Fruit for Thought
Our sages tell us that, originally, all trees
were fruit-bearing, and that this will also be the case in
the Era of Moshiach.
A fruitless tree is a symptom of an imperfect world, for the
ultimate function of a tree is to produce fruit.
If Man is a tree of the field
and fruit is the trees highest achievement, there are
seven fruits that crown the human and botanical harvest. These
are the seven fruits and grains singled out by the Torah as
exemplars of the Holy Lands fertility: wheat, barley,
grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
The fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is the day
designated by the Jewish calendar as the New Year for
Trees. On this day, we celebrate the trees of G-ds
world, and the tree within us, by partaking of these seven
fruits, which typify the various components and
modes of human life.
Food and Fodder
The Kabbalistic masters tell us that each and every one of
us has not one, but two souls: an animal soul,
which embodies our natural, self-oriented instincts; and a
G-dly soul embodying our transcendent drives,
our desire to escape the I and relate to that
which is greater than ourselves.
As its name implies, the animal soul constitutes that part
of ourselves that is common to all living creatures: the instinct
for self-preservation and self-perpetuation. But man is more
than a sophisticated animal. There are qualities that are
unique to us as human beingsthe qualities deriving from
our G-dly soul. The point at which we graduate
beyond the self and its needs (How do I survive?
How do I obtain food, shelter, money, power, knowledge,
satisfaction?) to a supra-self perspective (Why
am I here? What purpose do I serve?) is
the point at which we cease to be just another animal in G-ds
world and begin to realize our uniqueness as human beings.
This is not to say that the animal self is to be rejected
in favor of the divine-human self. These are our two souls,
both of which are indispensable to a life of fulfillment and
purpose. Even as we stimulate the divine in us to rise above
the merely animal, we must also develop and refine our animal
selves, learning to cultivate the constructive elements of
selfhood (e.g., self-confidence, courage, perseverance) while
weeding out the selfish and the profane.
Wheat, a staple of the human diet,
represents the endeavor to nourish what is distinctly human
in us, to feed the divine aspirations that are the essence
of our humanity. Barley, a typical animal food, represents the endeavor to nourish and develop our animal soula
task no less crucial to our mission in life than the cultivation
of our G-dly soul.
Wheat and barley, the two grains among the seven fruits,
represent the essentials of our inner make-up. Following these
come five fruitsappetizers and desserts
on our spiritual menuthat add flavor and zest to our
basic endeavor of developing our animal and G-dly souls.
The first of these is the grape, whose defining characteristic
is joy. As the grapevine describes its product in Yotams
Parable, ...my wine, which makes joyous G-d and men.
Joy is revelation. A person ignited by joy has the same basic
traits he possesses in a non-joyous statethe same knowledge
and intelligence, the same loves, hates, wants and desires.
But in a state of joy, everything is more pronounced: the
mind keener, the loves deeper, the hates more vivid, the desires
more aggressive. Emotions that ordinarily show only a faint
intimation of their true extent now come out into the open.
In the words of the Talmud, When wine enters, the concealed
A joyless life might be complete in every way, yet it is
a shallow life: everything is there, but only the barest surface
is showing. Both the G-dly and the animal souls contain vast
reservoirs of insight and feeling that never see the light
of day because there is nothing to stimulate them. Grape
represents the element of joy in our livesthe joy that
unleashes these potentials and adds depth, color and intensity
to everything we do.
We might be doing something fully and completely; we might
even be doing it joyously. But are we there? Are we involved?
Involvement means more than doing something right, more than
giving it our all. It means that we care, that we are invested
in the task. It means that we are affected by what we are
doing, for the better or for the worse.
The fig, the fourth of the seven fruits, is also
the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evilthe
fruit of which Adam and Eve tasted, thereby committing the
first sin of history.
As Chassidic teaching explains, knowledge (daat)
implies an intimate involvement with the thing known (as in
the verse, And Adam knew his wife).
Adams sin derived from his refusal to reconcile himself
with the notion that there are certain things from which he
must distance himself: he desired to intimately know every
corner of G-ds world, to become involved with every
one of G-ds creations. Even evil, even that which G-d
had declared out of bounds to him.
Adams fig was one of the most destructive forces in
history. In its equally powerful constructive guise, the fig
represents our capacity for a deep and intimate involvement
in our every positive endeavoran involvement which signifies
that we are one with what we are doing.
Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, sings
King Solomon in Song of Songs, his celebration of the love
between the Divine Groom and His bride Israel, your
mouth is comely; your temple is like a piece of pomegranate
within your locks. As interpreted by the Talmud, the allegory
of the pomegranate expresses the truth that, Even the
empty ones amongst you are full of good deeds as a pomegranate
[is full of seeds].
The pomegranate is not just a model for something that contains
many particulars. It also addresses the paradox of how an
individual may be empty and, at the same time,
be full of good deeds as a pomegranate.
The pomegranate is a highly compartmentalized fruit: each
of its hundreds of seeds is wrapped in its own sac of flesh
and is separated from its fellows by a tough membrane. In
the same way, it is possible for a person to do good deedsmany
good deedsyet they remain isolated acts, with little
or no effect on his nature and character. He may possess many
virtues, but they do not become him; he may be full of good
deeds, yet he remains morally and spiritually hollow.
If the fig represents our capacity for total involvement
and identification with what we are doing, the pomegranate
is its very antithesis, representing our capacity to overreach
ourselves and act in a way that surpasses our internal spiritual
state. It is our capacity to do and achieve things that are
utterly incompatible with who and what we are at the present
The pomegranate is hypocrisy in its noblest form:
the refusal to reconcile oneself to ones spiritual and
moral station as defined by the present state of ones
character; the insistence on acting better and more G-dly
than we are.
For most of us, life is synonymous with struggle.
We struggle to forge an identity under the heavy shadow of
parental and peer influence; we struggle to find a partner
in life, and then we struggle to preserve our marriage; we
struggle to raise our children, and then struggle in our relationship
with them as adults; we struggle to earn a living, and then
struggle with our guilt over our good fortune; and underlying
it all is the perpetual struggle between our animal and G-dly
selves, between our self-oriented instincts and our aspiration
to transcend the self and touch the divine.
The olive in us is the part of ourselves that
thrives on struggle, that revels in it, that would no more
escape it than escape life itself. Just like an olive,
say our sages, which yields its oil only when pressed,
so, too, do we yield what is best in us only when pressed
between the millstones of life and the counterforces of a
As the fig is countered by the pomegranate,
so, too, is the olive in us contrasted by our
seventh fruit, the date, which represents our
capacity for peace, tranquillity and perfection. While it
is true that were best when were pressed, it is
equally true that there are sublime potentials in our souls
that well forth only when we are completely at peace with
ourselvesonly when we have achieved a balance and harmony
among the diverse components of our souls.
Thus the Psalmist sings: The tzaddik (perfectly
righteous person) shall bloom as the date palm. The Zohar explains that there is a certain
species of date palm that bears fruit only after seventy years.
The human character is comprised of seven basic attributes,
each consisting of ten sub-categories; thus, the tzaddiks
blooming after seventy years is the fruit of absolute
tranquillity, the product of a soul whose every aspect and
nuance of character has been refined and brought into harmony
with oneself, ones fellow and ones G-d.
While the olive and date describe
two very different spiritual personalities, they both exist
within every man. For even in the midst of our most ardent
struggles, we can always find comfort and fortitude in the
tranquil perfection that resides at the core of our souls.
And even in our most tranquil moments, we can always find
the challenge that will provoke us to yet greater achievement.
Based on the Rebbes talks on the Fifteenth of Shevat,
5750 (1990) and 5752 (1992), and on other occasions
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
. Nachmanides on Genesis 1:11.
. And bread satiates the heart of manPsalms
. The barley and the straw for the horses
and the mulesI Kings 5:8. See also Talmud, Sotah
. Indeed, according to Torah law, one is obligated
to first feed his animals before one feeds oneself (Talmud,
Berachot 40a; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Servitude 9:8).
. Genesis 3:7; Rashi, ibid.
. See The Price of Knowledge, WIR, vol.
VIII, no. 5.
. Talmud, Berachot 57a. (Raka, the Hebrew
word used by the verse for temple is related
to the word reik, empty. Thus your
temple is like a... pomegranate is homiletically rendered
the empty ones amongst you are like a pomegranate.)
. Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 36:1.
. Zohar, part III, 16a.
. Sefer HaSichot 5750, vol. I, pp. 273-282; Sefer
HaSichot 5752, vol I, pp. 325-328; et al.