Jewish learning The Blessing of the Tree

By Sam Blumberg

Sam BlumbergI didn’t have much of a personal connection with Tu B’Shevat until three years ago, when my daughter was born at 9:53am on the fifteenth of Shevat. We bestowed on her the middle name of Arava (ערבה), meaning willow, as a nod to the auspicious day on which she was born, the New Year of the Trees, and to honor my wife’s grandmother who loved the willow tree.

Trees signify all that is good and precious in our world. The Talmud in Taanit 5b relates that when taking leave of one another, Rav Nahman would ask his teacher Rabbi Yitzchak for a blessing. “Let me tell you a parable,” Rabbi Yitzchak replied. “It is like one who was walking through a desert, hungry, tired, and thirsty, and came upon a tree with sweet fruit, beautiful shade, and a stream of water beneath it. He ate from the fruit, drank from its water, and sat in the shade of the tree. When he got up to depart, he said: ‘Tree, Tree, with what shall I bless you? If I say to you that your fruits should be sweet, your fruits are already sweet; if I say that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant; if I say that a stream of water should flow beneath you, a stream of water already flows beneath you! Rather, I will bless you as follows: May it be God’s will that all saplings which they plant from you be like you.’”

Rabbi Yitzchak turned to his disciple and said: “So it is with you. With what shall I bless you? If I bless you with Torah, you already have Torah; if I bless you with wealth, you already have wealth; if I bless you with children, you already have children. Rather, may it be God’s will that your children shall be like you.”

If only we could all merit to be like Rav Nahman and like the tree! Just as the tree gives and gives as a paradigm of bliss and perfection, we too have the potential, through our relationship with the world we inhabit, to be blessed with a fullness that can only be replicated by bringing more people like us into the world.

This Tu B’Shevat, as we acknowledge and thank the trees for the blessing and goodness they bring into our lives, let us remember that just as they sustain us, we too must help to sustain them. Let us assess and renew our own impact on the world around us so that our children can continue to find blessing in the world we inherited, allowing us to edge ever-closer to emulating the exquisiteness of the tree.

Sam Blumberg is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.

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