Yesterday, I sat in on an interior design committee meeting where we discussed the nature of various types of wood and how they might help us make our new Sanctuary beautiful, functional, and inspiring. Often, we use wood with very little thought as to where it comes from and what it symbolizes.
The Torah scrolls we use all have wood handles. This reminds us that the Torah is a “tree of life.”
And, in our weekly Torah portion we read: “Ki HaAdam etz ha-sadeh [humans are like trees in the field]!” (Deuteronomy 20:19)
The simple reading of this verse is actually a question: Is a tree like a human being who can run and hide from you? Nevertheless, our sages have taken these words to mean that, in a sense, people are like trees in a field. We are planted in the ground, and we reach up toward the heavens. We are a combination of physical and spiritual elements. We are deeply rooted. We are strong. And, yet, we have the ability to sway, to dance in the wind, and to attain great heights.
In Elul, as we prepare for the upcoming High Holy Days, we are also cognizant of the fact that like trees in the field, human beings can either grow or be cut down. As a community, we can encourage individual and communal growth, or we can stifle it. As individuals, we can seek to reach new heights, or we can box ourselves into constricting frameworks.
Elul is a time to think and to ask ourselves:
How are we like trees in a field? What do we want to see in the coming year? Can we deepen our roots and broaden our horizons? How might we express the fullest potential of our souls, as individuals and as a community?
It is not only the wood that we choose that can make our Sanctuary beautiful, functional and inspiring – it is each and every one of us that can contribute to the beauty of our Rodef Sholom Temple community. If each one of us is like a tree – then, together, we can be a magnificent field and an awesome instrument of blessing in the world.