Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Meaning of the Fig Tree

The obligation of gratitude is truly staggering. The Akeidas Yitzchak, zt”l, writes, “The worst and most damaging character trait is a lack of gratitude.”
Rav Meshulam Dovid Soleveitchik, shlit”a, uses this concept to explain an interesting Rashi. “In Zevachim 58 we find that we offer the incense from the second ma’aracha on fig branches. Rashi explains the aggadaic reason for this practice. ‘We use specifically a fig branch since it was through this branch that Adam covered his nakedness.’ This teaches the real extent of hakaras hatov. Even though the fruit of this very tree caused death to Adam and all of his descendants, it does not detract from our obligation to express hakaras hatov to this tree since our earliest ancestors fashioned chaguros from its leaves.”
But the Tiferes Yisrael, zt”l, understood this Rashi in a very different manner. “Adam Harishon sinned since he and Chavah accepted the snake’s words of slander against Hashem. Since the incense atones for lashon hara, we use the branches of the fig tree which covered Adam’s nakedness then.”
But it may be possible to suggest a third explanation. The verse tells us, 'נוצר תאנה יטול פריו'—“He who guards the fig tree will eat its fruit.” Our sages explain that the fig tree produces fruit in small batches, so that if someone misses a day, he is unable to harvest the entire crop. The same is true with Torah. If one is like Yehoshua, who always was in the tent, he will eat of its fruits. But one whose commitment is haphazard will not succeed like one who is more committed.
Specifically a fig leaf covered Adam’s nakedness to teach that only through Torah could what he lost be regained. We use this wood for the ketores to teach the very same lesson. Only through Torah will we merit to transform our negative character traits, alluded to in the chelbonah, into good.

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