Parshas Shoftim - Man is a Tree in the Field
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כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתָפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן כִּ֚י מִמֶּ֣נּוּ תֹאכֵ֔ל וְאֹת֖וֹ לֹ֣א תִכְרֹ֑ת כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר: רַ֞ק עֵ֣ץ אֲשֶׁר־תֵּדַ֗ע כִּ֣י לֹא־עֵ֤ץ מַֽאֲכָל֙ ה֔וּא אֹת֥וֹ תַשְׁחִ֖ית וְכָרָ֑תָּ וּבָנִ֣יתָ מָצ֗וֹר עַל־הָעִיר֙ אֲשֶׁר־הִוא֙ עֹשָׂ֧ה עִמְּךָ֛ מִלְחָמָ֖ה עַ֥ד רִדְתָּֽהּ
"When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you? However, a tree you know is not a food tree, you may destroy and cut down, and you shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until its submission." (Devarim 20:19-20)
The Torah has various laws as to how we are to conduct ourselves in times of war. If a siege is placed on a city in the Land of Israel in order to conquer it, the Torah forbids us to destroy its fruit trees. Why are we forbidden to cut down the trees? What is the comparison between man and a person? The Rishonim offer various explanations.
Rashi explains, "Is the tree of the field perhaps a man who is able to withdraw within the besieged city from before you, that it should be chastised by the suffering of famine and thirst like the inhabitants of the city? Why should you destroy it?"
Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra explains "You may eat of them, but do not cut them down, for man is a tree of the field (i.e., the life of man depends on the trees of the field)... You may not destroy fruit-bearing trees, which are a source of life to mankind, but you may eat of their fruit; you are forbidden to destroy them so that the besieged city will surrender before you."
The Rabbeinu Bachya explains, “for the trees are not man that you could cut them down as if they were your enemies. It is not the mark of an intelligent people to destroy something which does not confer any benefit on it by doing so. This is why you must not only not destroy such trees but do whatever you can to preserve them and their usefulness."
The Daas Zekeinim explains,” How would the fact that this phenomenon occurred while you were laying siege to the city behind this orchard affect you? Just as a human being is meant to produce children, i.e. fruit, so the trees are supposed to produce the fruit for which they have been provided by nature. You must not destroy such trees!"
It is clear from the meforshim that man is not literally a tree but rather there is simply a comparison between the two.
The Gemara in Taanis (7a) understands our pesukim on a much deeper level.
א"ל ר' ירמיה לר' זירא ליתי מר ליתני א"ל חלש לבאי ולא יכילנא לימא מר מילתא דאגדתא א"ל הכי אמר ר' יוחנן מאי דכתיב (דברים כ, יט ) כי האדם עץ השדה וכי אדם עץ שדה הוא אלא משום דכתיב (דברים כ, יט) כי ממנו תאכל ואותו לא תכרת וכתיב אותו תשחית וכרת הא כיצד אם ת"ח הגון הוא ממנו תאכל ואותו לא תכרת ואם לאו אותו תשחית וכרת
Rabbi Yirmeya once said to Rabbi Zeira: Let the Master come and teach a halakhic discourse. Rabbi Zeira said to him: My heart is weak and I cannot strain myself over a halakhic discourse. Rabbi Yirmeya replied to him: In that case, let the Master tell us a matter of aggada, which does not require as much effort. Rabbi Zeira said to him that Rabbi Yoḥanan said as follows: What is the meaning of that which is written: “For man is a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19 )? And is man actually a tree of the field? Rather, it is because it is written earlier in the same verse: “You may eat of them but you may not cut them down,” and it is written in the next verse: “Them you may destroy and cut down” (Deuteronomy 20:20). This indicates that there are certain trees which may be cut down, while others may not be destroyed. How so? If a Torah scholar is worthy: “You may eat of them but you may not cut them down,” but if he is not worthy: “He you may destroy and cut down.”
We see from this Gemara that a Talmid Chacham is compared to a tree. If he is a fruit bearing tree, ie. worthy of learning Torah from him, you may eat of his tree and not cut him down. If however he is not a worthy Talmid Chacham, you may cut him down.
When we examine the Gematria of the passuk we also find the same concept that a person is deeply connected to a tree.The Gematria of the word eitz (tree) and tzelem (Man is created in the image of God) are both 160. Furthermore, the Gemtria of the word hasadeh is 314, the same Gematria as the name of Hashem (Shin-Daled-Yud). So when the Torah says eitz hasadeh, it is clearly referencing "man who is created in the image of God."
