The Trees of the Field

August 13, 2021

Over the years I have quoted extensive primary texts, countless rabbis, numerous scholars, and wide-ranging secondary texts, but, candidly, my quoting of song lyrics has been rather limited. And yet, with the timing of this week’s Shoftim Torah portion, where Gd compares people to “the trees of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19), while millions of acres of fires rage across six of the seven continents worldwide, I find myself reciting the words to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”:

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning, since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it

Of course, it would be easy to stop there and simply dismiss my role in these natural disasters. Heck, not only did I not start these fires, but they are also not in my backyard. So, what are they to me? Well, Rabbi Tarfon, in Pirke Avot 2:15, teaches us that, “It is not [our] duty to finish the work, but neither are [we] at liberty to neglect it.”

It is true that the fires burning wildly in the Northern and Western United States (104 fires totaling 2.5M acres in the US alone), and those raging across Australia, the Amazon, the Mediterranean,  Central Africa, Siberia, and the Far East are physical occurrences of our burning world, but, if we consider Gd’s comparison of people to trees from this week’s Torah portion, it makes me wonder just how many of us are managing to control our emotional and spiritual fires burning within us.

While preparing to write this week’s post, I came across a beautiful and succinct article written by Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone highlighting Nine Ways to be Like a Tree:

  1. Always grow towards the light.
  2. Even the smallest scratch can have lasting effects.
  3. Grow deep roots.
  4. Provide a refuge for others.
  5. Grow sweet fruits for others to enjoy, even if it takes many years for the seeds you sowed to come into their own.
  6. Let your leaves return to the earth.
  7. Be supple in the wind.
  8. Grow stronger through your life experiences.
  9. Be impactful.

If we would live up to half of these tree-like qualities, what a wonderful legacy we would achieve. Maybe we can’t personally fight the physical fires raging across the globe, but I do believe that we can aspire to be more like these trees in how we live our lives.

The  Jewish Federation is doing everything possible to live up to this expectation. Here are a few examples in sync with Rabbi Lightstone’s comparisons:

  1. PJ Library provides families with young children free monthly books that promote the sharing of Jewish stories to support each family’s engagement with Jewish values and traditions.
  2. The Jewish Community Relations Council liaises with law enforcement to ensure that any local acts of antisemitism are vigorously pursued, while also facilitating our local community-wide security commission to ensure every Jewish agency and synagogue are well-informed and prepared to address potential threats.
  3. Since 1927 the Jewish Federation of San Antonio has been HERE for our parents, for us, for our children, and will be HERE for our children’s children!
  4. Whether it was for the European settlers during WWII, the Russian immigrants decades later, indigent Jews across our community today, or those affected by the challenges of COVID, Jews across the globe know that the Federation is a place of refuge.
  5. Today there are over 10,000 Jews in San Antonio because of the vision of a few pioneers in the early 1900’s sowing the seeds of Jewish community.
  6. Every year almost $1.5M is secured through the community-wide Annual Campaign and returned to the community through allocations to Jewish agencies, synagogues, and organizations, that help meet the needs of Jews of all demographics.
  7. We are a diverse community, with different ideas, traditions, and ideologies. The Jewish Federation embraces its responsibility to convene the community and engage in difficult conversations with respect, dignity, and transparency.
  8. The LIFE & LEGACY® planned giving initiative has secured over 300 Letters of Intent to leave over 440 gifts, estimated at over $9M in future endowments for the San Antonio Jewish community.
  9. The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio hosts over 18,000 visitors a year, most of whom are non-Jewish public-school students learning about the history of the Holocaust. These students will be the future local business, church, and political leaders who will understand the Jewish community versus those who get their knowledge from the pages of the internet.

May we all continue to strive to be like our loftiest of trees. Because only by realizing these pursuits can the Jewish Federation be…


HERE for you.

HERE for our community.

HERE for our future.


Shabbat shalom,