Yonatan SredniYonatan Sredni lives in Israel and has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University. He works at Blonde 2.0..
Each year, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which heralds the arrival of spring, I join other Jews in the lovely ritual known as ‘Birkat Ha’ilanot’ (The Blessing on the Trees). The blessing, recited only once a year, during the month of Nisan, belongs to the category of blessings we recite on seeing wondrous things, for example: the ocean, lightening, a rainbow, passing through a place where a miracle happened, etc.
Birkat Ha'ilanot, whose origin is found in the Talmud (Brachot, 33:B), is accordingly recited on seeing the wondrous renewal in nature, as the fruit trees blossom, in anticipation of our benefit from these trees, while acknowledging the deeper aspects of nature's renewal, and the connection of man with the botanic kingdom.
But as I headed out to my local Israeli orchard this year, I noticed two trees I had not noticed the year before. Before I knew it, my group was already far off in the distance. By the time I’d reach them they would have already recited the blessing as a group. I would just have to recite the blessing myself.
I studied the two trees in front of me. One looked very new, but vaguely familiar. The other was an older tree, but looked quite rejuvenated.
Not being an expert, I wondered aloud what kind of trees they were. And much to my surprise, the trees themselves, answered.
“I’m a new tree, a Yesh-Atid,” the first tree said. “I guess you could say I’ve sprouted up overnight. I’m now the second tallest tree in the orchard. I even surprised myself at how tall I’ve grown.”
“I can’t believe it either,” I said, not the least bit flustered to be conversing with a talking tree, “you really came out of nowhere.”
“What about me?” the other tree chimed in, his branches extending onto the Yesh-Atid, as if leaning on him.
“Easy, Naftali, easy,” the Yesh-Atid calmed him. “Don’t get so excited.”
But Nafali couldn’t be calmed down.
“Everyone thought I, the Bayit-Yehudi, was dead, but then by just adding some sunlight, water and a little Ayelet-Shaked, I am now stronger than ever.”
“True,” I admitted, “you really revived yourself. I think a year ago most folks around here would have left you for dead and chopped you up for firewood.”
The Bayit-Yehudi shuddered at the thought. He then smiled goofily at the Yesh-Atid. “That’s true, but now with Yair, my new best buddy here-”
“Speaking of ‘buddies’, or ‘buds', more precisely,” I interrupted awkwardly. “You do know what I am here for, right? It’s time to bless the trees.”
“Go ahead,” the Yesh-Atid said, smoothing the bark of his trunk as if preparing for a photo op. The Bayit-Yehudi instinctively leaned over to get closer to his fellow tree so I could see them both at once as I prepared to say the blessing.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “There are a few halachot (Jewish laws) I need to check to make sure you guys are ‘kosher’ for saying the blessing on.”
“Don’t worry, brother,” the Bayit-Yehudi assured me, “I am as kosher as they get”.
“And I may not be 100% kosher,” the Yesh-Atid explained, “but my number two seedling, the Shai-Peron over there, is. And besides, Naftali and I both served to protect the orchard. We share the burden!”
“I know you served, I know,” I mumbled as I opened my prayer book and found the right page for the blessing. “It says here in my siddur that the blessing should be recited on seeing fruit trees in blossom. Do you guys qualify?”
“Trust me, the Yesh-Atid said confidently. “We are both blossoming now and we will both bear fruit this year! You’ll see.”
I read on. “It says here that: ‘it is sufficient to say it on seeing at least two trees of the same kind (e.g. two apple trees). However, if there are trees of different kinds (say an apple tree and a plum tree), this is glorifying the Mitzvah’.”
“We’ve got you covered there,” the Bayit-Yehudi smiled. “We may appear to be ‘two of a kind’, but in reality we are each quite different!”
I wasn’t completely convinced, but I continued reading. I ran down the lists of requirements and they continually assured me that they were in full compliance.
“Ok”, I said, finally ready to recite the blessing: “Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the universe, who has made nothing lacking in His world, and He created in it good creatures and good trees, to cause mankind pleasure in them.”
“Wait a minute,” the Yesh-Atid protested. “Is that it? Is that the blessing?”
“Yes, that’s the standard text printed here,” I replied.
“No, no, no!” the Yesh-Atid shook his branches in disapproval. “’Nothing lacking’? There’s lots of stuff ‘lacking’!”
“Yeah!” the Bayit-Yehudi concurred. “’And ‘good creatures’ and ‘good trees’? Have you looked around this orchard? I know a lot of the trees around here, but I wouldn’t call too many of them ‘good’.”
I stared at them dumbstruck. What in the world did these two trees want? They seemed to have been given everything, yet they couldn’t seem to get along with any of the other trees in the orchard.
I decided I could take it no more.
“I gotta go, guys” I finally said, as I bid them adieu.
“Wait! Don’t leave!” the Yesh-Atid begged.
“Please don't go,” the Bayit-Yehudi pleaded. “We’ll be good - we promise!”
“Well, you guys better get your act together and make nice with the other trees in the orchard,” I warned them. “You have less than seven weeks left.”
“Less than seven weeks till what?” the two trees asked in unison.
I winked as I turned to walk away.
“Until every tree’s least favorite holiday - Lag B’omer.