“And a generation will yet arise
And sing to beauty and to life.”
Rabbi Abraham Kook, “The Whispers of Existence”
The sign on a local church this week read: “Spring has sprung. Is your faith blossoming?” Faith does blossom when we see a world regenerating. We hear the birds after a silent winter. We see cherry trees flowering, the weather warming, and we feel the relief of color re-entering and puncturing the drab grey of winter.
We mark this special time with a holiday also called “The Holiday of Spring” or Hag ha-Aviv. Passover helps us relive the exodus at a time of the year when redemption seems natural. If everything gets a new chance at life, we do too. We blossomed into a nation as the world around us paralleled the process. And to prepare for Passover, we make a special blessing–one of four that is said only once a year–over the flowering fruit trees of the Hebrew month of Nissan: “Blessed are You, Our God, King of the Universe whose world lacks nothing and who made wondrous creations and beautiful trees for human beings to enjoy” (identify the other three for the double jeopardy win or see the answer key below).
The language of the blessing offers us insight into why we make blessings in the first place. The Talmud recommends that we make one hundred blessings a day over everything from human wisdom to lightening to the smell of spices. We take in the sensory world and crown it with a blessing to make an ordinary moment special. We sanctify time and space when we look and listen and respond with a blessing. The text of the tree blessing is not about what we will one day eat but about pausing to note a world created for human enjoyment. Beauty is the handmaiden of spirituality.
I remember driving parallel to an orchard in Israel and seeing a group of schoolchildren sitting around a flowering fruit tree two weeks before Passover. They were obviously on a field trip from school to say this blessing together, and the teacher was clearly using the great outdoors as a wonderful classroom to teach about God and nature.
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