Discussing the verse
"For man is a tree of the field," the Sifri comments: "This teaches us that man derives his sustenance exclusively from the tree." How are we to understand this statement, when a person is obviously sustained by other food as well?
Another verse states: "Bread satiates man's heart." The Alter Rebbe explains that although a person also derives nourishment from meat, it does not satiate like bread does.
The reason why minerals, vegetables and animals provide man with nourishment, notwithstanding the fact that man is loftier than them, is because their spiritual source is higher than man's. Because their source is higher, at the time of their descent they descended lower. Since the vegetable kingdom is even lower than the animal kingdom, thereby indicating that its source is higher, it has a greater ability to sustain man.
The Sifri's statement can be understood accordingly. Since man derives his primary nourishment from the vegetable kingdom, and since the largest form of vegetation is the tree, the Sifri says that man lives from the tree, i.e., from vegetable growth, symbolized by the tree.
The Gemara quotes the verse "For man is a tree of the field," and asks: "Is man then a tree?" The Gemara answers that with regard to trees, we find two contradictory verses. One states: "from it you shall eat, but the tree you shall not destroy," while another declares, "the tree is to be destroyed."
How can we reconcile these verses?
The Gemara answers: "If he [i.e., the individual - for a person is likened to a tree] is a G-d-fearing scholar, you should 'eat' - learn Torah - from him; if not, you are to 'destroy' - turn away from - him."
Whenever there are two comments on a single verse, the comments are related. What is the relationship between the comment of the Sifri and that of the Gemara?
Our Sages refer to man as a "small world," a microcosm of the universe. Just as the world is divided into the four categories of mineral, vegetable, animal and man, so too man possesses aspects of all four categories. Man's emotional attributes are the vegetative aspect, for, similar to vegetation, they display conspicuous growth.
Man's superiority over the animal world lies in the fact that he is a rational being. The Gemara therefore asks: "Is man then a tree?" In other words, while it is true that man also possesses some traits of the "tree of the field," is this humanity's principal characteristic?
The Gemara's answer is that the ultimate purpose of man's intellect is that it descend and affect his emotions, so that they come to be guided by his mind.
Indeed, intellect alone does not lead man to a state of completion. The objective "Know [G-d] today," is to "implant it within your heart," so that the knowledge properly affects the emotions.
Herein lies the analogy of the tree. Just as the quality of a tree lies in its fruits, the true quality of a scholar is not simply in his scholarship, but in the fact that he is "G-d-fearing," i.e., his intellect affects his emotions.
Herein lies the similarity between the macrocosm and the microcosm. Man is sustained by the vegetable kingdom because its source is higher than man's. By eating vegetable matter, man elevates the food back to its source. This, in turn, enables the food to sustain him.
So too with regard to man himself. His vegetative aspect, the emotions, have an even higher spiritual source than his intellect. It is only that in their revealed state they descended lower than his intellect, and so intellect is to guide the emotions, purifying and refining them. When this is achieved, the emotions in turn affect the intellect, elevating it to its most complete state.
The Sifri and the Gemara thus both emphasize the same point - the elevation of man through the vegetable kingdom. The only difference is that the Sifri addresses itself to the world as a whole, while the Gemara speaks in terms of "man" and the "vegetable" within the human microcosm.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, pp. 1114-1117.
- (Back to text) Devarim 20:19.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 104:15.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Emor, p. 39c.
- (Back to text) Taanis 7a.
- (Back to text) Devarim, ibid.
- (Back to text) Ibid., verse 20.
- (Back to text) Tanchuma, Pekudei 3; Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 69 (p. 100a). See also Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar, p. 5a.
- (Back to text) Torah Or, p. 4a; Likkutei Torah, Chukas, p. 58a, Berachah 95c.
- (Back to text) Ibid. See Toras Chayim, Bereishis discourse titled VaYitzer, ch. 17ff.
- (Back to text) See Vayisa Aharon 5694.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Chukas, p. 58b.
The Torah portion Shoftim begins with the statement:
"Appoint yourselves judges and police" - "Justices who rule on matters of law, and police who insure that the judgments are carried out."
