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Shoftim: Men Like Trees

Updated: Jun 20

In the Gospel of Mark, we encounter a baffling episode,

“He came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him, and begged him to touch him. He took hold of the blind man by the hand, and brought him out of the village. When he had spit on his eyes, and laid his hands on him, he asked him if he saw anything. He looked up, and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees walking.” Then again he laid his hands on his eyes. He looked intently, and was restored, and saw everyone clearly…” Mark 8:22-26

Several questions arise:

  1. Why did Yeshua use spittle?

  2. Why did Yeshua seemingly need a “do-over” to heal the man?

  3. What does it mean that the man saw “men like trees” walking?

Among biblical interpreters, this episode is said to pass the “Criterion of Embarrassment.” This is an interpretive principle among critical scholars to attest to the authenticity or originality of a story in the Bible. The argument here is that early believers in Yeshua would not have invented a passage that records Yeshua needing a ‘second try’ at healing. Earlier in the Gospel, it is recorded that Yeshua was unable to do many miracles in Nazareth,

“Yeshua said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house.” He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people, and healed them. He marveled because of their unbelief. He went around the villages teaching…” Mark 6:4-7

This seems to imply, at least in some cases, that the measure of healing that a person receives is based on their capacity to receive it by emunah (faith). If HaShem is the Power, the Tzaddik becomes the Power Outlet, an interface to connect to HaShem. However, if one doesn’t “plug in” they will be unable to receive what Power is in store for them.

In examining our questions above, we must always look to the writings of Chazal and the Sages of the Jewish people. How is this possible, one may ask, as the Sages never wrote a commentary on the Gospels! Actually – they did, but indirectly. The Gospels are structured to be intrinsically connected to the Torah, like Branches to a Trunk. When we realize this, we can trace the roots of the Gospels to the Torah, and watch the Sages illuminate the meaning, from beginning to end, from Torah to Gospel. Paul says in Romans 3,

“Then what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Because first of all, they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1-2

Fruit of the Tree

In Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9) we read of an interesting commandment,

“When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you may eat of them, and you shall not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, you shall destroy and cut them down; and you shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.” Deuteronomy 20:19-20

The prohibition for cutting down a fruit-bearing tree is explained by the Rambam, R’ Moshe ben Maimon, also called Maimonides,

“When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them (20:19) One who breaks vessels, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or disposes of food in a ruinous manner, transgresses the prohibition of lo tashchit (do not destroy)”. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 6, cited at [1]

The question of “for is the tree of the field Man…?” is unusual. This passage says something stranger when translated literally,

כי האדם עץ השדה

“For man is a tree of the field…”

Man is a tree of the field? What does this mean, and what is the connection between a “tree” and a “man”? R’ Ari Kahn comments,

“The Ibn Ezra, understands the text in a … literal, straightforward sense: Man’s destiny is intertwined with the larger ecological reality. If man destroys a tree, in a sense he is destroying himself. Thus, the verse is interpreted as an equation of man with the fruit-bearing tree.” R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, Trees are People Too, [2]

Rebbe Nachman says vegetation is the connecting element in Creation,

“There are four levels of creation: mineral, vegetable, animal and human. The level of vegetation binds all creation together as it draws its nourishment from the land (mineral) and sustains the higher levels of animal and human.” Likutey Halachot V, cited in Rebbe Nachman’s Torah, Volume III, pg. 300

So what is the deeper meaning of “The Tree of the Field is a Man?”

The Image of a Tree

It is fascinating how a higher life form such as a human derives his/her sustenance from lower levels of creation. Ever word that proceeds. Deuteronomy 8. Interestingly, the gematria of the word tree/etz is equivalent to the word image/tzelem:

עץ = צלם = 160

160 = Image = Tree

This links to Genesis, where HaShem created Adam in his own צלם tzelem, “image.”

