When Rabbi Emanuel Feldman became rav of the Beth Jacob shul in Atlanta, Georgia in 1952, he planted a sapling in the courtyard of the shul. Each day when Rabbi Feldman entered the courtyard, he would gaze at the tree and be reminded of the purpose of his mission as rabbi. The tree represented his function to “plant seeds’’ to help people flourish over time. Rabbi Feldman planted many seeds of Torah and mitzvos in the people of Atlanta. By the time he retired in 1991, the sapling had become a tall tree with a large span of shade. More importantly, he saw the fruits of his labor, which included the original families, and their children and grandchildren, who were shomrei Torah u’mitzvos (Torah observant). His son, Rabbi Ilan Feldman, succeeded him and is still the rabbi today. Atlanta is now a thriving community thanks to the “plantings’’ of Rabbi Feldman and his son.
The Mesillas Yesharim, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, opens with the words, “Yesod hachasidus veshoresh ha’avodah, the foundation of piousness and the root of service.” It is known that Rabbi Luzzatto selected every word of the Mesillas Yesharim carefully. Rav Wolbe notes that in these opening words, Rabbi Luzzatto teaches us the two fundamental elements required to develop a person: foundation and root—building and planting. Both a building and a tree need strong footing. The taller the structure, the deeper the foundation needs to be. The taller the tree, the stronger and wider the roots. However, there’s a fundamental difference between the construction of a building and the growth of an organic item. A structure will only be as large as it was constructed, nothing more. However, an organic item grows and gets larger on its own. Internally, it has the power to grow.
This week was the yahrzeit of HaGaon Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l (on the 2nd of Kislev). Rav Gedalia Schorr gave a hesped (eulogy) for the gadol when he passed away. Rav Schorr spoke about what it means to be a gadol baTorah. The word gadol is translated loosely as large or big; it is used to refer to a giant in Torah. But there’s more to it. The verbal root of the word gadol means to grow. A gadol baTorah is someone who is constantly growing and developing in Torah, using his internal abilities. It’s akin to planting, not building.
Dovid HaMelech says in Tehillim, “Barchi nafshi… Hashem gadalta me’od, my soul should praise Hashem; Hashem You are very great.” The Gemara explains that Dovid is comparing a person’s neshama (soul) to Hashem. The midrash explains this to mean that just like Hashem is larger than the world He created, hence the world can’t contain Hashem, so too a neshama is larger than the body that contains it. The fact that a person’s neshama is actually contained inside a body is miraculous. We express our thanks to Hashem for this miracle each time we recite the bracha of “Asher Yatzar” (said after using the restroom), which concludes with the words “mafli la’asos, who acts wondrously,” referring to this miracle.
In Parshas Toldos, the Torah states, “vayigdelu hane’arim, the lads (Yaakov and Eisav) grew.” Rashi says that when they became bar mitzvah, their differences became apparent. They were both giants in character, with a tremendous capacity for greatness. However, each grew in a different direction. Yaakov used his talents to develop himself in Torah study and refinement of character, while Eisav developed his talents for cunning and hunting.
Growth may be organic, but certain conditions are needed for proper development. Vegetation needs fertile soil, proper sunlight and water. Favorable circumstances are also required for the growth of a person. While we have inborn greatness, we need the proper conditions to flourish. Nurture, nourishment, love and care are crucial in the healthy development of children. Adults too!! Selecting the right environment for ourselves and our families is crucial for proper development. In order to thrive, a shul, yeshiva and community must be filled with positivity, healthy relationships, and Torah values.
Every Shabbos, we say Mizmor Shir Leyom HaShabbos from Tehillim. It concludes with the words, “Planted in the house of Hashem they will sprout in the courtyards of our God…” We need to make sure to plant ourselves and our families in such a way that we and they are firmly rooted in the house of Hashem. May Hashem bless us and our families to be planted in a nourishing environment, so that we can use our unique capabilities to blossom in our avodas Hashem.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com