Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
Parshas Shoftim features the well-known pasuk which states: “Ki ha’adam eitz ha’sadeh,” man is like a tree in the field.
The Gemara cites this pasuk and asks: “Is man truly like a tree?!” The solution offered by the Gemara is that like a tree bearing fruit which may not be destroyed, as opposed to a barren tree which is not afforded that protection, an ‘upstanding’ talmid chacham who ‘bears fruit’ is to be commended, while one who doesn’t – is not.
However, the Gemara’s entire premise seems questionable, since it’s already well-established that man is likened to a tree, such as in Pirkei Avos where a tree’s branches are a metaphor for man’s wisdom and its roots – for his deeds. Yet, the Gemara seems to understand the pasuk to mean that man is somehow literally like a tree!
Furthermore, the Gemara ironically wishes to solve this by simply using the tree as yet another metaphor, which hardly addresses the original question, and additionally appears to be applicable only to a talmid chacham. We must therefore reexamine the Gemara in order to determine how it is in fact pinpointing the basis of the pasuk’s equation.
Who is a Tree?
There are four Hebrew terms which are used to refer to man: Adam, ish, gever and enosh. Sources explain that adam is the highest ranking title which represents sechel, the intellect, while ish is in reference to midos, the emotions. In what way then can this aspect of man, adam, be compared to a tree?
Man is a microcosm of the world, and just as domem, tzomeiach, chai and medaber are present in the world as a whole, they are also contained within man; tzomeiach is ish, the midos whose nature it is to grow, while the medaber is adam, the human mind. If the question of which aspect of man is his greatest were raised, the obvious answer would appear to be sechel, since it’s his advantage over actual baalei chai who possess midos as well. Although ours may be of a higher quality, it is ultimately the animal (or tzomeiach) within us, as opposed to sechel.
Yet the pasuk seems to equate adam with eitz, which is why the Gemara asks: ‘How is adam, sechel, equated with eitz, midos?’
The Purpose of Intellect
The Gemara’s reply is: The entire function of sechel is the outcome, midos, just as all the parts of the tree serve to produce fruit. If everything is present save for the peiros, then the entire tree is worthless and may be destroyed, because the purpose for which everything exists is absent. Similarly, when man, one who studies Torah on whichever level, is ‘upstanding,’ producing mitzvos, exhibiting proper behavior, and good midos, or ‘bearing fruit,’ then he is properly focused on the desired outcome, like a tree.
Even more specifically, sechel itself, being the essence, is a microcosm within man, and therefore domem, tzomeiach, chai and medaber exist within it. Thus there is the sechel underlying every level, culminating in the medaber within medaber, sechel in its purest form, adam, wholly beyond midos. There’s the lower sechel of practical behavior, like Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and then there is the purer sechel of the theoretical discussions of the Gemara, which is deeper and higher.
The question according to this is: Even if peiros were the objective, wouldn’t it suffice to use the kind of sechel which is by definition dedicated to that function? Why the need for the essence of sechel, for Adam, in the realm of eitz, instead of sticking to the sechel of ish?
The Power of the Roots
The answer then is: While it’s true that the ultimate is peiros, which grow directly from the branch, this is only possible with the power of the roots, the essence, which is present in the branch. Thus, even the branch embodies the fact that the true purpose of the etzem is the fruit. Similarly, the entire purpose of man’s essence, even of his innermost sechel, is midos. The midos certainly emanate most immediately from the sechel of ish, but what actually makes that possible is adam, unadulterated sechel, and that’s precisely the purpose and shleimus of adam.
The same template is applicable to nigla versus pnimius ha’torah. Nigla appears to have a more immediate, stronger effect, because it is more accessible, like any sugya which, no matter how deep, discusses relatable subjects. Pnimius ha’torah, on the other hand, while made somewhat understandable by means of copious analogies and explanations, seems mostly beyond our comprehension, to the extent that it’s possible to wonder how something so sublime could be useful for our lowly midos. Shouldn’t we instead employ something more directly relatable?
However, the truth is that Torah contains both ohr and maor, and the maor must be employed as well.
Chassidus for a Weak Heart
The Rebbe uses this explanation to explain the context in the Gemara, in which an amora who was unable to discuss halacha because his ‘heart was weak,’ was invited to relate an agada instead, whereupon he offered the statement under discussion.
The simple meaning would appear to be that he was simply physically impaired, rendering him unable to muster the exertion necessary, while agada is so light a subject that it was even discussable while fatigued. Yet the truth is that agada is really far deeper, and the Alter Rebbe states that most of Torah’s secrets are embedded in agada.
What the amora truly meant by a ‘weak heart’ was that his midos weren’t on par with the level expected of him, and he therefore didn’t find it appropriate to engage in sechel, when the point, the poel, was lacking. So he was exhorted instead to say agada, pnimius ha’torah, because even if the heart, the ohr, was lacking, the maor would be capable of setting him on the right path. It was to this that he rejoined, that indeed, this is true, for man is like a tree, and even adam must be harnessed for the peiros, and the outcome of adam of pnimius ha’torah is an ‘upstanding’ talmid chacham, good fruits.
For further learning see לקוטי שיחות חלק ד’ פרשת שופטים.