“God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

In many ways, if Adam is like a Tree, then in some way, HaShem’s Attributes are also like a Tree. R’ Nosson Weisz says,

“According to the Maharal, the subject of the rhetorical question at the end of the verse is man, not trees; it is people who are being compared to trees, rather than trees to people. Trees put out branches, twigs, and flowers and they ultimately provide fruit that nourishes the hungry. Similarly, man is expected to be productive and labor to produce fruit. The fruit that only man can grow and the nourishment that only he can supply is moral behavior, and the pursuit and attainment of knowledge to add to the world’s store of knowledge and wisdom.” Rabbi Noson Weisz, Mayanot, Trees of Life, [3]

R’ Avraham Saba, writing in his Torah commentary Tzror HaMor, says,

“The Torah forbids absolutely to totally uproot fruit bearing trees is that in some way man and tree are alike, uprooting a tree is equivalent to destroying its “soul.” Although the “soul” of the tree is, of course, not comparable to a soul that was given to man by G’d Himself, nonetheless the sap that courses through its trunk is similar to the lifeblood of a human being, and since it poses no threat to man, destroying it totally is considered as unwarranted…According to a Midrash (Midrash Tannaim, page 123) the comparison between a fruit-bearing tree and a human being here draws attention to man’s “fruit” being the commandments and good deeds he performs while alive, a tree’s “good deeds” are the actual fruit it produces.” Tzror HaMor, R’ Avraham Saba, Shoftim, translated by R’ Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, Volume V, pgs. 1928-1929

One of the most important aspects of connecting to HaShem is teshuvah, repentance. John the Immerser preached repentance to Israel, and likened trees to men, and deeds to fruit,

“Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t bring forth good fruit is cut down, and cast into the fire.” Matthew 3:7-10

Yeshua echoes these statements in his Rabbinic method of teaching, through a mashal, a parable,

 “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none.  He said to the vine dresser, ‘Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?’  He answered, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it, and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9

R’ Bachya ben Asher in his Torah commentary references tractate Taanit in the Talmud as an allusion to this concept,

 “Our sages in Taanit 7 interpret the words “for you eat from it,” as an allusion to the Torah scholars whose words of Torah are comparable to the fruit yielded by fruit-bearing trees. If such a Torah scholar does not conduct himself in the manner a Torah scholar should, abandon him.” R’ Bachya ben Asher, Shoftim, translated by R’ Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, Volume 7, pg. 2603

Yeshua warns sternly,

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:15-20

Jeremiah says,

“Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem, and whose trust HaShem is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, who spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not fear when heat comes, but its leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8, cf. Luke 23:31

Pirkei Avot says,

“He used to say, “Anyone whose wisdom is greater than his works, to what can he be likened? To a tree whose branches are abundant, but its roots are few, and the wind comes, and uproots it, and overturns it. And anyone whose works are greater than his wisdom, to what can he be likened? To a tree whose branches are few, yet its roots are abundant, though all the winds come upon it, they cannot move it from its place.” Pirkei Avot 3:22 [4]

The Shelah, R’ Isaiah Horowitz, sees a deeper meaning into the mitzvot surrounding a war against a city,

“When you lay siege to a city, etc.” (20,19) This refers to a small city, i.e. the battle against the evil urge which has not yet become a major threat. The various details described in this passage may be viewed as metaphors for the measures to be taken to cleanse oneself spiritually.” Shelah, R’ Isaiah Horowitz, Parashat Shoftim, translated by R’ Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, pg. 1173

In the Psalms it says,

“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree. He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in HaShem’s house. They will flourish in our G-d’s courts. They will still bring forth fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and green, to show that HaShem is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Psalms 92:12-15

With this background, we can now begin to answer our original questions,

  1. Why did Yeshua use spittle?

  2. Why did Yeshua seemingly need a “do-over” to heal the man?

  3. What does it mean that the man saw “men like trees” walking?

The Firstborn

The Talmud speaks of the healing aspect of the spittle of a firstborn,

“There is a tradition that the spittle of the firstborn of a father is healing…” Bava Batra 126b, Soncino Press Edition

Psalm 89 says,

“He will call to me, You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation! I will also appoint him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. I will keep my loving kindness for him forevermore. My covenant will stand firm with him.” Psalms 89:26-28

 The Midrash states,

“SANCTIFY TO ME ALL THE FIRSTBORN (Exodus 13:1). R. Nathan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses: ‘ Just as I have made Jacob a firstborn, for it says: “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22) so will I make the King Messiah a firstborn, as it says: ‘I also will appoint him firstborn (Psalm 89:28).” Exodus Rabbah 19:7, Soncino Press Edition

Yeshua is the “Firstborn” over Creation and of the dead,

“[the Son]…is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For through him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:15-18, cf. Hebrews 1:6, Revelation 1:5

