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A Lesson from My Palm Tree

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

While sitting in my Sukkah, I focused my attention on a ponytail palm tree (Beaucarnea recurvata) in my yard. Several years back, a huge dead tree trunk came crashing down and literally amputated this tree, shrinking it from eight feet tall to three feet tall. I remember thinking to myself at the time that my tree would never survive the injury. My ponytail palm tree is now nine feet tall and has two different branches with beautiful foliage.

I marveled at my ponytail palm tree. It was not the tree’s beauty that astonished me, but the tree’s resilience. If the tree had been a human, an emotion-filled being, it may have felt defeated, given up hope, and died from a broken heart. The tree had literally come back from a catastrophic setback. Day after day, the tree regained its strength, kept growing, produced new foliage, and grew taller and stronger than ever before.

On Simchat Torah, we complete our annual public reading of the Torah. According to Rashi, the last thing the Torah records is Moses breaking the Divine Tablets before the entire nation, following the sin of the golden calf (our commentators offer many explanations as to why the Torah concludes on this note). Immediately following the conclusion of the Torah, we begin reading the Torah afresh from the very beginning. Perhaps our sages are teaching us how to respond to spiritual failure. Rather than feeling defeated and withering away, we must gather our strength and begin again. When we lose the Torah (our spiritual standing), we renew our strength and begin again. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said of himself that he would begin again numerous times every day. He explains the importance of putting the past out of our minds and beginning afresh. He calls the process Hitchadshut (renewal) and explains that it is critical for all spiritual growth.

Friends, let us learn the lesson of my ponytail palm tree. Let us begin again and attain greater heights than ever before!