Similarly, when Moshe Rabbeinu sends out the meraglim to scout out Eretz Yisrael, the passuk says:
וּמָ֣ה הָ֠אָ֠רֶץ הַשְּׁמֵנָ֨ה הִ֜וא אִם־רָזָ֗ה הֲיֵֽשׁ־בָּ֥הּ עֵץ֙ אִם־אַ֔יִן וְהִ֨תְחַזַּקְתֶּ֔ם וּלְקַחְתֶּ֖ם מִפְּרִ֣י הָאָ֑רֶץ וְהַ֨יָּמִ֔ים יְמֵ֖י בִּכּוּרֵ֥י עֲנָבִֽים:
"What is the soil like is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land." It was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen." (Bamidbar 13:20)
Rashi, based on the Gemara in Baba Basra (15a) explains that Moshe Rabbeinu was not asking them to spy out the trees but rather to see "Does it have a worthy man who will protect them with his merit?"
Once again we see that man is compared to a tree.
The Mishna in Avos (3:17) says, "One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; comes a storm and uproots it, and turns it on its face. As is stated, "He shall be as a lone tree in a wasteland, and shall not see when good comes; he shall dwell parched in the desert, a salt land, uninhabited" (Jeremiah 17:6). But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place. As is stated: "He shall be as a tree planted upon water, who spreads his roots by the river; who fears not when comes heat, whose leaf is ever lush; who worries not in a year of drought, and ceases not to yield fruit."
"For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people." (Yeshaya 65:22)
“He will be like a lone tree in the desert.” (Yermiah 17:6)
"He will be like a tree planted near water..." (Yermiah 17:8)
“The righteous bloom like a date-palm, they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the House of God, they flourish in the courts of our Lord;” (Psalms 92:13)
So while the meforshim above do not understand the passuk to literally mean that man is a tree in the field, it is also clear that there is a deep connection between the two. Over and over again we find that man is compared to a tree. What is the inner meaning of this teaching?
The Eitz HaDaas
The sin of Adam HaRishon and Chava was that they ate from the eitz hadaas, the tree of knowledge. What did eating from the tree do? What was the condition of humanity prior to the sin and what was it afterwards?
The Rambam in his Guide to the Perplexed explains that man was created BiTzelem Elokim. This does not refer to man's physical being but rather to his essence. Specifically it refers to his capacity for rational thought. From the very beginning man was given the capacity to think, as the Rambam writes"On account of this gift of intellect man was addressed by God, and received His commandments, as it is said: "And the Lord God commanded Adam" (Gen. ii. 16)--for no commandments are given to the brute creation or to those who are devoid of understanding. Through the intellect man distinguishes between the true and the false. This faculty Adam possessed perfectly and completely."
The Rambam explains that the type of knowledge that Adam HaRishon possessed was only the capacity to distinguish between true and false. This capacity allowed Adam to receive commandments from God. He did not have the capacity to differentiate between good and evil prior to the sin.
"When Adam was yet in a state of innocence, and was guided solely by reflection and reason--on account of which it is said: "You have made him (man) little lower than the angels" (Ps. viii. 6)--he was not at all able to follow or to understand the principles of mefursamot; the most manifest impropriety, viz., to appear in a state of nudity, was nothing unbecoming according to his idea: he could not comprehend why it should be so. After man's disobedience, however, when he began to give way to desires which had their source in his imagination and to the gratification of his bodily appetites, as it is said, "And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes" (Gen. iii. 6), he was punished by the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed. He therefore transgressed a command with which he had been charged on the score of his reason; and having obtained a knowledge of the mefursamot, he was wholly absorbed in the study of what is proper and what improper. Then he fully understood the magnitude of the loss he had sustained, what he had forfeited, and in what situation he was thereby placed.
Prior to Adam's sin, his state of nudity was of no concern to him. He was only concerned by what was true and false. There was no concern for moral issues. Proper and improper were meaningless to Adam. After the aveira the fundamental nature of the way Adam thought about the world was changed. By choosing an existence that is more predicated on physical desires "And the wife saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to the eyes", it was more of an appetite for the eyes than it was to the mind, Adam moves to an existence that now integrates passions and desires. Morality, good and evil, proper and improper, now become the lexicon of his existence. It was what Adam studied. Desire is no longer something that Adam evaluates as true of false, it becomes the way he sees the world. After the sin, Adam thinks of his desires as part of his humanity. Rules of conduct must be implemented so that he may act appropriately.
The Eitz HaDaas Inside of Us
The mission of Judaism is to rectify the sin that was done with the Eitz HaDaas. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to us that we see hidden references to the Eitz HaDaas time and again throughout Tanach.
With regards to the Meraglim the Torah tells us that "They arrived at the Valley of Eshkol and cut from there a vine with one cluster of grapes." The Yalkut Reuveni quotes a Medrash that says, “that which it says that the spies arrived in the time of the harvesting of the grapes, this is referring to the sin of Adam, who ate from the grapes in his original sin with the Eitz Hadaas. . Another connection between the Meraglim and the Eitz HaDaas is that the first words immediately following the eating of the Eitz says (Bereishis 3:7) “Vatipokachnah Einai" And their eyes were opened.” The gematria of the words “Vatipokachnah Einai” is 789, The same as the words “Shelach Lecha Anoshim.”
