Trees and Judaism

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

Trees have always been important in Judaism. In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, G-d prohibits cutting down fruit trees, even in times of war. A midrash in Leviticus Rabbah (25:3) teaches that one way to walk in the footsteps of G-d is to plant trees. Our best known tree metaphor compares the Torah to an “etz hayyim — a tree of life.”

Honi and the carob tree

One day Honi the sage was walking through the fields. He happened upon an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, “Why are you planting that carob tree? You will never get any fruit from it.” Honi knew that it takes 70 years or more for a carob tree to bear fruit; the old man would not live to pick the fruit from that tree.

The old man continued planting as he said to Honi, “Just as my grandfather planted trees so that I would enjoy their fruit, so I am planting this tree for my grandchildren.”

When the old man left, Honi laughed and said to himself, “Maybe my grandchildren will benefit from my resting in the shade of this gigantic tree.” Honi then sat down next to the carob seedling, closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Some time later, Honi awoke. He opened his eyes and — lo and behold! — the seedling had turned into a big, beautiful carob tree. “What a crazy dream I’m in,” Honi said. Just then he noticed an old man collecting carob pods from the tree. Honi asked the man if he was the one who had planted the tree.

“It was my grandfather who planted this tree 70 years ago,” the man said.

What had happened hit Honi. He jumped up and started to run away. “Hey,” cried the old man. “Where are you going?”

“I must go,” cried Honi. “I’ve got lots of trees to plant!”

—Adapted from Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23a


Go to an area with lots of trees and divide into partners.

One person is blindfolded and is led to a tree by the partner. Discover your tree — touch, smell, experience it in many ways. Spend at least two minutes with your tree.

Go back to your starting spot, take off the blindfold — go find your tree.

Question: How do you feel about your tree? What can you learn from your tree and from the experience of finding it?

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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