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The Old Man and the Fig Tree

The Old Man and the Fig Tree


Today is Rosh Hashanah. Not the new year for humans, that's sometime in September, but the New Year for Trees. We celebrate by eating fruit, especially fruits significant to Israel; Those mystically inclined indulge in a festive "Seder"; and in modern-day Israel, the day has assumed the status of a kind of Arbor day and is commemorated by widespread planting of trees.

There is a story in the Midrash of an old guy observed planting a fig tree. When asked if he really expected to live long enough to consume the fruits of his labor, he replied: "I was born into a world flourishing with ready pleasures. My ancestors planted for me, and I now I plant for my children..."

The act of planting is an act of faith. To bury a fertile seed and then walk away, with no way of tracking progress for months or years to come, demands equanimity of spirit and deep-rooted trust in G‑d. So many variables can influence the eventual outcome, and we have so few means of control, that any future yield can truthfully be described as miraculous.

Growth is best accomplished in private. Underground, away from the bright lights and crass demands for instant results, one can develop and mature in a stable and enduring manner.

What's more, just as a seed must first rot before it can begin to generate new beginnings, a person intent on self-growth and character evolution must be ready to undergo revolutionary change, to the point that the old "I", the ego and self-awareness, is completely effaced. Only in an atmosphere of humility and acceptance can the new I develop.

The end results can be truly astounding: allowed to mature and flourish, supplied with Torah-rich nourishment and pruned of the dead-wood, one seed yields returns many hundredfold; the new persona sprouts fertile and proud, a source of nourishment for all and a resource and sustenance for generations to come.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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YH January 19, 2011

Talmud Talmud isn't Medrash, is it? Talmud is Mishna+Gemara. So the article should have said "Medrash" and not "Talmud"! Reply

Elisha Greenbaum Moorabbin, Vic, Australia January 18, 2011

Source Source is Medrash Tanchuma: Parshas Kedoshim 8.
The complete story can be found (in English) at Reply

YH January 18, 2011

source To the person who asked for the source, the Gemara Taanis 23 relates, "Choni met a man planting a carob tree, and he asked him why he was planting a tree which would bear fruit only after seventy years. The man told him that just as his father had planted a carob tree for him, he wanted to plant a carob tree for his children."

If there is another source about a fig tree, the author will have to tell us where it is. Reply

Anonymous cherry hill, nj November 18, 2010

the old man and the fig tree this is wonderful story promoting learning, tzedakah (charity) and belief in the future. could you please tell me where in the Talmud this quote can be found? Reply

Joy Krauthammer Northridge, CA via January 29, 2010

Blessed Fig Trees Shalom,

Every Tu B'Shvat I help people plant for their generations.
And so can you.

Each year I cut off dozens and dozens of foot-long straight branches from my blessed thirty year old fig tree which came to me as a barren branch (from a friend's grandfather's tree in Italy) filled with hope and potential, and in my many synagogues I offer these fig branches to the congregations.

Each year I hear of the fig trees' growth and new figs which is shared with me in photos, delight, and appreciation in joy.

Happy Tu B'Shvat, Reply

Harvey Albond Niagara Falls, NY via January 27, 2010

The old man and the fig tree. Very similar to a philosophic motto that has guided me over a long city planning career:

A Civilization Flourishes
When People Plant Trees
Under Which They Will Never Sit. Reply

chuna Brooklyn, NY February 8, 2009

Growth. Is best done in private.
Wow. Good one. Reply

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