With Tu Bishvat this coming Wednesday, our Arbor day, let’s look at a surprising comment a rabbi made about trees. In Pirkei Avot, we read: Rabbi Ya’akov taught: One engaged in study while strolling, who interrupted to remark, “What a beautiful tree,”…is considered as having committed a capital offense. (3:9)
But isn’t it a good thing to get our noses out of our books, look around, and be reminded of how beautiful is our world?
At issue here is interrupting Torah study for something fairly trivial. We have plenty of time to admire the world. Torah study requires focus and avoidance of distractions, no matter how lovely.
What distracts us these days? Can we concentrate on writing that composition on the computer if we constantly answer e-mails? Is it possible to study a text through the pinging of our text messenger? Do our source books share the same time and space as the plasma TV? Doesn’t our phone have voicemail so we don’t have to keep answering it? Or are these pleasant distractions that draw our attention from what is truly important.
Let’s admire the trees on Wednesday, but let Thursday be a day when our thoughts and minds and attention return to our studies.
Rabbi David Vorspan, Rabbi-in-Residence