I can’t help wondering as I see the beautiful transformation from green to yellow, to orange, red and brown, “Why do leaves fall? Why do they change their color?” On one hand, the transformation is beautiful, but on the other hand, it leaves the trees barren and lifeless. It appears that the tree is dying in the fall and dead by the winter, but I know that the tree isn’t really dead, it’s only sleeping.

I know that the tree isn’t really deadLeaves are the food factory of plants. Water soaks in through the roots, gases are absorbed through the air, and sunlight is used within the leaf to turn water and gas into food. Chlorophyll, a chemical that gives leaves its vivid green color, makes all of this happen. When the trees notice the days becoming shorter and the nights getting longer, their ability to synthesize chlorophyll reduces.

Thus, the green disappears, and yellow and orange carotinoids and xanthophylls, which were always present but hidden within the leaf, shine forth their colors. Other chemicals are produced that make the leaves appear red and purple. Any water and nutrients that were in the leaves go down to the stems as the tree prepares for the winter. When no food is left in the leaf, it falls, leaving behind a scar and a bud for the next year’s growth. The tree appears dead, but in reality, it’s sleeping—waiting for the spring to arrive when buds will blossom, and it will be green and lively once again. So actually, the very falling of the leaves is a sign that the tree is still alive.

The Midrash relates that there were three advisors to the Egyptian Pharaoh: Balaam, Job and Jethro. Balaam encouraged Pharaoh to kill the Jewish males and devised a plan on how to do it. Job kept silent. Jethro refused to take part in the slaughter and couldn’t bear to watch it happen, so he ran away. Each man was paid back for his actions measure for measure. Balaam was killed by the sword. Job experienced terrible suffering—the worst kind imaginable—losing his family, fortune and health. And Jethro merited having descendants that served as High Priests in the Holy Temple.

The Midrash asks, “Why was Job punished with terrible suffering for remaining silent, while Balaam, who actively contributed to the murder of Jewish babies, was punished with only a quick death?” The Midrash tells us that we can learn that life, even with suffering, is greater than death. Job’s suffering demonstrated that he was still alive, and when you are alive, there’s always hope and always the possibility of change.

When you are alive, there’s always hopeChallenges are how one grows and develops. If the leaves always remained green, we would never have the opportunity to see the breathtaking colors that are within—the vivid oranges and yellows. With the shedding of the leaves, we see the tree’s strength and are awed by its capacity to rejuvenate, growing even taller and bringing forth more fruits and beautiful flowers.

When leaves fall off trees, it may appear as though the trees are dying. When they lie barren, it may seem like they’re dead. But when leaves fall, they leave behind a scar and a bud proving that they are still alive. They sit patiently waiting for the days to grow longer and the nights to become shorter—for the day when they will blossom once again.