Seasons of the Moon More than anything, life is about distinguishing the essence from the nonsense.

This world is no more than the wrapping that conceals a vast gift. The wrapping is important - you can only get to the gift through the wrapping - but it's all too easy to get sidetracked by the beautiful wrapping and throw away the gift.

from where do we get this tendency to grasp the nonsense and reject the essence? What is it about the nature of man that draws him to the external and the superficial at the expense of the eternal and the essential?

When God created the world, he commanded the earth to generate fruit trees. Those trees were very different from the fruit trees that we know. In God's plan, the trees themselves were to taste like the fruit they produced.

As we know, the earth didn't fulfill the Creator's command. Instead it produced the fruit trees with which we are familiar where the tree a tree.

What does it mean that the earth produces a tree whose taste is different from the fruit? More, how was it possible for the earth not to do the command of the Creator? Is the earth like a person who has freedom of choice to do God's will or to disobey him?

To understand the answer to these questions, we must take a closer look at the Creation itself. The heavens are a place...where there is no place. no space. no time. If there is no time and no place, there can be no change. This physical world was created as a space-time continuum. Wherever there is space and time, there must also be change. Change of place. Age. entropy. decay.

The heavens are perfect, complete. Something that is perfect and complete cannot change. If it were to change in any way, it would mean that it always had the potential to change - and thus was never perfect and complete in the first place. Anything that departs from the perfect stasis of the heavens, anything capable of change, has already departed from that ultimate and perfect good and therefore contains the most distant beginnings of evil.

The nature of this world, of all physical things, is to change. This world was created as a place of lacking, a place of striving for a perfection that can never be achieved here. The name for earth in hebrew is Eretz. Eretz can also be read as arutz, meaning, "I will run." This world is a world of running toward, striving for something that is not here. It is "there." The root of eretz is also connected to the word for "desire" or "will" - ratzon. This is a world of "wanting," of striving, of not arriving. The hebrew word for "heavens" is Shamayim, which can also be read as "Sham-im." Sham means "there." heaven is the sum total of all the "theres." heaven is the place of ultimate arrival.

In its very fabric, then, the earth was created lacking - lacking the perfection of heaven. despite their fundamental differences, the heavens and the earth share a symbiotic relationship.

The heavens give. The earth receives.

A receiver is less than a giver. Because the earth is created lacking, it only has the power to be influenced. It is passive. It cannot initiate. It cannot create an entity greater than itself. Thus when God called upon the earth to produce a tree, it produced a tree that mimicked its own deficiency. It produced a tree whose taste was different from the taste of the fruit. To produce a tree that tasted the same as the fruit, the earth would have to have been something greater than itself. It would have to have been the unchanging heavens. The earth is the epitome of change - how could it produce a tree whose fruit and bark were unchanged, identical?

Man is like the earth.

The hebrew word for "man" is adam; the hebrew word for "earth" is adama. God created man from the earth. Man is like the earth. he is a receiver. he lacks perfection. In the center of the garden there was a tree - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was in the center of the garden because it was the focus of the garden, its central point. Anything that is in the center is the focus, the essence.

like likes like. When Man took the fruit from the tree that stood at the center of the garden, he was revealing his "earth-ly" origins. Just as the earth had produced a tree that separated the receiver from the giver, the taste of the fruit from its tree, Adam, too, when he took the fruit from the tree, was separating the receiver from the giver.

Adam was drawn to the fruit, to the inessential, to the receiver. By taking the fruit from the tree, he made the inessential into the essential. he chose the receiver over the giver, the wrapping rather than the gift.

There was one tree, however, that did not change from the command of the Creator. The etrog (citron) tree. While every other tree mimicked the earth from which it came, the etrog produced a tree and fruit that were identical in taste. how did the etrog manage to overcome the limitations of its source, the earth, and reach up to the unchanging heavens? The etrog is the only one of the four species that we take on the festival of Sukkot that has both a beautiful taste and a beautiful aroma. homiletically, it represents someone who possesses both Torah and good deeds.

The only way that man can overcome his inbuilt draw to earthliness, to the "wrapping" which is this world, is through Torah and good deeds, kindness, mercy. The etrog tree, though coming from the earth rooted in the physicality of this world, managed to restore itself to a level greater than its earthly source. Such is the elevating power of Torah together with good deeds. They halt and reverse the natural process that leads to more and more involvement in physicality. They elevate a person to a level that would be impossible otherwise.

There is a custom on Tu BiShevat (the new Year for trees) to pray for a beautiful etrog. Tu BiShevat, the fifteenth of Shevat, is the day when the sap starts to rise in the tree. It is the day when a new life force starts to permeate through the physical. A beautiful etrog symbolizes someone who elevates his physical self through Torah and good deeds, for he has escaped the curse of the earth and has connected to the unchanging heavens.

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.