SALT - Wednesday, 24 Iyar 5778 - May 9, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The opening verses of Parashat Bechukotai describe the material blessings that God promises to grant Benei Yisrael in reward for their observance of His laws, including the promise that “eitz ha-sadeh yitein piryo” – “the tree of the field shall give forth its fruit” (26:4).  Rashi explains this verse as referring to ilanei serak – trees that do not produce fruit – and it foresees the time in the Messianic Era when even ilanei serak in the Land of Israel will produce fruit.
            This concept, that all trees will produce fruit at the time of the final redemption, is mentioned by the Gemara at the end of Masekhet Ketubot (112b), which cites as its source a verse from Sefer Yoel (2:22) foreseeing the idyllic conditions of the Messianic Era: “…for the tree has borne its fruit; the pomegranate and vine have given forth their wealth.”
            On a symbolic level, this might be teaching us that in a redeemed world, nobody is “fruitless” – unproductive and idle.  Redemption is achieved when nobody lives as a “fruitless” tree, which draws moisture and nutrients from the ground without giving anything back to the world.  The reality towards which we must strive is one where everybody produces to their maximum potential, without wasting any skills, talents, energy or capabilities.  When we all find our mission and cultivate our skills and talents so we can produce and achieve to the very best of our ability, then we move the world closer to the redeemed state that we all desire and long for.
            Interestingly, the Gemara makes this remark immediately after a different comment about the Messianic Era, describing the state of affairs in the generation just prior to the final redemption – namely, that many people will deride and criticize Torah scholars.  Rather than receive the respect and admiration they deserve, righteous Torah scholars of that time will instead endure scorn and derision.  The connection between these two statements, perhaps, is that the quintessential “fruitless tree” is the person who spends his or her time mocking and criticizing.  Very often, cynicism and mockery are the way people avoid the need to invest work and effort in order to feel accomplished.  By knocking people who devote their lives to growth and achievement, the cynics clear their conscience so they can allow themselves to take the easy route, going through life without putting in effort to contribute to the world.  Deriding accomplished people is a pastime of the “ilanei serak,” those who prefer to complain and jeer rather than try to make the world better.
            The Gemara thus warns against living a life of “fruitlessness,” against allowing our time, our potential, and our capabilities to go to waste.  Rather than spend our time protesting, criticizing, complaining and poking fun at the many problems that we see all around us, we are to instead invest hard work and effort to produce the most and the best “fruit” we possibly can, in order to bring our troubled world just one step closer to redemption.