Thursday, May 24, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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“The true test of success in life is if one’s grandparents and grandchildren are proud of him.” (Rabbi Berel Wein)
“The reason why grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.” (Sam Levenson)

          Rema writes[1], “It is customary to spread branches of trees in our synagogues and homes (on Shavuos) in order to commemorate that which the sages say[2] on Shavuos the world is judged concerning (how many) fruits the trees will produce (that year).”
          The Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, questions this custom. The Mishna[3] states that Tu B’Shvat - the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat - is the ‘New Year for trees’. To commemorate the tree’s New Year, there is a prevalent custom to eat a variety of different fruits on Tu B’Shvat.
It would seem that the custom on Shavuos and the custom on Tu B’Shvat are inverted. Would it not be more logical to partake of various fruits on Shavuos, the day when the world’s fruit supply is judged, and to spread tree branches around our synagogues and homes on Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees? Why do we do the opposite?
          The Rebbe explained that the customs are indeed appropriate. On the day when trees are “judged”, we are interested in determining the success of the tree during the previous year. The value of a tree is determined by what it has produced. On the other hand, when our focus is on the fruit and we want to assess the delectability of the yet unripe fruits, we look at the vitality and vibrancy of the tree from which it grew. If the tree is strong and healthy, we can assume the fruits will be as well.
          The lesson that emerges from this custom is far more encompassing than mere fruits and trees. On Shavuos “we are judged for the fruit of the trees”. The lusciousness and palatability of a fruit is dependant on its source. If the tree is firmly rooted in the ground, exposed to an adequate amount of sunlight, and has the necessary water and nutrients it will to produce quality fruits.
In a similar vein, if we attach ourselves to our roots and connect ourselves with the unbroken chain of our ancient traditions, than we, “the fruits of their labor” will be able to become another vital link in the eternal chain of our mesorah (tradition). If we have an appreciation of who we are and the greatness we possess, than it is clear that the “tree of life” is still robust and vivacious and will continue to produce many more generations of fruits.        
          On Tu B’Shvat however, when the trees are judged, the quality of the tree is determined by analyzing its fruits. If the color of the fruit is bright and luminous and its taste is juicy and fresh, we can be certain that the tree which it grew on is healthy and vigorous.
Similarly, if we want to evaluate whether a person possesses love for Torah, mitzvos, and prayer, an appreciation for his heritage, and is passionate about being a Torah Jew, we need look no further than his children. If a man exudes a sense of joy and love for Torah and mitzvos it is indicative of the fact that there was an appreciation for those values in the home he was raised in[4].

          A young father once asked Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l when chinuch - the process of educating one’s children - begins. Rabbi Hutner asked the man how old he was. When the man replied that he was thirty two years old, Rabbi Hutner replied that the chinuch of his children had begun thirty-two years earlier. 

          The verse states, “The crown of elders is their children’s children; and the pride of sons is their fathers.” When the Maggid of Mezritch was a child his house burned down. When the young Maggid asked his mother why she was weeping so bitterly she replied that in the house were irretrievable documented records of the family’s esteemed lineage dating back many generations. The Maggid sought to console his mother and replied that he would initiate a new line of lineage so that their progeny would be proud to trace themselves to him and his mother.

          Our pedigree is a vital component of our greatness. We have endured despite the travails of exile because the tree which produced us, as it were, is still vibrant and strong. Our enemies sought to chop it down. Beyond that, even many of our own brethren, erroneously thought that they had to ‘redirect’ the source of our tree’s nutrition and sustenance. But we – those who have upheld the Torah in its pristine form – are the sole beneficiaries of the longevity and eternity of the tree. “It is a living tree for those who grasp hold of it and those who support it will be enriched. Its ways are ways of sweetness and all of its pathways are peaceful.”
          During the holiday of Shavuos, when we recommit ourselves to the Torah, the world’s fruit supply is judged. How is it judged? By analyzing the tree which produced it. If the tree is yet robust and vivacious, than we can be certain that the fruits will be delectable and delicious as well. If we have upheld the traditions and values of our ancestors, than we can be certain that we will merit becoming a link in the eternal continuity of our tree.

          The Mishnah[5] relates that the world is judged on four occasions throughout the year. On Pesach the world’s grain supply is judged, on Shavuos the world’s fruit supply is judged, on Rosh Hashanah the deeds of man are judged, and on Succos the world’s water supply is judged. During three of the four aforementioned times, there is a special prayer inserted in reference to the judgment occurring that day. On Pesach the “prayer for dew” is recited, for dew directly affects the future production from the earth. On Succos the “prayer for rain” is recited[6], and on Rosh Hashanah we repeatedly refer to the awesome personal judgment transpiring in the celestial courts that day. However, on Shavuos the judgment of the day seems to be completely omitted. Why do we not add a special prayer for fruit during Shavuos[7]?
          I humbly offer the following answer. Parshas Bechukosai commences with a detailed list of the beautiful blessings of prosperity and goodness G-d guarantees if we properly adhere to Torah and mitzvos. “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them. Then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit.[8]” Rashi explains that, “If you will follow My decrees” is a reference to engaging in intensive Torah study. Thus, when one commits himself to rigorous and exhaustive Torah study he is ensured that all of the blessings will follow.
If so, there is no reason to recite an extra prayer regarding fruits on Shavuos. The holiday itself is dedicated to our recommitment to intense Torah-study and the acceptance of the yoke of Torah in every facet of our lives. The very essence of the holiday itself is therefore the greatest merit for our fruits and all other blessings. “If you will follow My decrees, the tree of the field will give its fruit.”

          The holiday of Shavuos is about bringing the past and future together in the present. When we commit ourselves to the ideals and values of our predecessors, we simultaneously invest in ourselves and our progeny those same ideals and values. It is the continuation of the transmission of our heritage and the continued nurturance of the tree of life and the fruits it produces. It is the guarantee that our past greatness will eventually herald the greatness of the future which will overshadow all that we have merited until now. “And I will return the hearts of fathers to their sons and the hearts of sons to their fathers.” 

“On Shavuos the world is judged concerning fruits”
“It is a living tree for those who grasp hold of it”

[1] Ohr Hachaim, 494:4
[2] Rosh Hashanah 16a
[3] Rosh Hashanah 2a
[4] To be sure, in our time children can be influenced by external influences – positive or negative - beyond the home. Still, generally, to some extent, a child lives in the footsteps of his parents.
[5] Rosh Hashanah 16a
[6] on Shemini Atzeres
[7] This question was posed to me by my uncle, Rabbi Yaakov Cohn
[8] Vaykira 26:3-4


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