The Gemara (Chullin 139b) asks, what is the source for Haman in the Torah? The Gemara answers by citing the pasuk where Hashem asks Adam HaRishon: "hamin (same letters as Haman) haetz asher tzivisicha levilit achol mimenu achalta "have you eaten of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?" (Bereishis 2:11) The eating from the etz hadaas therefore serves as an allusion to Haman.
The Eitz Hadaas is sometimes referred to an an eitz while other times it is known as an Ilan. The Gemara in Brachos (40a) says "אילן שאכל ממנו אדם הראשון" the tree that Adam HaRishon ate from."
The Mishna in Rosh Hashanah (2a) says:
ארבעה ראשי שנים הם...באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי בית שמאי בית הלל אומרים בחמשה עשר בו
On the first of Shvat is the Rosh Hashana for the trees according to Beis Shammai. Beis Hillel argues and says it is on the fifteenth of Shvat.
The Pri Tzaddik (Parshas Beshalach) points out that the Mishna in Rosh Hashana (2a) does not say that it is the Rosh Hashana for trees but rather for Ilan, one singular tree. This singular tree the Mishna is referring to is the Eitz HaDaas. On Tu B'Shvat we have a special opportunity to rectify the sin that was done with the Eitz HaDaas.
With all of this in mind I would like to suggest that our passuk above, that refers to man as a tree in the field, is also a reference to the Eitz HaDaas.
Above we pointed out that Eitz and Tzelem share the same Gematria (160). Hasadeh and Shakai (Shin-Dalet-Yud) also the share the same Gematria (314). The Gematria of eitz hasadeh is 474 which is the same Gematria of the word Daas (דעת).
We explained that when Adam sinned by eating from the Eitz HaDaas Tov ViRah he took good and evil inside of himself. Morality was no longer a true/false equation, it became part of our being. This is actually what Daas means. Chochmah is the initial flash of understanding. Binah is the capacity to extrapolate from one concept and infer to the next. Daas is when the knowledge becomes integrated into part of your being. When Adam ate from the Eitz HaDaas he integrated good and evil into the very fabric of his being and by extension our own. Interestingly, the passuk makes no mention of the actual fruit that Adam eats, only that it was of the tree. "ויאמר האדם האשה אשר נתתה עמדי היא נתנה לי מן העץ ואוכל“ Said Adam, "The woman who you gave to be with me - she gave me of the tree and I ate."
The sin wasn't the fruit itself but that it came from the tree. It is the tree that lives inside of us. It comes as no surprise that the Torah has dozens of comparisons between man and a tree. The Eitz HaDaas is part of our being!
The question is what are we supposed to do with this insight? How does it help us to know this?
The Eitz HaChaim
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֗ים הֵ֤ן הָֽאָדָם֙ הָיָה֙ כְּאַחַ֣ד מִמֶּ֔נּוּ לָדַ֖עַת ט֣וֹב וָרָ֑ע וְעַתָּ֣ה ׀ פֶּן־יִשְׁלַ֣ח יָד֗וֹ וְלָקַח֙ גַּ֚ם מֵעֵ֣ץ הַֽחַיִּ֔ים וְאָכַ֖ל וָחַ֥י לְעֹלָֽם׃ וַֽיְשַׁלְּחֵ֛הוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים מִגַּן־עֵ֑דֶן לַֽעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֻקַּ֖ח מִשָּֽׁם׃ וַיְגָ֖רֶשׁ אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּשְׁכֵּן֩ מִקֶּ֨דֶם לְגַן־עֵ֜דֶן אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִ֗ים וְאֵ֨ת לַ֤הַט הַחֶ֙רֶב֙ הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת לִשְׁמֹ֕ר אֶת־דֶּ֖רֶךְ עֵ֥ץ הַֽחַיִּֽים׃
And the LORD God said, “Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad, what if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!” So the LORD God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken. He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Bereishis 3:24)
The story of Adam HaRishon ends with a concern. Adam has been told he is now mortal. If he should somehow eat from the eitz hachaim, the tree of life, he would live forever. Hashem banishes Adam from Gan Eden and posts Cherubim with fiery swords to guard the eitz hachaim.
But is that what it really says?
If you look carefully, the passuk says that the Cherubim were guarding the derech to the eitz hachaim? This is very strange. If the King posts guard at the entrance of his treasure house it is to guard the treasure not to guard the way to the treasure. Ostensibly, the Cherubim are posted to ensure that Adam does not eat from the Eitz HaChaim and achieve immortality. Why are they described as guarding the way to the Eitz HaChaim?
