| Fundamentals |

Breaking Through

Perhaps the Ribbono shel Olam created the phenomenon of the Chinese bamboo tree for the purpose of teaching us not to give up



ave you ever planted tomato seeds and eagerly waited for the first signs of growth? Have you ever planted apple or orange seeds and anxiously waited for the shoots to break through the ground?

Tomato seeds begin sprouting in six to eight days; trees take longer to show evidence of growth. Apple tree seedlings will begin to push through the soil’s surface after about four weeks, while orange tree seeds will sprout after about six weeks.

When the seedlings have grown three feet (which can take between six months and several years), they enter the sapling stage and continue to grow taller and taller, until they eventually reach full maturity and produce fruit or flowers.

There’s a certain type of tree that doesn’t follow the above pattern: the Chinese bamboo tree. It doesn’t break through the ground until five years after it was planted. During those five years, it needs to be watered every day, since it’s building an intricate system of roots deep in the ground. After five long years, it finally breaks through the ground, and an amazing thing happens. The tree grows to 90 feet tall in a mere five weeks!


Of Students and Teachers

As we know, everything in the physical world has a parallel in the ruchniyus world.

As parents and teachers, we invest a tremendous amount of time and energy in our children. We’re encouraged when we see signs that our chinuch has taken root, and we eagerly wait to see the fruits of our labor. Usually, the pattern of growth is the slow-but-steady pattern of the orange tree and apple tree.

Sometimes, though, the pattern of growth is more similar to the Chinese bamboo tree. Sometimes, despite all our efforts, there are no external indications of growth. Nothing seems to be happening. We may feel that everything we’re doing is a waste of time, and we’re ready to give up.

Perhaps the Ribbono shel Olam created the phenomenon of the Chinese bamboo tree for the purpose of teaching us not to give up. Keep “watering” your child. Keep nurturing and modeling and building your relationship. Something could very well be happening beneath the surface that you’re totally unaware of. All your chinuch is going somewhere. One day — and it may take a long time — when your child is ready, you’ll see the fruits of your labor.

If I were to ask you how long it takes for the Chinese bamboo tree to grow to its full height of 90 feet, you’d probably say it takes five weeks. But that’s not really accurate. In truth, it took five years and five weeks. Although we can’t see it, the formation of the deep roots happening beneath the surface is an integral part of its growth.

Chazal tell us that Rabi Akiva was inspired by the sight of a hole in a rock, formed by water slowly and consistently dripping on the rock. What caused the hole in the rock? Was it the last drop of water? Or was it the cumulative effect of all the drops of water that dripped over the years? It was the cumulative effect. All those drops of water didn’t look like they were having any effect, but were actually crucial to forming the hole.

I’ve witnessed the phenomenon of the Chinese bamboo tree with many students over the years — students who seemed unmotivated, distant, and uninterested — who blossomed at a certain point once they were mature enough or had gone through various life experiences and were more ready to absorb what they had been taught. The key is for us to be patient, to keep watering, to never stop believing that one day there will be a breakthrough. Everything we’re doing now is building deep roots, on a conscious or subconscious level, and with siyata d’Shmaya, it will produce a magnificent tree.

Sometimes, patience may mean waiting to see results only in the next generation or even future generations. While Avraham Avinu was able to influence so many people and bring them closer to Hashem, his own nephew/brother-in-law, Lot, wasn’t sufficiently influenced by him. How disappointed Avraham Avinu must have been. How difficult it surely was for him to suggest that Lot separate from him.

Avraham Avinu may not have seen the fruits of his labor in his lifetime. However, it was from Lot that Dovid Hamelech descended and it is from Lot that Melech HaMashiach will descend. One never knows the long-term effects of one’s hashpa’ah, one’s influence.

The phenomenon of the Chinese bamboo tree has become a popular metaphor in motivational literature. It’s a reminder to us to be patient, not to let go of our efforts to affect others, even when we don’t see immediate results.


Us, Too

We have to remember to be equally patient with ourselves. We may go through times of spiritual stagnation, when we don’t feel much while davening, or doing mitzvos, or learning. We may feel we’re not growing, not accomplishing. We’re disappointed in ourselves and may be tempted to give up.

We can’t give up. We need to keep watering ourselves. We need to keep davening, keep doing mitzvos, keep learning. It’s all going somewhere in our subconscious. All that watering will help build our roots, and one day, when we’re ready, we’ll be able to break through and feel a closer connection to our neshamah and to Hashem.

We say in the Shema every day, “Vehayu hadevarim haeileh… al levavecha — These words that I’m commanding you today should be on your heart.” The Telzer Rav, Rav Yosef Leib Bloch, asks: Why doesn’t the pasuk say that the words should be in your heart? Why on your heart?

He answers that sometimes a person isn’t ready to absorb the words of Torah in his heart. He shouldn’t, however, simply discard the words of Torah. He should place the words of Torah close by, on his heart, so that one day when he’ll be ready, his heart will open up and the words will enter.

We always need to keep the words of Torah close by. One day, our heart will open and let it all in, and we’ll be surprised by how high we’ll be able grow.

When Yaakov Avinu gave a brachah to Yissachar, he said: (Bereishis 49:15) “Vayar menuchah ki tov… vayet shichmo lisbol — He saw the tranquility [of Olam Haba] that it was good… and he bent his shoulder to bear the yoke [of Torah].” What enabled Yissachar to choose a life totally dedicated to the Torah? He saw in his mind’s eye the tranquility of Olam Haba. He envisioned the goal. That vision motivated him and gave him strength.

What gave Yosef the ability to resist the temptation of Eishes Potifar? Rashi (Bereishis 39:11) tells us: “Shenireis lo demus deyukno shel aviv. — He saw a vision of Yaakov, his father.” That vision inspired him and gave him the strength to resist.

When we feel discouraged with our children’s or our students’ lack of growth — or with our own lack of growth — let’s form a vision in our mind of that Chinese bamboo tree breaking through the ground after five long years and growing to the monumental height of 90 feet in a mere five weeks! And let’s envision our children, our students, and ourselves similarly reaching monumental heights in Torah and kedushah.


Rebbetzin Suri Gibber has been involved in chinuch habanos for decades, first as general studies principal in Bais Yaakov High School of Miami, and, for the past 15 years, as principal of Bais Yaakov High School of the Twin Cities. She also gives adult education classes.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 851)

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