Be a Giving Tree
Yael Eckstein | August 20, 2020
When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? — Deuteronomy 20:19
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9.
One of my favorite books to read with my children is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The book is about the relationship between a young boy and a tree throughout the boy’s lifetime. At each stage of the boy’s life, the tree gives whatever it can to the boy whom she loves. Branches to play on, apples to sell, wood to build a house, a trunk to build a boat, and finally a stump for sitting.
As I pointed out to my children, throughout the story, the tree becomes happy by giving, but the boy, who only takes, ends up a sad man. What I hope my children learn from this wonderful parable is that it is good to be a giver and that they should aspire to live lives of meaningful contribution.
In this week’s Torah portion, when Scripture discusses laws of war, we learn that it is forbidden to cut down any fruit-bearing trees during a siege, while non-fruit-bearing trees are permitted to be destroyed. The Jewish sages explained that trees are a metaphor for people. Just as there are trees that give fruit and those that do not, so too, there are people who contribute “fruit” and those who do not.
People who contribute to the world through acts of kindness, generosity, and service are like trees that bear fruit. They provide for others at their own expense. However, a person who is not interested in helping others is like a tree without any fruit. Moreover, while a fruitless tree still provides shade, it doesn’t cost the tree anything. In the same way, many people inadvertently contribute something to the world, but if it doesn’t come from a giving heart, it isn’t as valued by God.
Through the commandment to honor and preserve fruit-bearing trees, the Bible teaches us that we are to value people who devote their lives to helping others. It also encourages us to become people of service and contribution. It’s not always easy to be a giver, and sometimes, it appears far easier to be a taker. However, ultimately, the act of giving not only makes for a meaningful life, but also for a more joyful one.
How might you bear fruit today in serving others?