A lesson for the seasons
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
I have heard that the Torah compares man to a tree. What are some of the lessons that we can learn from this comparison?
A wise man wished to teach his four sons how to avoid making rash judgments. During the winter he sent his oldest son on a journey to go and examine a particular fruit tree. In the spring he sent his second oldest son on the same errand. Summer came along and the third son went too. When the youngest boy had returned from his autumn visit, the wise man called them together and asked them to each describe the tree. The first son portrayed the tree as nothing more than a burnt wooden stump with no sign of life. The second son was very quick to disagree, describing it as a blossoming, green tree with much potential. The third son described it as a fully developed, productive fruit-giving tree. The youngest son depicted the tree as one that was still producing fruits but looked like it was beginning to fall apart.
The father turned to his sons and told them that they were all right but wrong at the same time. They were all right because each one had described the tree as he had seen it. But at the same time they were wrong because each one had only seen the tree in one season. They should have withheld judgment on the tree until they were certain that they had seen it in all its seasons.
"Man is like a tree". We too have our seasons. Part of the mechanism of the human being is that we have high seasons and low seasons. There are times when we are productive and at a "fully-developed" stage and there are times when we feel like a burnt-out wooden stump with no sign of life. There are times when we are beginning to bloom and there are times when we feel that we are beginning to take a fall. What's important for us to know is that just as one would be silly to judge a tree based on what it looks like in the winter or autumn, so too we should not pass judgment over a fellow human being until we are absolutely certain that we have seen them in all their "seasons".
This Shabbat we celebrate Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of Shevat), known as the Rosh Hashanah - New Year - of trees. It is customary to eat fruit, thank G-d for trees and internalise the lessons that they teach us.