One whose wisdom is greater than his deeds, to what is
he compared? To a tree with many branches and few roots....
But one whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is
he compared? To a tree with many roots and few branches....
Ethics of the Fathers 3:17
But isnt it the other way around? Is not wisdom the
root of deed, and every act of man the outgrowth of what he
knows and understands?
Indeed, the tree of life is rooted in the mind. But there
are times that we act upon a conviction that does not devolve
from our minds conception of life, and is even antithetical
In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi discusses a phenomenon
that is unique to Jewish history: the apostate martyr. Throughout
the centuries, countless thousands of Jews were forced to
choose between their faith and their lives; in the overwhelming
majority of cases, they chose to die rather than renounce
their Jewishness. Many creeds and causes have their martyrs;
but Jewish martyrdom is unique in that it included many whose
day-to-day lives were distant from the very principles for
which they died. It is reasonable that the devout believer
or the committed idealist might elect to die for the faith
and ideals to which he has devoted his life; what defies all
logical explanation is the fact that Jews whose understanding
of Judaism was negligible, Jews who did not observe the mitzvot
in their daily lives, went to their deaths rather than disavow
a commitment which they had rejected in their lifetimes.
In truth, concludes Rabbi Schneur Zalman, every mitzvah is
a supra-rational act, deriving from the Jews intrinsic,
immutable bond with G-d. But only rarely are we attuned to
this stratum of our being. Our daily lives are conducted on
the rational plane of the psyche, where a persons deeds
are dictated by his understanding and appreciation of himself
and his goals in life. But there are timessuch as when
our very identity faces its ultimate challengewhen our
deepest self asserts itself in our thoughts and actions. Our
endeavor in life should be to actualize this supreme commitment
at all times, not only in moments of truth generated
by acute crisis.
In other words, there are two trees in the human
soul. There is the tree of rational life, whose rootsthe
wisdom, knowledge and understanding the person has amassedgenerate
and nourish the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits of his
actions and achievements. But underlying this tree is another
treea tree in which deeds are the roots of wisdom. On
this level, a persons deeds are imbedded in the soil
of supra-rational faith and commitment, and nourish his understanding
of himself, his world and his G-d.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Cheshvan 25, 5719 (November
This is an excerpt from "Beyond the Letter of the
Law" by Yanki Tauber published by The Meaningful Life
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. IV, pp. 1210-1212.