The difference between "judges" and "police" is similar to the difference between "we shall do" and "we shall hear [and understand]" - the statement made by the Jewish people in response to G-d's asking if we were willing to receive the Torah.
Judges clarify Torah laws, issue actual rulings and see to it that their rulings reach all Jews. They thus symbolize "we shall hear [and understand]" all aspects of Torah and mitzvos.
Police, on the other hand, enforce the "we shall do" part; they see to it that the deeds get done even when a person may not want to do so. In this, they help the nation accept the Yoke of Heaven.
One may think that "we shall hear" has no purpose in and of itself, but merely serves as a means to an end - the actual performance of the mitzvos. To prove that "we shall hear" - the appointing of judges and justice - is indeed an end in itself, the Midrash offers the following:
"It is analogous to a king who had many children, and loved the youngest most. He also had an orchard which he loved above all others. The king said: 'I shall give my most beloved orchard to my most beloved son.' So too, G-d said: 'From all the Nations I love the Jewish people ... From all that I created I love justice ... I shall give that which I love most to whom I love most.' Thus - 'Appoint yourselves judges...."
This also helps us understand why "we shall do" preceded "we shall hear," although first one "hears" and then one "does." When hearing precedes doing, one may err in assuming that hearing is just a preliminary step. But when hearing follows the deed, we understand that it is significant in and of itself.
The reason hearing and understanding are significant is because His greatest pleasure and delight are brought about when Jews perform Torah and mitzvos with comprehension and understanding. For G-d desired a dwelling place within the nethermost world - so that all aspects of this world will serve as an abode and vessel for G-dliness.
When a Jew acts merely out of acceptance of the Divine Yoke, then, notwithstanding the fact that he is thereby demonstrating his nullification to the Divine Will, he is not making an abode for G-d within the entirety of his being. This is only accomplished when every aspect of a person's being, including his intellect, becomes an abode for G-dliness.
Within the intention that accompanies the performance of mitzvos, there are two specific aspects:
- the general intent, which is similar in all mitzvos, of fulfilling the Divine Will and accepting the Yoke of the Commandments;
- the specific intent, related to the effect of and reason for each mitzvah in particular - something which requires logic and reason.
The difference between these two kinds of intention is connected to the two distinct aspects of mitzvos:
- the indivisible and equally powerful Divine Will found within all mitzvos means they are all similar with regard to G-d's desire that they be performed;
- the Divine Delight (the inner aspect of the Divine Will) found within mitzvos differs from one mitzvah to the next.
This is similar to the will and delight found within man. Will and desire are indivisible; they are found equally in all things that a person wills or desires. Pleasure and delight, however, are divisible; each soul power has a distinct way of experiencing delight.
There is therefore a distinct merit to the particular intent of a mitzvah over the general intent, for the particular intent relates to the Divine Delight.
This is similar to that which was explained above - that G-d's pleasurable desire is to have a dwelling place within all levels of this world. This is accomplished when mitzvos are performed with the intent that emanates from a person's comprehension and delight - an intent that creates echoes in the most lofty degree of Divine Pleasure and Delight.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIX, pp. 95-101
- (Back to text) Devarim 16:18.
- (Back to text) Rashi, Devarim, ibid. See also Tanchuma, Shoftim 2.
- (Back to text) See I Shmuel 3:9.
- (Back to text) Shmos 24:8.
- (Back to text) Beis Yosef on Tur, Yoreh De'ah 248. See also Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai, p. 48a.
- (Back to text) Devarim Rabbah 5:7.
- (Back to text) Tanchuma, Naso 6; Tanya, ch. 36.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Shlach, p. 40a; Ateres Rosh, p. 58b ff., et al.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, p. 412ff., and sources cited there.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Bamidbar, p. 18a-b; Or HaTorah, Rosh HaShanah (Vol. V) p. 2,110. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIX, p. 179ff.
- (Back to text) See Discourse Adon Olam 5743 (Sefer HaMaamarim Melukat, Vol. I, p. 432ff.).
- (Back to text) Ibid.