In American society, there are certain things that we take very seriously. This includes whether a person chooses to put mustard or ketchup on his hot dog, and what he prefers – chocolate or vanilla.
In recent years, the question of what flavor Laffy Taffy one prefers has come in vogue. I don’t know if any psychological studies have yet been done to determine what preferring certain flavors says about one’s personality. However, as it is such an integral part of contemporary society, it is important that one be proud of which flavor he likes best.
The one that seems to evoke the most passion is the yellow/banana Laffy Taffy. No one is passive about it; you either love it and think it is the best flavor on earth, or you think it is vile and not fit for human consumption.
I personally happen to be from the former group. I am part of that unique group who is unapologetic in his preference for the delicious banana-flavored Laffy Taffy. I would never back down or be intimidated by those whose inferior taste buds do not allow them to appreciate the supremacy of this flavor.
This important introduction is to explain why – despite my efforts to constrain sugar consumption generally, I will occasionally allow myself to indulge in my favorite flavor of Laffy Taffy. To add, many of my students are aware of my adamant preference, and during Yeshiva Shabbos events when candies are served, they will collect yellow Laffy Taffys and bring them to me (in an effort to get some extra points on a test).
Of course, the other component of Laffy Taffy is the jokes on the wrapper. It seems that whether you like the jokes or not, you have to read them aloud and comment on them to everyone around you, including deciding whether it is a good joke or pathetic.
A few weeks ago, during one such Friday Night Yeshiva event, after enjoying a yellow Laffy Taffy (because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the student who brought it to me), I read the following enclosed joke: “What do trees and people have in common? Roots!”
My immediate reaction was that this is hardly a joke; it’s a fact! Every rabbi and rebbe is aware of that comparison, and has likely given numerous lectures making that exact point. In fact, that Friday night when I read that Laffy Taffy wrapper, Rabbi Yisroel Teichman, a fellow Heichal rebbe and a shul rav, was sitting next to me. When I read him the question, it only took him a moment to figure out the answer.
The source for the comparison is actually a pasuk that states: “for man is a tree of the field” (D’varim 20:19). [Although the Torah actually states those words in question form, Chazal also understand it as an inspirational directive, for us to ponder the comparison between humans and trees.]
Rabbi Moshe Weinberger notes that although to the uneducated person it seems that a tree’s entire growth is dependent on the nourishment it receives from its roots in the ground, that is actually not the case. The tree is also very much a product of its environment, as it requires photosynthesis – the natural process wherein the trees use the sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air, in order to produce the food it needs to live and grow.
Humans, too, seem to live based on the fulfillment of their physical needs that emerge and are produced from and by the physical world. But it is clear that humans are far more than just physical beings. They are a complex combination of emotions and drives, of the celestial infused into the corporeal. They utilize the sunlight of their soul and the oxygen of their spirit to motivate themselves to accomplish and grow beyond their selfish selves.
Just as a tree cannot survive with only robust roots, so does man “not survive by bread alone.”
That is the song of human life.
Tu BiSh’vat, a day that has halachic implications regarding fruit, is also celebrated as the day when the tree begins to revitalize and prepare for the imminent spring. All this happens beneath the surface, indiscernible to the human eye.
We celebrate fruits by reciting brachos on them, and eating them with gratitude to Hashem for the enjoyment we have from them. We take a moment to marvel at the incredible beauty and perfection, the distinctive color, texture, and taste of each fruit. In doing so, we remind ourselves that the trees that they emerged from grew from a combination of roots and surrounding air, just as we do.
It’s too bad that all of that doesn’t fit on a Laffy Taffy wrapper. That’s why I had to tell it to you here.
Still, truth be told, on Tu B’shvat even better than a banana Laffy Taffy, I plan to enjoy the natural miracle of the banana itself.