The Gemara in Taanis (5b) records several conversations between Rav Nachman and Rav Yitzchak. It concludes with the following story:
רב נחמן ור' יצחק הוו יתבי בסעודתא א"ל רב נחמן לר' יצחק לימא מר מילתא א"ל הכי א"ר יוחנן אין מסיחין בסעודה שמא יקדים קנה לושט ויבא לידי סכנה בתר דסעוד א"ל הכי א"ר יוחנן יעקב אבינו לא מת א"ל וכי בכדי ספדו ספדנייא וחנטו חנטייא וקברו קברייא א"ל מקרא אני דורש שנאמר (ירמיהו ל, י) ואתה אל תירא עבדי יעקב נאם ה' ואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק ואת זרעך מארץ שבים מקיש הוא לזרעו מה זרעו בחיים אף הוא בחיים א"ר יצחק כל האומר רחב רחב מיד נקרי א"ל רב נחמן אנא אמינא ולא איכפת לי א"ל כי קאמינא ביודעה ובמכירה (ובמזכיר את שמה) כי הוו מיפטרי מהדדי א"ל ליברכן מר אמר ליה אמשול לך משל למה"ד לאדם שהיה הולך במדבר והיה רעב ועיף וצמא ומצא אילן שפירותיו מתוקין וצילו נאה ואמת המים עוברת תחתיו אכל מפירותיו ושתה ממימיו וישב בצילו וכשביקש לילך אמר אילן אילן במה אברכך אם אומר לך שיהו פירותיך מתוקין הרי פירותיך מתוקין שיהא צילך נאה הרי צילך נאה שתהא אמת המים עוברת תחתיך הרי אמת המים עוברת תחתיך אלא יהי רצון שכל נטיעות שנוטעין ממך יהיו כמותך
In continuation of Rav Naḥman’s questions of Rabbi Yitzḥak, the Gemara relates: Rav Naḥman and Rabbi Yitzḥak were sitting and eating together at a meal. Rav Naḥman said to Rabbi Yitzḥak: Let the Master say a matter, i.e., share a Torah idea with me. Rabbi Yitzḥak said to Rav Naḥman that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: One may not speak during a meal, lest the trachea will precede the esophagus. Food is meant to enter the esophagus, and when one speaks his trachea opens and the food might enter there. And therefore, one should not speak during a meal, as he might come into the danger of choking.
After they had eaten, Rabbi Yitzḥak said to Rav Naḥman that Rabbi Yoḥanan said as follows: Our patriarch Jacob did not die. Rav Naḥman asked him in surprise: And was it for naught that the eulogizers eulogized him and the embalmers embalmed him and the buriers buried him? Rabbi Yitzḥak replied to Rav Naḥman: I am interpreting a verse, as it is stated: “Therefore do not fear, Jacob My servant, says the Lord, neither be dismayed, Israel, for I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity” (Jeremiah 30:10 ). This verse juxtaposes Jacob to his seed: Just as his seed is alive when redeemed, so too, Jacob himself is alive.
Rabbi Yitzḥak said: Anyone who says: Rahab Rahab, immediately experiences a seminal emission, due to the arousal of desire caused by Rahab’s great beauty. Rav Naḥman said to him: I say Rahab and it does not affect me. Rabbi Yitzḥak said to Rav Naḥman: When I said this I was specifically referring to a man who knew her and to one who recognized her. With regard to anyone who had met Rahab in person, the mere mention of her name would arouse his lust.
The Gemara relates: When they were taking leave of one another, Rav Naḥman said to Rabbi Yitzḥak: Master, give me a blessing. Rabbi Yitzḥak said to him: I will tell you a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to one who was walking through a desert and who was hungry, tired, and thirsty. And he found a tree whose fruits were sweet and whose shade was pleasant, and a stream of water flowed beneath it. He ate from the fruits of the tree, drank from the water in the stream, and sat in the shade of the tree.
And when he wished to leave, he said: Tree, tree, with what shall I bless you? If I say to you that your fruits should be sweet, your fruits are already sweet; if I say that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant; if I say that a stream of water should flow beneath you, a stream of water already flows beneath you. Rather, I will bless you as follows: May it be God’s will that all saplings which they plant from you (finish the translation)
On a surface level the Gemara seems fairly straightforward. Rav Nachman asks Rav Yitzchak to teach him and Rav Yitzchak does do. When we begin to contemplate the Gemara it becomes apparent that there is much more going on beneath the surface.
Here are some of the questions we need to consider.
1. The Gemara tells us that Rav Yitzchak responds to Rav Nachman's request for Divrei Torah by saying that it is dangerous to speak and eat at the same time.
Is this really necessary for the Gemara to teach us? My parents always told me not to chew with my mouth full because one could choke that way. It is hard for me to believe that the Gemara would have included that portion of the story if it were not part of the lesson we are meant to learn from.
2. Why does Rav Yitzchak share these two ideas (Yaakov Avinu is immortalized in his progeny and the seminal emissions caused by the mere mention of Rachav)? Is there a common theme? Was Rav Yitzchak sharing two totally different messages? What, if any, are the inner messages of these teachings?
