Blessing on Blossoming Trees
Judaism's annual tribute to the power of renewal.
My neighbor hailed me this morning with a wave of the hand. "We're watching your apple tree daily to see when it blooms!" he called from across the street.
I smile broadly, knowing what he's referring to. Every year, people gather in our yard to make a blessing that can be made only once a year -- the blessing on blossoming trees, known in Hebrew as "Birkat Ha-Ilan, the blessing of the tree.
According to the Jewish tradition, when first seeing a fruit tree in bloom in the spring, we recite a special blessing. This blessing praises God for His ongoing renewal of creation and thanks Him for creating good trees in the world, for us to enjoy.
At a time of year when the world is suffused with beauty, our tradition calls upon us to give thanks for the glory of God's creation. We are surrounded with multi-colored blossoms: the magnolia trees blush pink, the cherry trees are adorned with pink and white blooms, and the lilacs are studded with lavender blossoms. We take a moment to leave the confines of our offices, classrooms and homes and make our way to our yards and fields, to drink in this beauty and give thanks.
We take a moment to leave the confines of our offices, classrooms and homes.
We have a fruit-bearing apple tree in our yard, and each spring, our family and friends gather in the yard and recites the blessing on first seeing its lovely pink and white blossoms.
Last year saw a late spring which made it hard to find a blooming tree in time. The blessing is optimally recited in the Hebrew month of Nissan, the month when Passover falls. Last year, the Passover dishes were put away, Nissan was almost over, and our apple tree still showed no blooms, just green leaves.
On the second-last day of Nissan, bright pink blossoms began to peek out from under the leaves of our apple tree, and I dutifully posted to our community bulletin board. For the next few days, people dropped by to make the blessing over the blooming tree. People dropped by hurriedly by on their way to or from work, and we had a delegation from one local company that came en masse during their lunch break.
The blessing on fruit trees is recorded in the Talmud and found in many prayer books, and it is loosely translated as:
"Blessed are You, Lord, Our God, King of the Universe, for nothing is lacking in His universe, and He created in it good creatures and good trees, to cause mankind pleasure with them."
Transliterated, the blessing is:
Baruch Ata Adonay Elo-heinu Melech Ha-Olam she-lo chisar b'olamo davar, u-vara vo beriyos tovos v'ilanos tovim, l'hanos bahem b'nei adam.
Most prayer books list it amongst all the "Blessings of praise and gratitude to be recited over phenomena and events," such as the blessing over seeing lightening or upon seeing a rainbow.
The blessing should not be made over a barren tree.
The preferred time to recite the blessing is the Hebrew month of Nissan, immediately upon seeing the tree in bloom (meaning the flowering of the tree, not leaves). If one forgot or neglected to say the blessing, it can be recited any time until the fruit of the tree has begun to grow. Likewise, if the tree bloomed in Nissan and one didn't see it till later, he can say the blessing, as long as the fruit of the tree has not yet ripened.
This blessing may be recited only once a year. Some traditions dictate there must be at least two trees, but others say one tree is sufficient. The ideal way to recite the blessing is in a blooming orchard planted outside the city limits, in the presence of a minyan (a quorum of ten men) followed by Kaddish. In Israel, groups of school children go to the fields with their classes, to recite the blessing.
The main idea is to feel inspired by the glory of our natural world, to feel God's love for mankind, and to give thanks for it.
One cannot help but wonder why the text of the Birkat Ha-Ilan blessing refers to "good creatures" as well as "good trees?"
According to the Ben Ish Chai, a kabbalist and leader of the Jewish community of Baghdad a century ago, seeing the blooming of the tree teaches us an important lesson. When we see how the tree, which during the winter was dry and withered and is now in full bloom, we are revitalized. When we watch the transformation of nature, we gain the courage and inspiration to lift out of our despair, and it reminds us that God has given us the tools to renew ourselves.
We gain the courage to lift out of despair, to renew ourselves.
We live in a time when it's a struggle to keep hope alive. Trees across America are tied with yellow ribbons that have been on so long they are sun-bleached and faded. All that is decent in mankind seems to be up against forces so irrational and evil that peace seems to be beyond what any human leader can negotiate.
And yet… the trees give us a message of hope. They show us how after a period of barren emptiness, there is a stirring of life and a new beginning, how even in the seeming barrenness of the winter of our lives, the process is already in motion which will usher in the flowering of a new season. God who can bring blossoms to a barren tree can help bring an era of redemption.
Our tradition calls us out to the fields, so we can bear witness to the way God loves all mankind, whether we deserve it or not. We give thanks and a prayer, with a flutter in our hearts full of hope, that an era of redemption will sprout as the barren branches give forth blossoms, and we and our children will live to see an era of peace.
Adapted from an article in the New Jersey Jewish Standard