By Nesanel Yoel Safran
Tu B’Shevat is the time when fruit takes center stage, and one of my favorite “fruit” stories (said to be about the Chofetz Chaim) is about a rav who is walking through an outdoor fruit market, when he comes across an old woman sitting and wailing.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, concerned. “I sell apples here,” she moans, “and some hooligans just came by and knocked over my whole stand! Apples are rolling everywhere and people are grabbing them up for themselves just as quickly. I’m a poor woman and now my whole livelihood is ruined!” The rav feels the woman’s pain, but knows that now isn’t the time for commiseration, but for action. “What are you waiting for?” he asks her. “Let’s get down on the ground and grab some, too. At least that way you’ll have something left to sell!”
Just plant a few seeds, and you may be amazed to see what grows!
These days, the world is so flooded with (mis)information, and the truth feels trampled and scattered. I once read an article by an esteemed Torah educator who said that virtually everyone she knows past age fifty has given up their idealism and world-changing dreams. Well, without giving away my age, I started to fear I was about to become one of those statistics. Then I recalled the apple story. Yes, nowadays the truth is rolling around in the dust; people’s hearts and minds are being grabbed up by a plethora of distractions. But does that mean that we Yidden should just sit weeping in front of our overturned applecart of truth? That we who strive to be m’kadesh Shem Shamayim shouldn’t “grab” too?
A related, ‘fruitful’ thought is taught in the name of the Baal Shem Tov:
“Tzaddik k’tamar yifrach, k’erez b’livanon yisgeh—The tzaddik will thrive like a date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon, he will grow tall.” There are two types of tzaddikim, both completely righteous. One type is constantly in d’veykus with Hashem, focusing on his own spiritual growth—he is a tzaddik for himself, but less so for others; he doesn’t influence others through his righteousness. He’s compared to a cedar tree, which produces no fruit. This type of tzaddik doesn’t produce the “fruit” of bringing others to spiritual growth and bringing more tzaddikim into the world…but rather increases his own personal reward.
However, there’s a second type of tzaddik, who is compared to a date palm. Like the “thriving date palm,” he brings out the good in others and by doing so (bears the fruit of) bringing more good into the world. This second type of tzaddik receives far more reward than the first type (even though the first type is also a true tzaddik).
Let’s branch out to bring people back to their roots. Just plant a few seeds, and you may be amazed to see what grows!