Monday, May 2, 2011

Blessing on Fruit Trees

Our Sages composed a blessing to recite when one sees fruit trees in bloom. This is said once a year, and preferably in the Hebrew month of Nissan.

"Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who left nothing lacking in His world, and who created in it good creations and (specifically) good trees for human beings to enjoy (benefit from)."

This blessing should be said while standing next to a fruit tree in blossom and it should be said with a sense of awe and appreciation of G-d and His Creations.

Our sages have assigned special blessings when they felt that we ought to realize and acknowledge a special level of appreciation to G-d.

And to appreciate trees.

Trees put oxygen back into the air we breathe. Trees provide shade and shelter, homes for birds and animals, prevent soil erosion, and eventually supply us with lumber and paper.

During the month of Nissan, take a walk in search of flowering fruit trees and recite the special blessing.

The blessing, in essence, makes the following statement: I acknowledge that G-d has gone "beyond the call of duty" with this fruit tree. If all that this tree would give me is a delicious fruit to eat, it would be more than worthy of having been created. But before the fruit is ready for the picking - even before it has started to grow - this tree gives us all a beautiful visual and smelling display. Before my sense of taste is given its treat, my eyes and nose enjoy part of G-d's world.

This sentiment is echoed in the words of the blessing. Let's say it with feelings of spiritual and physical joy.

Paradox of Pesach/life

Children think in terms of black and white-the good and the bad, the light and dark. Young, undeveloped minds don’t yet appreciate the nuances of life, the gray areas, the ambiguous and the ambivalent.

There is purity in the innocence of simplicity, but our lives are more complex than that. Living in a world that is both orderly and paradoxical, we can only appreciate life in its entirety when we embrace both dimensions.

When asked the question: “How is your life?”, a child usually answers “good” or “bad” based on his/her emotions of the moment. An adult would answer “Some things are great; some not so great; some things can go either way.” In other words, life is complex. There is no such thing as good without bad, and vice versa.

The challenge is to appreciate the flow and ride the waves.

The holiday of Pesach that we just celebrated is the paradox of life. We did not remember only the exodus but also the exile. We did not solely recreate the joy, but also the pain. We drank wine, but also tasted bitter herbs. Matzo is symbolic of our humility; wine demonstrates our proud sense of freedom.

We respect the process – from the lowest points to the highest, and we recognize how it replays itself in our lives today.

And so are we kings or paupers? The answer is both. True humility brings one to true greatness.


We traditionally end the Passover Seder with the fervent hope of “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

Because Jerusalem is much more than a city, we can be miles away from Jerusalem even while living there. Jerusalem is an ideal that we are struggling to reach for.

In general, the Jewish story can be summed up as a long journey from Egypt to Jerusalem. Beyond being just geographical locations, they symbolize two opposite spiritual states. The journey from Egypt to Jerusalem is a spiritual odyssey.

Egypt is called "Mitzrayim," in Hebrew, which also means limitations, restrictions, obstacles. It represents a state in which our souls are enslaved to material desires and tied down to physical limitations.

Jerusalem means “the city of peace”—a place of peace between body and soul, the ideal and reality. When we live our lives according to our ideals rather than our cravings, when the world values goodness and generosity over selfish gain—then we are in Jerusalem.

When we overcome our concern for our own needs and think and do for others, we have left Egypt. We allowed our innate goodness to prevail over our instinctive selfishness. We're then out of Egypt, but not yet in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, we won't have to conquer our selfish nature; our nature would itself be kind and selfless. There would be no need for a battle to do good in the city of inner peace; it would come naturally.

Even if we are living in the city called Jerusalem, as long as there remains suffering, injustice and unholiness in the world, we haven’t reached the Promised Land. As long as we remain slaves to our own negative instincts and selfish desires, we are still struggling to truly leave Egypt.

Perhaps this year, our efforts to better ourselves and our world will bring the fulfillment of the words of the Haggadah:

"This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free."

Next year in Jerusalem . . . literally.