Using the apple tree as a source of strength
By: Dovid Samuels
At the greatest moment of our history, when we received the holy Torah at Mount Sinai, we made an important declaration to Hashem: Na’aseh v’nishma – We will do and we will hear (understand). This means that we, collectively, made a commitment to fulfil the mitzvos of the Torah, in their entirety, before even fully understanding what each mitzvah means, or whether we were even able to do it. Our Sages teach us that upon making this statement, a myriad of angels came down from heaven and we were each crowned with two crowns, one for saying na’aseh, and one for saying nishma. It was an epic collective experience.
We are also taught something else about that holy moment: “Why are the Jewish people compared to apples, as it is written, ‘Like an apple tree amongst the trees of the wood, so is my Beloved among the gods’? Because just like an apple tree produces fruit before it brings forth leaves, so too the Jewish people said na’aseh (we will do) before nishma (we will hear).” Needless to say, this cryptic statement has to be explained, as it certainly isn’t just comparing one statement said out of its normal order to a random natural phenomenon which likewise seems to be out of the normal order. And, explain it we must, as this could well be the single most important statement made by any nation, ever.
So, how does an apple sprouting before the leaves have anything to do with us saying na’aseh v’nishma? To answer, we first need to examine the purpose of leaves. The Gemara tells us that leaves are there to protect the fruit from hazardous winds and rays of sun. Even the colour of the leaves camouflages the fruits until they are ripe and, only then, stand out against the green backdrop. The fruits are instructed to pray for the safety of the leaves, for without them the fruits themselves would not survive.
When the fruits of a normal tree grow, they are born into an environment perfectly designed for their survival and comfort. The leaves provide a natural bedding and packaging for the fruits, to keep them safe from the harsh conditions surrounding them. Parents, before the birth of a child, will make a clean and safe place for their baby, with sheets and blankets and all the necessary things to care for their child. So too, Hashem has designed a world that incubates fruits upon their blossoming, to ensure their safety. At the creation of the world, Hashem commanded all of creation to increase and multiply. Every fruit is following the directive of its Creator by coming into this world. But, they are hesitant; they wait for a safe space, to be sure that they can fulfil their mission safely, and, only then, are they born.
This is true for most trees, but not the apple tree. The apple sprouts before the leaves. There is no safety net to cushion the apple against the wind, the sun, and the elements. It hears the command of its Maker, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and it does so without hesitation. But, how can it possibly survive out there without the protection of the leaves? Is it not concerned, like every other fruit, that in order to fulfil the will of its Master it needs a safe backdrop? The answer, quite simply, is no. The apple has been commanded to grow, and in absolute subservience and commitment to Hashem’s will, it does just that: it grows. Will it survive? Can it even hope to survive? Even if it does, will its flesh be sweet? Will its seeds be able to produce more fruits? These are questions that plague the other fruits, but the apple is not perturbed. The answer to all of these questions is: It’s up to Hashem. He is the one who is asking me to grow, and that is all I need to be concerned about.
Now we can see how this absolute devotion to Hashem’s will on the part of the apple is relevant to our acceptance of His Torah and our proclamation of na’aseh v’nishma. When a servant is being asked by his master to do something, or if anyone is being hired to do a job for an employer, the first necessary step is to make sure that the job can be done. When a scribe is commissioned to write a Sefer Torah, he has to check that he is able to do the job within the desired time. If the deadline is unreasonable, then the scribe will either renegotiate the terms or refuse the job. Upon receiving the Torah, we were entering into a contract with our Maker. We were hired to do a job; albeit no ordinary job. We were being given a book of law, a book of knowledge, and a book of life; with the expectation of fulfilling everything included within it. Under normal circumstances, we would have read through it, with all the small print, making sure that we were fully aware of all the terms and conditions, that each and every detail was clearly understood and agreed upon. But, above all, we would need to make sure that the job was doable. Without that last clause, how could we rightly accept the job?
We did none of this. We, as a nation, understood that this wasn’t an ordinary contract of employment. We weren’t simply being asked to sign on the dotted line and begin working; we were being shown the will of the Creator of the universe. We were being shown how to connect to Perfection, to Eternity. We were compelled, out of our love and commitment to our Maker, to accept His will and fulfil it, no matter what. But, when we read through the Torah, we start to realise that it might very well not be all that easy to fulfil everything. Certainly, as we walk into a place of Torah study and we see the walls lined from floor to ceiling with thousands of commentaries, we realise just how mighty is the task of learning Torah. When we look through the books of Jewish law, we are dwarfed by the expectation of perfection that infiltrates every aspect of our lives. It’s daunting. It’s nearly impossible. But, it is the will of Hashem that we, the Jewish people, accept this holy task, and it is also His will that we succeed.
The apple knew what it had to do, and Hashem made it successful; we do have apples to eat after all. Likewise, we knew what we were expected to do – to embark on the path of perfection through Hashem’s Torah. Even though it appeared to be an almost impossible endeavour, Hashem gave us special help to reach our mission and fulfil His commandments. And to this day, we see giants in our nation; talmidei chachomim (great Sages), tzaddikim (righteous people), who all went to work against all odds, and, with Hashem’s help, achieved the impossible, but only because they were willing to try.
This was our acceptance of the Torah and all its expectations with the words na’aseh v’nishma, and this is why we are the apple of Hashem’s eye. This is also the secret of not only our success, but our very survival. We are taught that our redemption from Egypt was in the merit of the righteous women of that generation. When they would go to the river to draw water, their buckets would miraculously fill with fish, and then they would prepare a meal for their husbands. When they were ready to give birth, they would go out and deliver their children under the apple tree. Then Hashem sent angels from Heaven to clean the babies and deliver food to them. When the Egyptians found out about the birth, they would come to kill the babies. Miraculously, the babies were swallowed into the ground. Then the Egyptians brought cattle to plough the ground, but as soon as they left, the babies emerged, unscathed. After they grew up, they would come home in droves. Now, stop to think a for a minute about how crazy the Jewish women were behaving at that time; in the most horrific conditions, they were falling pregnant and giving birth. The chances of even one of the women surviving childbirth was next to none, let alone the child. But, they went out and drew resolve from the apple tree. They saw how the apple popped out, in spite of all the dangers that awaited it, purely because it knew that it had to do what it’s Creator desired. So too, these righteous women, while the Jewish nation was being decimated, they saw it as their holy duty to keep Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people) going. Did they know how it would turn out? Did they know whether or not they or their children would survive? No. But, their sheer determination and dedication to fulfilling the plan of their Creator served as a merit for them, and, through miracles, Hashem blessed their efforts and, in turn, the whole Jewish people.
So, on Shavuos, we celebrate being given the greatest gift imaginable; the guide to perfection; Hashem’s Torah. But, with it, we celebrate the unbendable resolve with which the Jewish people dedicate themselves to learning it and fulfilling it, no matter how impossible it all seems. Na’aseh v’nishma is a call for all of us to embark on the path of perfection; to dedicate our lives to fulfilling the will of our Creator in face of improbability. “We will do,” because we are here to serve Hashem, and only then “we will understand”.