Two Sticks

Perhaps he “over-healed” the man’s eyes. He allowed him to see the spiritual reality that Adam Etz HaSadeh, Man is a Tree of the Field. The Jewish Annotated New Testament comments,

 “This depiction of a two-stage healing may anticipate the two-stage reception of Jesus’ messianic identity: the disciples have a lack of clear vision (they understand Jesus is the “messiah,” but they don’t know what the term means and they only grasp the full reality later, after Jesus’ death…” The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Mark 8, pg. 76

This two-stage revelation is an important feature in Jewish Aggadah regarding the appearance of the Mashiach. In Ezekiel 37 we read of two sticks fusing into one. The word for “stick” or “wood” is Etz, which is the same word translated as “tree,”

“Thus says the Lord HaShem: ‘Behold, I will take the stick of Yosef (etz Yosef), which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them with it, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand.” Ezekiel 37:19

Kol HaTor, written by R’ Hillel Shklover, says,

“…at the beginning of the Redemption, when the wood of Yosef and the wood of Judah are “pieces of wood in your hand, ” when they are still divided into two, on the level of the awakening from below. At the time of the complete redemption, however, when the two pieces of wood have become “one in My hand” (the hand of God), then the meshichim will be like two inseparable friends; they will have become one, they will have become the King Mashiach who is on the level of the trustworthy friend of the final redeemer, Moshe Rabbeinu, may he rest in peace.” Kol HaTor, Chapter 2, Section 2, 1, translated by R’ Yechiel bar Lev and K. Skaist, pg. 70

R’ Hillel Shklover continues,

“(Ez. 37:19) the wood of Yosef – This refers to Mashiach ben Yosef for the entire Redemption depends on the unification of the two pieces of wood: the wood of Yosef and the wood of Judah (as it states in this chapter). They are the two meshichim: Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David, who at first, i.e., when the Redemption starts naturally from below, will be separate individuals in “your hand” [Ez. 37:17]. Afterwards, they will become one in “My hand” [Ez. 37:19], the hand of God – that is, miraculously, with the help of the clouds from Heaven.” Kol HaTor, 2.101,  translated by R’ Yechiel bar Lev and K. Skaist, pg. 81

Amazingly, the gematria of the word “Etz Yosef” equals “Yeshu” the name Yeshua of Nazareth is known today in Israel,

עץ יוסף = ישו

Etz Yosef = Yeshu

The Tree of Life

The Midrash Tanchuma comments on our Torah portion,

“…you are to offer it peace” refers to the Messianic king, Mashiach, who will offer them peace, [as it states] “And he will offer peace to the nations, and his rule will be from sea to sea.” Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Shoftim, translated and annotated by R’ Avrohom David, Volume VII, pg. 210

The Soul of the Tzaddik is like a great Tree, that contains all 600,000 neshamot (souls) of Israel. Rebbe Nachman says,

“The students share the same spiritual root as the master, although they are dependent upon him like branches on a tree.” Rebbe Nachman, Likutey Moharan 66:1A, Volume 8, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 67

The Breslov commentary says,

“We find in the writings of the Ari that all souls are rooted in the soul of the tzaddik, with the tzaddik being like the trunk of a large tree and all his followers its different branches, twigs and leaves (see Shaar HaGilgulim p 83-88).” Breslov Commentary on Likutey Moharan

Rebbe Nachman says,

“…He is the encompassing root of all Jewish souls, and they are the extensions that receive from him.” Rebbe Nachman, Likutey Moharan 34:2, Volume V, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 51

In John 15, Yeshua likens himself to a vine, vegetation, the connector of the upper and lower worlds, the spiritual source of the branches, the disciples,

“I am the Vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

One important concept that the New Testament repeatedly teaches is bitul, self-nullification. Not my will, but your will be done. It is not I that live, but Mashiach in me. We can become extensions of Mashiach, who is the extension of HaShem, in order to create a unification of the Divine Name, a marriage between Bridegroom and Bride, a union between Above and Below, Heaven and Earth, finally becoming One. We must reconnect to the Branch of David, who is also his Root, as Yeshua the Messiah says,

“I am the Root and the offspring of David…” Revelation 22:15-16



  1. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 6, cited at

  2. R’ Ari Kahn, Trees are People Too,

  3. Rabbi Noson Weisz, Trees of Life,

  4. This passage from Pirkei Avot is structurally parallel to the Parable of Yeshua: “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, yet does not do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27


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