Parashat Shoftim – I see men like trees

“Is perhaps the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?” (Dt 20:19).

Ki haAdam Etz haShade labo miPaneikha beMatzor

Rashi says this is a question; he interprets the word “Ki” as meaning: ‘perhaps’.

However, this Hebrew particle indicates casual relations of all kinds. It can also be translated as: “for certainly,” “because,” “since,” etc. Thereby we can interpret this phrase, not as a question but as a statement.

ki haAdam Etz haShade” – Because human being is a tree of the field.

Why is man compared to a tree? What are the characteristics of a tree?

Trees improve the environment – do we make a better world?

Trees quickly recover from the season’s weather – Do we get back into business after our personal winter seasons? – it’s also written: “even if it’s cut down there’s hope for a tree to sprout again” (Yov 14:7).

Trees offer shade and refuge to other living beings – do we?

Trees grow roots, leaves, flowers and fruits, purifying the ground, beautifying nature, spreading their seed, creating other new trees, and feeding other living beings.

Besides trees are interconnected one to another and communicate with each other in ways that our species cannot fully understand.

Our sages compare men to trees in this teaching:

“Whoever has more wisdom than deeds is like a tree with many branches but few roots, and the wind shall tear him from the ground… Whoever has more deeds than wisdom is like a tree with more roots than branches, and no hurricane will uproot him from the spot” (Pirke Avot 3:17).

So we infer from these ideas that there are deficient trees and perfect trees. Therefore, there are men that are not righteous; men that are represented as “trees that do not bear fruit”. This is hinted to in the words of the Torah:

Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down” (Dt 20:20).

And every human being that has the characteristics of a perfect tree is a Tzaddik – a righteous person – a Saint.

When Moses told the twelve spies to check in the land of Canaan “whether there is a Tree therein or not” (Nm 13:20) – the question carries interesting connotations. Moses, my friend, of course there are trees in Canaan, you even told them to bring fruits from there. Why you ask them to check is there is a tree?

But our sages explain that rather than a literal tree, Moses is looking for a righteous person: “see if there’s a man there whose years are the years of a tree and who shelters his generation like a tree” (Bava Bathra 15a).

So the Tzaddik of the generation is the one who is completely rooted on the waters from above and the waters from below – which are the teachings of the Torah. As it’s written:

Happy is the man… who delights in the Torah of HaShem… he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water” (Psalm 1:1-3). “Also: “the water for them flows from the Sanctuary” (Ez 47:12).

He purifies his environment and corrects the world.

He is embellished with good deeds towards his neighbour, as it’s written: “his leaves will be green” (Jer 17:8), “his leaves do not wither” (Psa 1:3), also: “their leaves [will be] for healing” (Ez 47:12); he bears the fruits of his righteousness, for it’s written: “he won’t cease from doing [performing] fruit” (Jer 17:8). In him many others come to find nourishment and refuge, as it’s written: “their fruit will be for food” (Ez 47:12). He then spreads his seed (his teachings) causing other trees like him to rise, and he’s one with them.

Through this living water that nourishes the Tzaddik, many are comforted, strengthened, and even receive the hope of the resurrection.

Because it’s written: “its roots may grow old in the earth and its stump die in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud” (Yov 14:9), and about men it’s written: “the righteous falls seven times but he rises again” (Prov 24:16) and “He won’t leave the righteous fallen” (Psal 55:23 [22]) in the secret of: “You will not abandon me to the Sheol, nor you will let your saint [Hassid] see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

The perfect tree is the Tzaddik

Every fruit-tree with seed in it after its kind” (Gn 1:12)

The Zohar says that the term “fruit-tree” represents the Sefirah of  Tiferet, the term “seed in it” represents the place of the Covenant – that is: Yesod (cf. Zohar 1:1a). As we’ve seen in many other Parashiot, “Tiferet combined with Yesod” are the attributes embedded in the Tzaddik (the righteous one) – Yesod is Yosef (cf. Prov 10:25 + Amos 2:6).

In the prayer of King David where he enumerates in order the 7 emotive Sefirot (1Chr 29:11), the Sefirah of Yesod is called “Kol” (meaning: all) – in the phrase: “all (kol) that is in Heaven and on Earth”, to which the Zohar replies that “Kol (ie. Yesod) joins together Heaven and Earth (being Heaven a name for the upper Sefirot and Earth a name for the lower Sefirah of Malkhut – Kingdom) (cf. Zohar 1:31a, 2:116a).

So the Zohar says elsewhere: “the term ‘seed in it’ is the Tzaddik; foundation of the world, and “after its kind” is every human being with the spirit of holiness within, which is the blossom of that tree” (Zohar 1:33a).

So as we see, the Tzaddik creates a very powerful inter-net between men and God, by receiving from above then impregnating the earth (meaning: the community of Israel) with his seed, then rising the kingdom to his level.

This leads us to another factor: The Tzaddik and those who attach to him are not only individual trees, they form a whole tree together – and they have a shared fate. It is written: For as the days of a tree [in singular] shall be the days of my people (Is 65:22).

The Midrash says:

“No part of the date palm is wasted… Similarly, no one is worthless in Israel: some are scholars, some do good deeds, and some work for social justice (Bamidbar Rabba 3:1).

The King Messiah is also mentioned as being part of a tree, for it’s written:

the days come… that I will raise to David a righteous shoot” (Jer 23:5).

These are the days of redemption, because after this it’s written:

“the days come that… it will be said… HaShem lives, who brought the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries where I had driven them’; and they will dwell in their own land” (Jer 23:7-8).

“For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people… for they are the seed blessed by HaShem… And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:22-24).

May it be speedily in our days, Amen.