3. In the end Rav Nachman asks Rav Yitzchak for a bracha. The bracha given is that like a tree that provides fruit, shade and water we can only bless the tree with saplings that mimic its greatness so too Rav Nachman you are so great that I can only bless you with children that follow in your footsteps.
The question is, when you review the entirety of the Gemara leading up to this last conversation and even including this conversation, Rav Yitzchak is teaching Rav Nachman. What then is the greatness of Rav Nachman in this Gemara that Rav Yitzchak sees him as so complete that he can only bless him to have children who follow his ways? Perhaps this bracha is random but my heart tells me that it is somehow connected to the previous teachings of Rav Yitzchak. Is there a special significance to the fact that Rav Yitzchak compared Rav Nachman to a tree?
There is an obvious common thread in our Gemara. The theme is very clearly life and death. Rav Yitzchak will not share Divrei Torah while eating for fear of choking. Yaakov Avinu lives on despite the Torah's recording of his death. Merely saying the words Rachav Rachav under the right circumstances could cause someone to spill their seed (a potential waste of life). Even Rav Yitzchak's bracha speaks to the future progeny of Rav Nachman.
In order to understand this more deeply we must remind ourselves that the sin of Adam HaRishon and Chava brought death into the world. The consequence of eating from the Eitz HaDa’as was that we became mortal. Expelled from Gan Eden to ensure that we didn't eat from the Eitz HaChaim.
This is the subtext of the conversation between Rav Yitzchak and Rav Nachman.
Rav Yitzchak is sharing with Rav Nachman that we are here to rectify death. Nothing is more precious than the life that God gave us in order to fulfill His mission. Divrei Torah can and must be shared after the meal but life is not to be endangered for the sake of of a Dvar Torah. Life gives us the opportunity to fulfill our mission of serving God. The food we eat must be consumed in a way that it brings life. Far from being mere background information, this initial conversation sets the stage for what comes next.
The first topic Rav Yitzchak some speaks about is Yaakov Avinu. Chazal tell us that Yaakov Avinu looked exactly like Adam HaRishon (Baba Metzia 84a). The Arizal in Shaar HaPesukim (Vayigash) explains that Yaakov was a gilgul and a tikun of Adam HaRishon basing himself of the Zohar Hakadosh who says, ”דהא יעקב דוגמא דאדם הראשון הוה דיעקב שופריה דאדם הראשון הוה" Yaakov resembled Adam HaRishon; the radiance of Yaakov Avinu resembled the radiance of Adam HaRishon.
Rav Yitzchak says that Yaakov Avinu does not die. Perhaps his body has passed on but his legacy is alive and well in his progeny. In this sense Yaakov Avinu has rectified the sin of Adam HaRishon. Adam brought death into the world. Yaakov Avinu, through his legacy, represents immortality.
The second topic that Rav Yitzchak discusses with Rav Nachman is the beauty of Rachav. Specifically the Gemara discusses the spilled seed that results from the mere mention of her name.
This is clearly connected to Adam as the Gemara in Eiruvin (18b) teaches, Rebbi Yirmiyah ben Elazar said: All the years Adam was in excommunication, he fathered Ruchin, Shiddin, and Lillin [Demons and evil spirits], as it says, "Adam lived 130 years and he fathered a son in his likeness and his image" (Bereishis 5:3), implying that until then, he fathered those unlike his form. Rav Meir asked how this could be possible given that Adam HaRishon spent 130 years doing teshuva for bringing death into the world. During this time he fasted and separated from his wife. (This implies that he was unable to father anything for that duration of time. However, the Gemara answers:) He wore a belt of date branches over his skin for 130 years which forced him to emit seed (and produce the souls mentioned above).
So both Adam and Rachav are connected to the concept of spilling seed but there is another connection as well.
The Gemara in Zevachim (116b) tells us that Rachav said: “Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. Pardon me by merit of the rope, the window, and the flaxen [the stalks of flax under which she concealed the spies].”
Rachav was a zonah. Men left her house through her window and she lowered them out with a rope (flax) and they were able to leave the city because her house was part of the wall of Yericho, so once lowered they were outside the city. Since she used these three things be a zonah she is asking Hashem for forgiveness by using these very same articles for Godly purposes.
When Yehoshua and Calev came to her home to spy out Eretz Yisrael, she hid them under the flax, lowered them by rope from her window to safety. Thus the very same objects that were used to commit harlotry were used to save Calev and Yehoshua's life.
On a deeper level we can also explain that Rachav violated the three Mitzvos that women do to rectify death. The Yerushalmi explains that women die in childbirth because of three sins: ner, challah and nida. Death came into the world through Chava. What is the connection between the death of mankind and these three Mitzvos? Adam is called Challa shel Olam-the challa of the world. Hashem kneaded him from dust the earth. Since Chava brought death to the ‘challah of the world’ the mitzvah of taking challa is an appropriate tikun.
