigor!
Such being the case, let the rather-grotesque image of the upended Norway pine and its attached grassy lawn remind us that, unlike this tree, we really do have a way to resist the winds of winter-like apathy and callousness. Yes, now is surely the time to grow our roots ever deeper so that no wind can ever upend us.
Not now. Not ever!
Questions or comments? Please send these to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am “rooting” for you all!