This upcoming minor Jewish Festival celebrate trees, which are deeply symbolic in no less than four ways.
Firstly, because trees are sustainable, long-lasting and inter-generational. Nowhere is this expressed more powerfully than in the following Talmudic story in which a sage saw an old man planting a carob tree. Enquired the sage: “This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit?” The man said to him: “It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed.” The sage questioned him further: “Is it obvious to you that you will live another seventy years? So how do you expect to benefit from this tree?” Back came the reply: “I found a fruitful world because others had planted it. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.”
Secondly, trees are a specific exemplar of God’s Creation. The very first act that God performs following human creation is placing man “in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.” This verse indicates the importance of sustainability. We are here for but for a brief moment to enjoy and benefit from the fruits of the earth.
Thirdly, Judaism places supreme value on the centrality of Divine ownership. The land is in the hands of the Divine and must rest every seven years and lie fallow. Indeed Leviticus 25:23 says: “The land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the earth is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me’’, echoing the giving of Torah in Exodus 19:5 which uses the very same phrase ‘’the whole earth is Mine.’’ The prerequisite then for the receiving of the Torah is an acknowledgement that we are here as custodians of a sacred gift from The Source of Life and that resonates with the phrase in the Torah Service: “Aitz Hayim hee l’mahazikim bah.” “It is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it firmly.”
Fourthly, almost all modern societies are based on variations of Rousseau’s “Social Contract”. But this always focused on the present and those living today. Judaism’s equivalent is not a contract between individuals and government, but the concept of a covenant which extends responsibility to those from past generations and also to those not yet born. As we read in Deuteronomy 29:13/4: “I am making this covenant… not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day”.
Philip Goldenberg, member of the Jewish faith
Date: Monday 6th February 2023