OF FORESTS GROVES AND GARDENS

With so much emphasis on trees each year during the Hebrew month of Shvat, it is as though we can’t see the forest – or the garden, or the grove, for the trees. Perhaps Jewish Arbor Day would take on greater and richer meaning and deliver a more poignant message if we looked at the greater picture rather than focus solely on trees.

Ya’ar is the Hebrew word for the forest; Vald is the Yiddish equivalent. Hence, family names such as Greenwald (Green Forest) or Waldman (Forester). One would do well to speculate, that it was a forest and not a garden in which Adam and Eve were planted and from which they were soon expelled. Size aside, a garden connotes control, while a forest does not. That’s why Smokey the Bear warned us about the latter (Only you can prevent forest fires) but was seemingly mute about the former. It was precisely because the first residence of the first couple was under Divine control (as opposed to serpentine control) that it is referred to as the Garden of Eden and not the Forest of Eden. Fret not! Despite the garden garnering primary position, in no way is the ya’ar or forest overlooked. If anything, it is ya’ar and not garden that receives a plum position in our prayers. During a typical week, as we welcome in Shabbat, we include the 96th Psalm, where we are reminded that the time will come (with the arrival of Moshiach) when “all the trees of the forest will sing joyously.” For then, even the intractable forest will fall into line, as it praises HaShem.

Among the first Israeli songs I was to learn upon arriving for the first time in Israel as a teenager, was Hurshat Ha’Eucalyptus or the Eucalyptus Grove. It was written by the renowned Israeli musician, songwriter and recording artist Naomi Shemer. A mere 4 years before her legendary Jerusalem of Gold, Naomi recorded Hurshat Ha’Eucalyptus, where she recounts the Eucalyptus grove, the bridge, the boat and the scent of salt upon the waters of her childhood in Kvutzat Kinneret. For me, the song Hurshat Ha’Eucalyptus or the Eucalyptus Grove evokes an Israel, where groves of trees, planted in seemingly unyielding soil, defy the odds of nature and proceed to tame and beauty a once wily land. For me, it is the tree, particularly the Eucalyptus tree, that served as a role model for the halutzim or pioneers of our Jewish homeland who defied the odds time and time again in a sand-strewn Israel, evoking simpler times where determination and hope were plentiful. Whether it was Eucalyptus, or Grapefruit, Hursha – grove will always be the Israel I want to and need to remember. 

Gan Eden or the Garden of Eden was the first garden ever known to humans. It must not go unnoticed that there is scant mention made of other gardens throughout the Tana’ch or 24 books of the bible. Among them, is one mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. We read about that garden every Yom Kippur morning, in the Haftorah assigned to that day. “Then HaShem …will satiate your soul in times of drought …and you will be like a well-watered garden…”. Ever sensitive that the garden was a place that our biblically versed people wistfully looked back upon, the Prophet provides hope for our people by depicting a Gan Raveh or well-watered garden to look forward to and believe in. Put differently, our existence is framed by two lush gardens, Gan Eden and Gan Raveh.

As one who savors singing about the almond tree, as one who is careful when it comes to chewing on carob, I ask of you to permit me to plant the following Tu B’Shvat concept in your hearts. In addition to paying homage to the fruits and trees, perhaps it is also time to fawn over the forests, regard the grandeur of the groves, and become a guardian of the gardens.