The trunk is the Torah that tells us what to do, the branches are our observance of the mitzvot….

This week is the 15th of Shevat, the New Year of Trees, known as "Tu B'Shevat". Traditionally, Tu B'Shevat is understood to be the day when the sap begins to rise, beginning the trees' process of renewal even before the winter's end. The Torah says, "Man is a tree of the field." (Deut. 20:19) If so, where are our roots? In our faith in G‑d. The trunk is the Torah that tells us what to do, the branches are our observance of the mitzvot. And the fruits are the results, the effects of our actions in this world, may they be many and go on to inspire others. It is fitting that the 15th of Shevat is during the week of parashat Yitro, the recounting of the giving of the Torah.

Rabbi Yibay tells us that whoever habitually fraternizes around people who shmooze pointlessly instead of focusing on Torah study will eventually be guilty of loshon harah, hearing and speaking negative things about others. This can be learned from the first verse of the portion, "And Jethro heard, the priest of Midian..." (Ex. 18:1) Jethro's name in Hebrew, "Yitro", is related to the Hebrew word for "extra". Whoever hears "extra", things that are not essential, becomes a priest of Midian, which is connected to the Hebrew root "madon", meaning "quarreling".

Jethro arrives on the scene and immediately begins giving Moses advice, like any good father-in-law (!). He sees Moses standing and judging a massive number of people daily. Jethro tells Moses this is not an effective use of his time, that it will wither away his strength. Rather, Moses should appoint officers in charge of judging thousands, hundreds, fifties, etc. to share the responsibility. Only the very difficult cases should be brought to Moses. The Chozeh of Lublin writes that each of us is tested in a similar way. If we let our earthly concerns affect our involvement in Torah, then its truth - G‑d's supernal wisdom which binds us to Him - will , G‑d forbid, be lost. We will experience the Torah as withered fruit. Instead, we have to remember to keep mundane matters trivial, and remember that the Torah is the Al-mighty communicating with us.

A person who lets others see how he trembles in his service of G‑d, is not actually close to G‑d….

In preparation for the giving of the Torah, G‑d says, "And I will bring you to Me!" (Ex. 19:4) Chasidut explains that through the giving of the Torah, we, the Jewish people, were raised to an unprecedented spiritual height, as it says, "Face to face G‑d spoke to you." (Deut. 5:4) This is despite the fact that just a short time before we were at the lowest possible spiritual level, enslaved in Egypt, the pit of immorality. This elevation could only happen through the direct involvement of G‑d. Yet, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asks: if we were so high, why does the verse say, "And you shall stand at the bottom of the mountain"? (Ex. 19:17) This is to remind us and teach us that the purpose of the giving of the Torah is that each of us will take on the challenge of the physical world to transform it from the lowest to the highest spiritual level, making it a dwelling place for G‑d.

The Baal Shem Tov (Otzar Chaim) teaches that the verse "And the people saw and shook and they stood at a distance" (Ex. 20:15) describes how a person who lets others see how he trembles in his service of G‑d, is not actually close to G‑d, but "at a distance". Rebbe Simcha Bunim says that even though the Jews trembled and shook, they still stood at a distance. Some people think that overt, intense emotion is an indication of true fear of Heaven. This is not necessarily so; even the accusing spiritual forces can cause us to get excited or be afraid. In an alternate interpretation of the words, the Kotzker Rebbe said we often see that a person will listen, see and even nod his head as though he understands. Nevertheless, he "stands at a distance..." - he really does not know what is going on.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Copyright 2003 by All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.