Adam is also called ‘domo shel olam’ the blood of the world. Blood is the life force of man as the passuk says, ki hadaam hu hanefesh. the corresponding Mitzvah that brings tikkun to the domu shel olam is niddah.
Lastly, Adam is called ‘nero shel olam’ the light of the world. Chava who extinguished the ‘light of the world’ brings a tikkun through the Shabbos nerios that women light every week.
Rachav, like Chava, is connected to the destruction of man. Her inn, a beis mazon (a place to sell food) corresponds to Adam being the challah shel olam. Her inappropriate sexual behavior corresponds to Adam being domo shel olam. The window she used for men to escape her house is connected to Adam as nero shel olam. (The connection between ner and windows is the subject of a tremendous amount of discussion by Chana though this is not the right place for that conversation.)
So in providing safety to Yehoshua and Calev with these very same articles, Rachav is not merely doing teshuva for her own sins, but she is bringing a tikkun to the sin of Chava. In this way Rachav lives up to her name. The name Rachav means wide. Her actions brought tikkun to the entirety of the world. And Rachav's Teshuva was more than accepted.
מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל י״ח:י״א:א׳
ומה ת"ל מכל האלהים, אמרו: לא הניח יתרו עבודה זרה בכל העולם, שלא חזר עליה ועבדה, שנאמר מכל האלהים. ונעמן הודה בדבר יותר ממנו, שנא' מל"ב ה) הנה נא ידעתי כי אין אלהים בכל הארץ כי אם בישראל. וכן רחב הזונה אומרת, (יהושע ב) ה' אלהיכם הוא אלהים בשמים ממעל ועל הארץ מתחת.
When Yisro saw that God had taken the Jews out of Egypt, he exclaimed, "Now I know that God is greater than all other gods!"Yitro himself had worshiped all manner of idolatry, for he states, "all other gods." Naaman (the Syrian General who converted to Judaism), however, acknowledged God even more, for he states, "Now I know that there are no other gods on earth save for the God of Israel." But Rachav the prostitute surpassed both of them, for she said, "For the Lord your God is God in heavens above and upon earth below."
The Medrash tells us that G‑d was very pleased with Rachav's faith, and said: “On earth, you could see with your own eyes that there is no other G‑d beside Me. But to declare also that I am the only G‑d also in heaven—this shows real faith. I promise you therefore that one of your descendants shall be one of the greatest prophets, for whom the heavens will be opened, and he will see what no other prophet has seen.” That was the great prophet Yechezkel, who saw the divine chariot in heaven. Rachav became Yehoshua’s wife, and was the ancestress of great priests and prophets, among them also the prophet Yirmiyah and the prophetess Huldah.
Having explained how Yaakov and Rachav are connected to the sin of the Eitz HaDaas let us turn to the last section of the Gemara, the bracha that Rav Yitzchak gives Rav Nachman.
The Beer Mayim Chaim, Rav Chaim Tirar of Tchernovitz, explains this Gemara as follows. In all things in this world, whether they be spiritual or physical, when there is an awakening below there is a corresponding movement in the spiritual worlds. In this way, when a person down here on this world, makes a decision to lead a life of holiness and purity Hashem brings down a shefa of honliness and purity into that persons life. This is what the Gemara in Shabbos (114a) means when it says כי הבא לטהר מסייעין אותו, when someone makes a move towards purity he is given help. The source of our kedusha and tahara is above in the olamos haelyonim but we can bring it down towards us by opening up the channels. The Ilan, the tree, in the bracha of Rav Yiztchak, represents the the source of bracha and life. It is not possible to bless the source because the source is complete. The only thing we can say to the source is that its bracha should flow straight down into this world without any corruptions. This is the meaning of Rav Yitzchak's statement that the netios, the saplings, should be like you. Water in its source is delicious but when it travels through corroded pipes it can pick up a foul taste. So too, everything in the spiritual worlds above is perfect and pure. When it travels down into this world, through our aveiros, the pipes can become corroded and what was meant to be a bracha can be changed into something that is less so. The Bracha we can give to the source is that the bracha that exists above should flow down below with no change whatsoever.
