רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וְשׁוֹנֶה, וּמַפְסִיק מִמִּשְׁנָתוֹ וְאוֹמֵר, מַה נָּאֶה אִילָן זֶה וּמַה נָּאֶה נִיר זֶה, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ:
Rabbi Shimon says: He who is walking on the way and repeating his studies, and interrupts his studies and says, “How lovely is this tree! And how lovely is this newly plowed field!” – Scripture considers him as if he is liable for [forfeiture of] his life (Pirkei Avot 3:7)
What is the emphasize in this teaching? Is it indeed that one who looks at a tree, we “considers him as if he is liable for his life”? what’s are we not allowed to look at trees? to enjoy nature? To say, wow, this is amazing?
Or perhaps it’s about the word “interrupts” meaning: “He who is walking on the way and repeating his studies, and interrupts his studies to see a tree…” he who sees no continuity between his (or her) learning and environment, his studies and nature around him, the kind of person for whom education is a theoretical aspect and not an integral part of life; who lives a split life between what’s in the books and what’s outside, is in danger.
This is especially true during the month of Nisan when we’re asked to go outside and look for a blooming tree to say the blessing:
“ברוך שלא חיסר בעולמו כלום, וברא בו בריות טובות, ואילנות טובות, להתנאות בהן בני אדם” – Blessed in the One who made the world lack nothing, and who created in it good creatures and good trees for people to enjoy.
Our relationships with trees go “way back”: The first tree was planted by G-d in the Garden. Later, we’re told that people are like trees of the field. Trees were used to build life-saving devices, like Noah’s ark, and to constantly give us life as food and shelter. This month let’s find a tree to appreciate, to learn from and with.
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A woman brings two sacrifices after childbirth, an olah and a chatat. Why? Our tradition understands pregnancy as partnership with the Divine in creation. It is a way to literally – very physically, emotionally, spiritually – touch the future, with childbirth being a farewell to that process. Suddenly, the “future” is forced outside of her, leaving her behind. This brings tremendous feelings, both happy and sad, some of which repeat again when, years later, the “future” leaves home altogether. The Torah, in its wisdom, makes space to acknowledge this complex process davka for the woman, to celebrate and mourn the nuances of renewal’s joy and sadness, davka at this season.
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My cousin would not be happy with me connecting his life – or death – to anything remotely religious. All this “nonsense”, that was my department. And yet, last Shabbat, when Aaron’s sons, Nadav & Avihu, were swallowed in a strange, heavenly fire, and he too was laid to rest after battling with cancer, I couldn’t help think of the fire within him, always curious, interested, passionate, taking things apart and rebuilding them, figuring out how things work, why they don’t; loving life and wanting to do more.
In a way, cousins are like extended siblings. So it was for Nadav and Avihu who were carried out in their shirts by their uncle’s children. I, on the other hand, just sat here, 6000 miles away, stunned, silenced, looking at words on a screen, unable to do anything at all. His cancer left little room for surprises, so I was “lucky to visit before”, and yet, so much was left, and so much will be missed. May his memory be for a blessing.
Shabbat Shalom & Hodesh Tov.