March 24, 2023
Yesterday, for a meeting of the Brookline Clergy Association, a monthly gathering of clergy and leaders from various faith groups across the city, I had the opportunity to visit Yusuf Mosque for the first time. It also happened to be the first day of Ramadan, and as the azan, the call to worship, rang out over the building-wide PA system, we reflected on the spiritual abundance of this particular moment in time: the sudden spring weather has coincided with the arrival of the Spring Equinox, on Monday (which, here in New England, is not always a given!), as well as the start of Ramadan and the Hebrew month of Nisan, on Wednesday into Thursday, which kicks off the two-week-countdown to Passover and Easter.
During the meeting, a rabbinic colleague shared a blessing which, in keeping with the spirit of spring and the fresh start it brings, was new to me, the Birkat Ha’ilanot, or blessing for the trees, which was inspired by a teaching from the Babylonian Talmud:
Rav Yehuda said: A person who goes out during the days of [the month of] Nisan and sees the blossom of [fruit] trees recites [the following blessing]:
״בָּרוּךְ שֶׁלֹּא חִיסֵּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כְּלוּם וּבָרָא בּוֹ בְּרִיּוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבוֹת לְהִתְנָאוֹת בָּהֶן בְּנֵי אָדָם״
Baruch [atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam], shelo chiseir ba’olamo k’lum uvara bo briyot tovot v’ilanot tovim l’hitna’ot ba’hen b’nei adam.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Sustainer of All Things, whose world lacks nothing and who has made good creations and good trees for the enjoyment of human beings.
We then took a moment to consider each phrase:
She’lo chuseur ba’olamo k’lum – Whose world lacks nothing… – In whose creation, the entire sum of all the things, the balance of the universe was, is and will always be in equilibrium, allowing for life as we know it to cycle on, with nothing missing and nothing extraneous.
Uvara vo briyot tovot – …and who has made good creations… – Who crafted creatures that are good and soundly structured, each with a purpose all their own.
V’ilanot tovim l’hitnaot bahen b’nei Adam – …And good trees, for the enjoyment of human beings… – Beautiful, generous trees that bring joy to our senses, simply by being in their presence.
And as we meditated on the themes of this beautiful, new-to-me blessing, I was struck by this thought: just as the spring holidays of the various faith traditions represented by this collegial clergy group share roots and are deeply connected to one another, and to the natural cycle of the seasons, so too do we know that trees – which are literally springing forth with new growth right now! – are deeply interconnected. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, as I am currently halfway through Richard Powers’ incredible novel, The Overstory (which I cannot recommend highly enough!). Though the narrative is fictional, Powers weaves in scientific understanding of how, through fungi attached to their root systems, each individual tree is tapped into deeply interconnected networks, allowing trees to communicate, share resources, and protect one another. In short, trees share community, not only with those of their own species, but with their neighbors too. In this way, Powers reminds us, who can only experience “the understory,” the layer of trees between a forest floor and canopy, of all the wisdom and wonders of trees that happens out of our sight and beyond our knowledge. This, to me, is truly worthy of blessing, and so much more.
And as we see new life unfolding in the natural world all around us, and prepare to celebrate Passover, honoring the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to liberation, may we also take a moment to remember our shared roots with our Muslim and Christian neighbors, to look at the trees and say WOW!, and to find opportunities for joy and sustenance during this sacred time of renewal.
Rabbi Jennifer Queen