The Minyan of Creation by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

By stained-glass Judaic artist and scholar Revital Somekh-Goldreich (http://www.lettherebelightjudaicart.com)

“The Torah portion this coming Shabbat is called “Va’yera” after its first word, which means “was seen” or “became visible.”  The opening sentence (Genesis 18:1) reads like this:

“Now YHWH [the Interbreathing Spirit of the World] was seen by him [by Avraham} in the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day.”

 First let me say, “in the oaks of Mamre” is an unconventional but utterly reasonable translation of “b’elonai.”  Most translators say “by the oaks” because they want to point to three men who are about to appear as messengers of God, making God visible, and they are uncomfortable with the notion that God may be visible in the trees themselves.  But most of the time in the Bible,” b’” means “in.”

How could God be visible in that forest? If “YHWH” is the Breath of Life, the Wind of change, the Spirit of the world, then the rustling of leaves in that forest, blown by the Wind, would make visible the Wind that is about to change the life of Abraham and Sarah and the world.

 Secondly, in our own generation the scientists at last have taught us– – and perhaps long ago wise human beings knew the deep truth – that trees use chemicals to communicate with each other, that they help each other when some of them are in danger, that they breathe out the oxygen we need to breathe in and they breathe in the CO2 we breathe out.

When in Deuteronomy 20:19 Torah asks, “Are the trees of the field human?” we thought the question was tongue-in-cheek and that the answer was obviously No. But perhaps if being “human” means communicating wisdom across generations the answer is obviously “Yes!” (Consult Richard Powers’ insightful novel The Overstory.)

I have several times led prayer circles where I have invited people as part of the service to seek out a tree and listen to it breathe, then hear the tree’s own prayer, then come back to the community and share the tree’s prayer. When a dozen people do this, each prayer is unique, the prayers are as different as you can imagine — and profoundly “spiritual.”

Finally, how many of us have seen God become visible in a forest, a river, a bird, a cloud of fireflies? Time for us to welcome these bearers of life into the minyan, the quorum that makes prayer possible. Indeed, there could be no minyan without them.”–Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Video: When Trees Talk Together

Dr. Suzanne Simard, University of British Columbia, has a 4-minute video on forest communication systems, her most recent ecosystem research.

As you watch the film, meditate on Isaiah 14:6-8:

The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing. Even the pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon exult over you and say, “Now that you have been laid low, no woodsman comes to cut us down.”

For you science wonks, Dr. Simard’s professional publication on this topic is published as “Mycorrhizal networks and seedling establishment in Douglas-fir forests Biocomplexity of Plant–Fungal Interactions” by S.W. Simard (Biocomplexity of Plant-Fungal Interactions, Chapter 4, edited by Darlene Southworth. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2012)

Happy New Year to the Trees!

“When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.”–Leviticus 19:23-25

“There are four new years… the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month.”–Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1

On the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat we are invited to celebrate a New Year for the Trees, rejoicing in the fruit of the tree and the fruit of the vine, celebrating the splendid, abundant gifts of the natural world which give our senses delight and our bodies life. It’s a chance to celebrate the wholeness of nature’s body –trees, water, fruits, soil, sun, and us — and delight with God in what God has made. Many communities celebrate by gathering with children to plant trees and celebrate a special “fruit seder.”

…Thousands of years ago Rabbis, in their deepest wisdom, knew that trees are literally our life support system. In a religion focused for much of its history on survival, Jews recognized early on that when societies stopped planting and caring for trees those trees disappeared, and along with them went their soil, their food and their water.  When that happened those societies disappeared.  Perhaps that’s why we have, and continue to need a holiday with the sole purpose of remembering and appreciating trees.

Tu B’Shevat celebrates a victory over disappearance, and contains vital wisdom to remind us what’s needed not only to survive today, but to thrive.–Andy Lipkis, Jewish Journal

Thomas Merton’s Trees

"Merton's Porch" by Paul Quenon
"Merton's Porch" by Paul Quenon

Today, I cut a few Christmas trees for the house, and a big one for the novitiate. It was not quite raining, but cloudy and cold. Walked home alone by the lake near Bardstown road. The loblolly pines planted during my 1955 crisis are doing well. The whole property is dotted with trees I have planted in hours of anguish. The ones I planted in hours of consolation have not succeeded.–Thomas Merton

From Thomas Merton’s Journals [3:360]

“The Trees” by Philip Larkin

The Trees

981107154_5a5d90bf03The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The Collected Poems by Philip Larkin