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Parsha Mitzvot: Shofetim: Mitzvah 530 – Concept 604

The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious;
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meager?
Walt Whitman

During Elul, I prepare for Rosh Hashana by focusing on how I have grown over the past year. I want to face God on the Day of Judgment by saying, “This is how I have used Your gifts over the past year. Please grant even more gifts for me to maximize my potential.”

I celebrate Rosh Hashana by picturing myself with unlimited potential and dreaming HUGE dreams.

The inevitable question arises, “Were they not in reality meager?” I could have done more.

“When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to sieze it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them, for from it you will eat, and you shall not cut it down.” (Deuteronomy 20:19)

In the midst of a chapter dealing with warfare, which, by definition, is destructive, the Torah demands that Jews remain conscious of the need to maintain their regard for the general welfare and cleave to their love of goodness. (Sefer HaChinuch)

The question, “were they not in reality meager?” is a tree chopper. It kills a source of life, something from which we can nourish ourselves in the future.

We can find fault with all we have accomplished, especially when we are steeped in the Teshuva process, carefully examining all we have done.  The Torah addresses us when we are involved in a potentially dangerous process (Ten Thousand Mistakes): Protect yourselves by not becoming tree-choppers. Allow the trees to grow.

Trees represent that challenge more than any other creation. (See ‘Haunted By Trees’) We immediately think of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We forget that God’s first charge to Adam was not the prohibition, but a positive instruction, “You must eat from all the trees in the Garden!” God wants us to benefit from His creation and from our accomplishments. When we focus on what we have done, we fulfill that first charge, and can learn to avoid the other Tree.

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