Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
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Everybody loves beautiful trees. In Jewish tradition today is the New Year for Trees. Wherever Jewish people live, especially in Israel, it’s a day of planting and celebrating trees.
‘All felled, felled’, wrote Gerald Manley Hopkins, mourning his beloved Binsey Poplars:
…Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river, and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
Since then, how many trees have been cut down to make way for cities, roads and fields.
Yet there’s also been a change of consciousness, a growing awareness, both scientific and spiritual, that we need trees. They are our allies in absorbing the carbons we emit, though they can never be the sole solution to our excess. Forests, hedgerows and gardens are the homes of hundreds and thousands of fellow species. Without trees there would be no dawn chorus and of all the birdsong at dusk there would remain only an occasional plaintive cry.
Everyone has a favourite tree. At last I hope so, for trees are friends of the soul. To live without nearby trees is a form of deprivation, a further reason why community woodlands and inner-city parks are such a wonderful resource.
‘I walked round the corner to my tree’, said my friend, who was very ill. ‘I looked at it; I listened to it, and somehow I felt whole.’
In Greece and Rome, groves and orchards were sacred to the gods. Judaism speaks of The Tree of Life, through which God’s spirit, like the vital sap, supports all life.
God, help us to remember to look after the trees, so that the trees look after us.