Rav Yitzchak is describing the world as it will be in the state of olam haba. The channels above will flow directly down to the channels above. This will happen when once again man can live in Gan Eden with both the Eitz HaDaas and the Eitz HaChaim. Perhaps we can suggest that this is what Rav Yitzchak is alluding to when he says Ilan, Ilan. The two trees are a reference to the Eitz HaDaas and the Eitz HaChaim. Had Adam waited until Shabbos he would have been able to eat from the Eitz HaDaas. The Ohr HaChaim (Bereishis 1:29) brings this as an explanation for how Hashem could have said, "I have given you .. every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food." If man was not permitted to partake from the Eitz HaDaas how could he have been given every tree? The Ohr HaChaim explains that it was only a temporary ban, and if he would have waited till Shabbos he would have made Kiddush on the wine produced from the Eitz HaDaas. (See also Chasam Sofer who explains this in a similar fashion). The Lubavitcher Rebbe also explains that the purpose in creating the Eitz HaDaas was not merely to test Adam HaRishon to see if he would eat from the tree or not but rather Adam was meant to elevate the Eitz HaDaas above the concept of death. Quoting the Shach in Parshas Kedoshim the Rebbe explains that had Adam waited until Shabbos there would have been no concept of death (Shabbos is a little bit of Olam Haba where there is no death) and Adam would have been free to eat from its fruits. (Likkutei Sichos volume 36 page 75)
When there is a tikkun of the Eitz HaDaas the Eitz HaDaas can once again live together harmoniously with Eitz HaChaim. The bracha of the Eitz HaChaim will flow directly and without corrosion into the Eitz HaDaas of this world.
Why is Rav Nachman the recipient of this bracha from Rav Yitzchak? The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98b) says that Rav Nachman said about himself, "If some one now living were to become the Mashiach, he must resemble me." Rav Nachman was the leader of his generation. He understood that he had the qualities that Mashiach will have. Rav Yitzchak was giving Rav Nachman a bracha that he should connect the two trees, the upper worlds and the lower worlds, and bring Mashiach.
The Eitz HaChaim and the Eitz Chaim
Our world exists as it does because of the sin of Adam HaRishon. Immortality is not an option. The Eitz HaDaas is a part of our being. So what now? How do we bring tikkun to the Eitz HaDaas?
The Cherubim don't guard the Eitz HaChaim, they guard the way to the Eitz HaChaim. We have been expelled from Gan Eden but there is a path that returns there. The Cherubim guard the way. On a simple level the Cherubim are preventing us from returning to the Eitz HaChaim but when we look more deeply at the passuk it is also possible to suggest that Cherubim are actually guarding the way to the Eitz HaChaim. Not to prevent us from getting to the Eitz HaChaim but to guide us back to the Eitz HaChaim. Elsewhere in the Torah we see that the Cherubim adorn the Aron in the Mishkan. (See Chagiga 13a for a larger discussion about what the Cherubim actually were.) If the Cherubim were these terrifying creatures that prevent us from returning to the Eitz HaChaim why would we find them on top of the Aron?
The passuk in Misheli (3:18) says the Torah is "a tree of life (etz chayim) for those who grasp it, and those who support it are fortunate." The goal is to return to the Eitz HaChaim. The Eitz Chaim of the Torah is the road map for how we are to do so. The Torah is the path. It comes from a lashon of horaah, to instruct. The Cherubim guard that path. They did so on the Aron and they play the same role in Gan Eden. By following the path of the Torah, the Eitz Chaim, we return to the Eitz HaChaim. In so doing the lower world of the Eitz HaDaas is united with upper worlds of the Eitz HaChaim.
Returning to our original passuk. When we wage war against a city we are instructed not to cut down the fruit bearing trees. . The Baal HaTanya explains that life is a battle over a small city. The Nefesh HaBehamis and the Nefesh Elokis both want complete control over the city. This is the war our passuk is referring to. The Gemara in Taanis (7a) that we quoted above said that the fruit bearing trees are the worthy Talmidei Chachamim. Torah is not just information. It is the path of our lives. A Talmid Chacham who is not worthy of teaching Torah must be cut down. They have the requisite information but in their hands it will lead people down the wrong path. Only those Talmidei Chachamim that are worthy of teaching Torah are people we ought to learn from. In their hands we can return to the Eitz HaChaim. When we follow the path of the Tzaddikim we are truly ish hasadeh, people who can rectify the Eitz HaDaas and reunite it with the Eitz HaChaim.
Choni HaMe’agel and the Carob Tree
While we have already answered all of the questions that have arisen let us address one last issue with regards to our connection to trees. Specifically our connection to the carob tree.
The Gemara in Taanis (23a) tells a story about Choni HaMe’aggel. One day, as he was walking down the road, he saw an old man plating a carob tree. Choni asked him, "How many years will it take to bear fruit? The man replied that it will take seventy years. Choni asked him, is it obvious to you that you will live seventy years in time to enjoy this fruit? The man replied, I found myself in a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am plating for my descendants. Choni ate his meal and fell asleep. A boulder encircled him and he was shielded from the eye [of others] and he slept for seventy years. When he got up, he saw a certain man that was plucking [the fruits of the carob tree]. He said to him, 'Are you the one that planted it?' He said to him, 'I am the son of his son.' He said to him, 'It is understood from this that I fell asleep for seventy years.' He saw that his donkey had given birth to several generations.
What is the inner message of this story?
We see the carob tree all throughout Shas.
The Gemara in Shabbos (33b) teaches that Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and his son, while they were hiding from the Romans for twelve years in a cave, were miraculously sustained by the fruit of a carob tree.
