The Fruits of Zion’s Barren TreesDear Friends,
The Torah is described as, “a tree of life to those who hold fast to it” (Proverbs 3:18). In addition, the 613 mitzvos of the Torah can be viewed as “branches” on this tree (Sefer Chareidim, chap. 61). The first of the 613 mitzvos which is recorded in the Torah is the following mitzvah to increase life: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis l:28). Regarding this mitzvah, Maimonides writes: “By this injunction, we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply for the perpetuation of the species” (Book of Mitzvos, 212).
This mitzvah is of special significance to our people, since the Torah is considered to be the heritage of all Israel – a heritage which is to be passed on to one’s children. According to our tradition, a child is not only a gift of life; a child is also a messenger of life – one who will transmit the life-giving teachings of Torah to future generations. This transmission is not just for our sake; it is also for the sake of the world, as in the messianic age, “Torah will go forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:3), and, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem” (Isaiah 11:9). Those of our people who, despite their best efforts to properly fulfill this sacred mitzvah, are unable to have children, may feel that they are not full members of the Family of Israel and that they are not contributing to the fulfillment of Israel’s mission. Many centuries ago, the Prophet Isaiah addressed this concern when he proclaimed the following message of Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, to those without children:
“Let not the barren one say, ‘Behold I am a dry tree.’ For thus said Hashem to the barren ones who observe My Sabbaths, choose what I desire, and hold fast to My Covenant: In My house and within My walls, I will give them a place of honor and renown, which is better than sons and daughters; eternal renown will I give them, which will never be terminated.” (Isaiah 56:3-5)
People without children are not to consider themselves to be dry trees, if they keep the Sabbaths of Hashem, do what Hashem desires, and hold fast to our Covenant with Hashem, which is the Torah (Exodus 24:7,8). In this spirit, the Midrash cites the following teaching of Rabbi Judah Ben Shalom, the Levite:
When a person departs from the world without children, he is troubled and weeps. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, says to him: “Why do you weep? Is it because you did not leave fruits in this world? You have left fruits which are more valuable than children!” The person then asks: “Master of the Universe, what fruits have I left?” And the Holy One, Blessed Be He, answers: “The fruits of Torah – the Tree of Life, as it is written (Proverbs 11:30): ‘The fruit of the righteous one is a tree of life.’ ” (Midrash Tanchuma, Noah 2)
“The fruit of the righteous one is a tree of life.” – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on these words, writes:
“For the righteous person, everything he does is a tree of life. Out of his every deed grows something beneficial and life-giving to his surroundings.” (Cited in “From the Wisdom of Mishle,” page 69)
The fruitful deeds mentioned in the above Divine promise to the barren ones are the keeping of the Sabbaths of Hashem, doing what Hashem desires, and holding fast to the Torah, our covenant with Hashem. I would like to suggest the following reasons why these three examples are mentioned:
1. The keeping of the Sabbaths is a central mitzvah which represents all the mitzvos of the Torah regarding our relationship with Hashem. This is because the keeping of the Sabbaths serve as a reminder that Hashem is the Creator of the earth and all life on earth, including us (Genesis 2:1-3). Hashem therefore proclaimed in the fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Keep the Sabbath Day to sanctify it” (Deuteronomy 5:12).
The commentator, Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi), cites the following interpretation of “My Sabbaths” in the name of his father (Rabbi Yosef Kimchi): This phrase refers to both the Sabbath which commemorates the creation – the sacred seventh day, and the Sabbatical Year – the sacred seventh year when we do not work the land.
The Sabbath of the week reminds us that Hashem is the Creator of the earth, and the Sabbatical Year reminds us that Hashem is also the Owner of the earth. The Talmud therefore teaches that through the mitzvah of the Sabbatical Year, Hashem is telling Israel:
“Sow for six years and let go of the land in the seventh year, in order that you know that the land is Mine” (Sanhedrin 39a).
2. Doing what Hashem desires represents all the mitzvos of the Torah regarding our relationship with other human beings and with other creatures. These are mitzvos which cause us to emulate the compassionate and life-giving ways of Hashem in these relationships, as it is written:
“Thus said Hashem: Let not the wise one glorify himself in his wisdom, nor the strong one glorify himself in his strength, nor the rich one glorify himself in his riches. For only with this may one glorify himself – contemplating and knowing Me, that I am Hashem Who does loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these is My desire, spoke Hashem.” (Jeremiah 9:22, 23)
Hashem does loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these is Hashem’s desire. Hashem makes us aware of this desire, for this knowledge of Hashem’s attributes is to inspire us to go in the Divine ways and act with loving-kindness, justice and righteousness to others. (Commentary of Radak)
3. “And hold fast to My Covenant” – This means that we are to recognize that the responsibility to fulfill all the mitzvos of the Torah is our Covenant with Hashem; thus, we are to hold fast to this Covenant and fulfill our mission with great dedication, regardless of the challenges and difficulties that may arise in our lives. This Covenant is with all Israel, and holding fast to this Covenant enables us to do our share in the fulfillment of Israel’s mission.
The barren ones who strive to serve Hashem in this manner will be given a place of honor and renown in Zion, as Hashem proclaimed:
In My house and within My walls, I will give them a place of honor and renown, which is better than sons and daughters; eternal renown will I give them.
“In My house” – This is a reference to the Holy Temple. (Targum Yonasan and Radak)
Why does Hashem emphasize that the barren ones will have honor and renown within the Holy Temple in Zion? I would like to suggest that an answer can be found in the ancient teaching cited by Maimonides which reveals that the human being was created at the site of the future Holy Temple (Mishneh Torah, Beis Habechirah 2:2). The barren ones may feel that since they were unable to have children, they have not fulfilled the life-giving purpose of the human being within creation. Hashem therefore proclaims that they will be honored in the very place where the human being was created, for through their life-giving deeds, they are indeed fulfilling the purpose of the human being within the creation.
I would like to suggest another reason why the barren ones will have honor and renown within the Holy Temple. According to the following prophecy, Torah is to go forth to the world from the Temple in Zion:
“Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths,’ for from Zion will go forth Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)
The barren ones may feel that they are unable to properly contribute to the fulfillment of this mission, since they cannot transmit the Torah to future generations by having children. Hashem is therefore revealing to the barren ones that they too are contributing to the fulfillment of this mission through their devotion to other mitzvos and through holding fast to the Covenant of Torah. They will therefore be given “eternal renown” in the very place from where Torah will go forth to the world.
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. “The main offspring of the righteous are their good deeds.” (Commentary of Rashi on Genesis 6:9)
2. The Talmud states that if someone teaches his friend’s child Torah, “It's as if he gave birth to him” (Sanhedrin 19b).
3. The Talmud also states (Sanhedrin 99b):
“Whoever teaches his friend’s child Torah, it’s as if he made him, as it is written (concerning the disciples of Avraham and Sarah): ‘the souls they made in Haran’ (Genesis 12:5).”
In Haran, Avraham and Sarah served as teachers and guides to the spiritually-searching men and women of their generation. The commentator, Rashi, in his explanation of the words, “the souls they made,” states that they brought people “under the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” Their teachings gave new life to these searching souls, and from the perspective of the Torah, these are “the souls they made in Haran.”
People who cannot give birth to physical children can therefore strengthen our people and our mission through giving birth to spiritual children.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
A Hopeful Message for Those without Children - Guest Post by Yosef Hakohen
This post is very much in line with a number of shiurim given by my Rebbe. I definitely recommend listening to this shiur, which is so fundamental to a Jew's understanding of his purpose in life. -D.Y.