So, do you have a favorite tree? When I was really small my favorite was a cherry tree in the front yard: limbs low and easy to climb, pointy leaves made tiny rustling sounds, the bark felt rough, it shaded a cool world with a dirt floor for a little kid. I since have loved lots of trees. A story of trees from Gemara, Taanit 5, adapted from Peninnah Schram’s Stories One Generation tells another:
Once a storyteller attended the wedding of two friends. Underneath the beautiful chuppa, the bride turned to her friend the storyteller: Please, friend, give us a blessing! Well, when a storyteller gives a blessing, it takes the form of…a story. And so he told the following tale. A long time ago, a man embarked on a journey across the desert. Weary, dusty and thirsty the man spotted an oasis: a beautiful, leafy tree spread its branches above a flowing stream. Delighted, the man approached the cool shade, drank deeply from the crystal stream, washed, his hands and feet. He listened to the splashing and the song of birds, and inhaled the sweet scented fruit of its branches. After he ate the traveler fell asleep beneath the branches. Awakening refreshed, the he felt strong and ready to journey on. Feeling grateful to the tree he looked up and asked it Elan, Elan, Oh tree, oh tree, bameh averechehca? How can I bless you? I cannot say “May your fruit be sweet” because you already have fruit dripping with nectar. I cannot say “May you have flowing water” because you already have this beautiful stream to nourish you. I cannot say “may you have the shelter of shade” because you already have a leafy canopy. So I will say this: May it be God’s will that the shoots arising from you be like you! The storyteller turned to the bride and groom and asked bemeh averechecha: with what can I bless you today? You have so many blessings: the fruit of your love for one another, as I have seen you help and support each other the sheltering arms of friends and companions who have gathered here today, the flowing water of wisdom and spirit. This then: May it be God’s will that the children that you love and guide together, and the works that you dedicate your lives to, may these offshoots be like you!
The Torah has some amazing words about trees in parashat Shoftim, Deut. chapter 20, verse 19. This parashah is all about a world of justice, of right, even in the worst times, or especially then, like times war. In verse 19, it tells of a seige to a walled city, and around this city are trees of the field. The text says, it’s fine to eat from those trees during the seige, but you must not waste them, Lo Tashchit, or cut them down. Why not? well, here’s where it’s interesting: the text is ki ha-adam eytz hasadeh, which means “because an earthling is a tree of the field”. Now there certainly could be a question mark here: Is a tree a human, who can run away before your seige? But either way it forms a powerful connection between trees and human beings. If you think about it there are LOTS of ways trees are like people!
Standing on the horizon, straight and strong a tree kind looks like person braving life. We come from the adamah, the earth and the root for adam, noun chosen here for human. We have a tough bark, require water (symbol of wisdom and spirit) air (or inspiration), We may yield sweet fruit: our creations, life’s works, children. We must be rooted, but be brave enough to stretch out our branches. We are connected to one another – through community, and connected to the generations – through roots and seeds. (note the 2nd largest creature on earth is the Aspen forest of Colorodo – a single macroorganism connected beneath the surface! ) And we must NOT CUT ONE another down. It is not surprising that the next verses are about murder, a man cut down in a field (!), and no culprit in sight. Then those judges from the first verses of the parashah must come in – to account for this life, an unclaimed body of the field.
Humans, trees, all connected by justice, so all connected to Torah, which is also called eytz chayim, tree of life. So, how is Torah like a Tree, like a person? Torah also links the generations, creates community, has sweet fruit, wisdom = flowing water, inspiration = air. My favorite song to really bring the Torah connection home is – Eitz chayim hi by Dan nichols http://www.jewishrock.com/index.asp The inspired English verse to this setting:
And the roots of that Tree reach deep into the ground
Cradling the truths our ancestors found
That the Tree is connected to every living soul
And that Peace is made real when we are made whole!
Incredible stuff! Powerful connections. Not our ancestors’ graves in the earth, but the cradle of truths which grow. The word Shalom is from Shalem, wholeness. The wholeness of each soul, bravely standing on the horizon, but connected to one another beneath that ground, and to generations, and to Torah’s rules of decency and justice, can powerfully sprout the seeds of Peace.