The Lesson of Water and Trees

Yael Eckstein  |  August 30, 2021

All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. — Deuteronomy 29:10-11

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Nitzavim, which means “standing,” from Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20.

There was a great rabbi who lived about 200 years ago named Rav Simcha Bunim. He would carry two pieces of paper in the two pockets of his jacket. On one of the papers, he wrote, “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). The second paper said, “The whole world was created just for me.”

Rav Simcha Bunim wanted to remind himself every day that we need to be balanced in our perspective of our own value. We need to be humble, but not too humble, that we don’t recognize our value and abilities.

In this week’s Torah portion, when Moses called the entire nation of Israel to renew their covenant with God, after listing the leaders, the men, the women, the children, literally everyone, he specifically mentioned the wood-choppers and the water-carriers as well. While the simple meaning is that Moses was including the lowest rung of society in the covenant, there is a deeper lesson of water and trees that is hinted at by singling out wood-choppers and water-carriers.

The Lesson of Water and Trees

Water is drawn out of the ground. Water is necessary for life, and it takes effort to draw it up from the depths where it is hidden. Chopping wood is the opposite. Trees stand tall. People literally look up at them. The labor of wood-chopping involves cutting the tall trees down. Water is drawn up from below. Trees are cut down from their lofty status.

Some people are like trees. They have too much ego and arrogance and need to be cut down, to be humbled to connect with God. Others are more like water. They are so humble that they think they have nothing to offer. Their value is hidden and needs to be drawn up to the surface like water.

In order to live wise, godly lives, we need to remember the lesson of water and trees. We need to know that we matter and that we’re here on earth to make a difference. But we can never become overly arrogant. We need to realize that God has His plan, and He will carry it out with or without us. Yet at the same time, we need to know that God expects us to do what we can to make a difference for the better in this world.

Your Turn:

Is there someone in your life who has more to offer than they realize? What can you do to encourage them and “draw their water” up from the ground?

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