The Gemara in Taanis (24b) quotes Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who said, "Each and every day a Divine Voice emerges from Har Chorev and says: The entire world is sustained by the merit of My son Chanina ben Dosa, and yet for Chanina, My son, a kav of carobs, a very small amount of inferior food, is sufficient to sustain him for an entire week, from one Shabbat eve to the next Shabbat eve.
The Gemara in Baba Metzia (59b) records a machlokes between Rav Eliezer and the Chachamim. After Rav Eliezer could not convince the Chachamim with logic he resorted to the miraculous. Finally he (Rav Eliezer) said to them: "If the Halakhah is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!"...Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. "No proof can be brought from a carob tree," they (the Chachamim) retorted.
What is the inner meaning of the carob?
The Gemara in Baba Basra (91b) tells that Rabbi Yochanan said: I remember when a child would break a carob, and a line of honey would extend over his two arms.
The inner essence of the carob is its sweet honey. Carob trees takes a long time to grow symbolizing the tremendous effort we have exerted throughout a long hard exile. The sweet honey represents the sweetness we will taste in Olam Haba. Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and Rav Chanina ben Dosa were nourished from the carob (Olam Haba) even while in this world. Rav Eliezer attempted to bring a halachik proof from the carob but the Chachamim rejected it because halacha has to be appropriate for the time in which we live (just as in this world we pasken like Beis Hillel and not like Beis Shammai).
Choni HaMe’aggel saw a man planting a carob tree. He understood that this was a reference to the days of Mashiach. His question was, when will this exile be over, when will this tree finally bear fruit? The man replied that it takes seventy years for the tree to bear fruit. Seventy represents the completion. This is why we have seventy elders of the Jewish nation, seventy languages and nations of the world, and seventy members of Yaakov's family that went down to Mitzrayim. There were also seventy years of exile between the first Beis HaMikdash and the second Beis HaMikdash. The exile will come to an end at its completion. When its purpose has been fulfilled. But Choni is troubled. If we will not see Mashiach, if we will not taste the sweetness of those times, of what good is it to us? The man answers, we are part of a process. There is a path to be walked. The carobs that we eat in our times were planted by those that came before us. So too the carobs that will be eaten in the times of Mashiach will be a result of our labor. Choni eats his meal, falls asleep and awakens after seventy years. The man who planted the carob tree has long since passed away but his children enjoy the fruits of his labor.
What is the inner meaning of the fact that Choni ate his meal and fell asleep. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the difference between Choni HaMe’agel and Rav Shimon bar Yochai is that the Zohar says Rashbi would learn Torah and it would rain, while Choni HaMe’agel had to daven. Choni HaMe’agel focused on worldly matters, by articulating his request that the world needed rain. Rashbi, by contrast, is quoted by the Gemara as saying, “If a man plows… and sows, what will come of the Torah?” He himself was essentially unrelated to worldly matters, except that people came and told him: There exists a physical world, and this world needs rain.
Thus we see that the way of Choni HaMe’agel was to confront the world and extract the sparks of kedusha that lie therein. In this vein we can interpret the Gemara to mean that Choni ate his meal, engaged the physical world lishem shomayim and then traveled through time to see the fruits of his labor.
How does Choni know that many years have passed? He sees the donkey has given birth to several generations. The donkey is a clear reference to Mashiach as the passuk in Zechariah (9:9) refers to Mashiach as a poor man riding on a donkey. Choni has awakened in a time where the exile is complete. Where the honey of the carob can be enjoyed.
The Gemara concludes that Choni went to his home and inquired if his son was still alive. He was told that his son had passed on but his grandson was alive. He went to the Beis Medrash where they spoke glowingly about the Torah of Choni HaMe’aggel but when he introduced himself no one would believe that it was him and would not accord him the proper respect. In his terrible state of loneliness Choni davened that he should die and he passed away. Choni got what he wanted. He wanted to see the times of Mashiach but he was not meant to live in those times. His role was to plant so that future generations may enjoy. While he wanted to see the end of the exile, it was not his time to be there. His Torah lived on but he was without friends.
Many of us struggle with this same issue. God willing Mashiach will come tomorrow but what if he doesn't? What if he doesn't come in our life times? Is this all for nothing? The answer is that every day we continue in this long dark galus there are incredible opportunities to plant for the next generation. Each generation chips away a little bit more at the kelippah and reveals a little bit more light. Our generation is reaping the reward of those that came before us. God willing we will be among those that greet Mashiach but the process cannot be rushed. In the meantime we plant for those who come next. We walk the path of the Eitz Chaim so that we can arrive back at the Eitz HaChaim. By engaging the physical world like Choni HaMe’agel and separating the Tov from the Rah we bring tikkun to the Eitz HaDaas which will one day return us to Gan Eden.
In this way we are truly people of the field.