My Tiny Tree
Some years ago I was a kindergarten teacher in a small community huddled high in the windswept Judean hills. On clear days we could view the blue Dead Sea, surrounded by a vast, rocky desert. Trees were sparse in our community, and precious. So when a tree-planting crew arrived one day, we all went out to watch and welcome them.
Unfortunately, they didn’t do a very efficient job. Bearing shovels and saplings, they quickly planted the slender sticks in haphazard fashion around our kindergarten playground. Without even a second glance to appraise their workmanship, they hurriedly packed up their tools and left.
Only later did I notice that one tiny tree had been planted so close to the playground’s fence that its narrow branches had become entangled in the mesh. Would it ever grow to independent maturity like the other trees? Surely it would remain entwined with the fence, always requiring its support.
As an extension of my Jewish motherhood, I began to take special care of this different tree, pouring extra water on it when I took the children out to play. Sometimes they helped too, emptying their sandbox pails at the base of my little tree.
On rainy winter days, when we couldn’t play outdoors and I set out finger paints instead, I would watch through the kindergarten window as Hashem watered my little tree for me. I could almost hear the sapling’s grateful slurping as it drank the life-giving moisture.
One night a terrible windstorm howled and shook the desolate hills. Huddling beneath my warm covers, I thought of my little tree out there in the wild darkness. So fragile—how would it withstand such a dreadful storm?
Apparently the sapling was tougher than it appeared. The next morning, when I hurried over to check it for damage, I saw to my relief that it had survived surprisingly well, having been sheltered all night by the protective fence.
A few months later, a fencing crew arrived to put up a new fence. Fearfully I watched as they removed the old sagging green fencing and prepared to replace it with sturdy new metal. What would happen to my little tree now? It had always depended on the old fence for support.
After removing the entangled branches, the crew secured the new fence just a few inches away. Just a few crucial inches—but how would my tree manage?
I moved closer to see.
Although leaning at a slight angle, which gave it a certain unique charm, the sapling was managing to stand on its own. Apparently its roots were now strong enough to support it without any help from the fence.
As I looked at it, reassured, I thought how similar to parenting this was. When our children are little, they need all the support we can give them. Then, as they grow older, we have to realize that they can—and must—learn to stand alone.
I thought of my youngest son, now studying at a dormitory yeshiva several hours away from home. Not long ago, he had been in kindergarten, just like the children I took care of now. But at age fifteen and already taller than I, he was my little boy no longer. As he waved goodbye and moved away from me into a new stage of his life, my eyes blurred as I felt a pang of mingled sadness and pride. Like the fence, I could still hover nearby, close but not clutching any longer, sharing the joy of his achievements, knowing that I had—with Hashem’s help—produced this strong, independent being.
As if nodding in agreement, the sturdy little tree waved its bright green leaves, reaching upward toward heaven.