A wilde chaye

Thursday, 1 September, 2022 - 9:25 am

“A wilde chaya” – “a wild animal” – is an age-old expression used by the proverbial Yiddishe Mama, every time one of her children (not to mention one of her neighbor’s children) is being, shall we say, a bit too mischievous. 

The truth of the matter is that this is a logical statement – there are significant similarities between human beings and animals.

What’s interesting is that in this week’s Parsha (weekly portion), the Torah compares man to something from the plant kingdom – a tree. “For man is like a tree of the field.” 


The resemblance between human beings and the animal kingdom is much more apparent than their resemblance to plants. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember ever hearing someone chastising a child by saying to them, “You’re a wild plant!”

In other words, what is the message of the Torah to us, when it compares us to trees and not to animals?

The Rebbe explains that there are different levels of resemblance. There is the external, superficial resemblance, and there’s also an internal, essential resemblance.

Let’s go back to the Yiddische Mama. Another age-old tradition is that when a baby is born, she immediately notes that “his right ear is just like that of his late great-grandmother,” and “His nose is just like his grandfather’s,” and so on. But as the years go by, deeper, more fundamental similarities come up: “He’s quick-thinking – just like his father,” or, “He has a good heart, like his grandmother, who fed all the hungry people in the shtetl.” In other words, it’s not the external resemblance, but mainly the internal similarities that are noted.

A tree has one clear, essential characteristic, and that is its constant connection to its source – Mother Earth. The minute a tree is chopped down, it cannot grow any more; it cannot live. An animal, on the other hand, seems detached from its source; it seems to be independent, unconnected.

The Torah’s message in the verse “For man is like a tree of the field,” is: Know that your resemblance to animals is superficial and external. But your resemblance to a plant, a tree – that is the internal, real resemblance. Like the tree, you too must always be connected to the Source of your life!

And the Jew’s Source of life is Hashem, the Torah and Mitzvot, his soul, his people and the Land of Israel, and, of course, his family – father and mother. Yes, the Yiddische Mama.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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