The Gemara (Taanis 23b) tells a story about an old man working the field. As he labored away, someone came up to him and asked, “Excuse me, sir. I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to ask. This tree you are planting, it’s a carob tree, isn’t it?”
The old man responded, “Why yes, it is!”
“But don’t you know,” the man asked, “that carob trees take over 70 years to grow? You are an old man; you will never be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Why, then, are you wasting your time and energy?”
The old man smiled and shook his head. “You’re right, I won’t be able to eat these carobs. But I’m not planting them for myself. I’m planting them for my grandchildren. one day they will be able to benefit from my hard work.”
This story has a profound takeaway. There is unbelievable value, perhaps even greater value, in doing something solely for the sake of others, toiling so they can enjoy, sacrificing so that they live. We can and should do things even if they won’t help us directly in the here and now as long as the actions will be good for those who come after us.
Bringing the Gemara’s Message into Our Lives
The Mishna speaks of three different types of people in this world:
1. Those who leave the world as they received it, not adding anything positive nor anything negative.
2. Those who leave the world worse off because of their unjust and improper deeds.
3. Those who leave the world better off because of their proper, sanctified way of living.
Achieving the status of group number 3 is the ultimate satisfaction. It assures us that even after we pass on, our positive imprint on the world will last and continue to snowball positivity into the world. It enables us to forget about instant gratification and sacrifice ourselves for the betterment of future generations.
A Stigma-Free Society for Our Children
The tide is turning in regards to society’s relationship with mental health. The stigma is slowly crumbling, the negative associations evaporating. Mental health education has as bright of an outlook as it’s ever had. Strong, motivated organizations, such as Refuat Hanefesh, are constantly popping up and trailblazing a glorious path to acceptance and change. Celebrities are speaking out and showing the world that even the most successful of people aren’t immune to mental illness.
But wait a second. Why are we fighting so hard?
After all, normalizing the public’s perception will take time. Despite all of our best efforts, we ourselves won’t likely see a world that is totally free of stigma. So then why are we fighting so hard?
The answer, of course, is the same as the one offered by the old man planting the carob tree.
We advocate for mental health so that our grandchildren, and maybe even our children, won’t have to suffer in silence like so many in our generation had to. So that our children and grandchildren won’t feel lost and lonely with nobody to turn to. So that they won’t ever feel like taking their lives is the only way to solve their problems. So that they won’t cry themselves to sleep at night. We advocate so that they won’t feel like feel like weirdos or “tier 2” members of society.
So that they can live the lives we never could.
Even though we might not reap all the fruits of our labor, we can take great satisfaction in knowing that we were the generation that changed the world forever.
What do you think? Will our children be the ones to reap the fruits of our labor? Share your comments, questions and advice below.