Blessing of the tree — just open your eyes!
As wonderful as living in Israel is, it has its share of glitches. Yesterday morning started out as a typical chaotic ‘only in Israel’ day. As the cliche goes, the only certainty in Israel is the uncertain. A rumor started to circulate last night that the preschool assistants were planning a strike. By the start of ‘Gan’ (preschool) at 8:00 a.m., no one knew when or if the gates would open, and conflicting rumors emerged. Many parents found their weekday routines interrupted by the strike and had to make the dreaded call to their employers that they would be late for work. Understandably, all of this chaos caused many parents to focus on the negatives of the Israeli education system while ignoring the positive.
Starting from a few years ago, the law guaranteeing free education to every Israeli child from the age of 3 was enforced. Where else in the world do preschool children receive a fully subsidized education six hours per day, six days a week, 10 months of the year? But yet, this perspective was likely forgotten by the frustrated parents of restless children this morning.
Later in the day, I saw a Facebook post complaining about arrogant Israeli soldiers on the train who don’t always give their seats to the elderly and pregnant passengers. “What has become of our generation”, the post asked rhetorically. But yet, this ignores the famous sign on all Egged buses from Leviticus 19:32 “Rise before the face of the elderly”. Indeed, most passengers do give up their seats to the pregnant and elderly! These same Israeli soldiers who apparently didn’t give up their seats on the train put their lives on the line every day to defend the inhabitants of the State of Israel from harm. Perhaps they should have priority in sitting in the limited available seats so that they can save their precious energy for where it’s needed.
After we received word that the strike had ended and I dropped my daughter at Gan, I noticed a huge crowd of religious men gathering around a pomegranate tree in the middle of the “Haredi” (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood. Just a few years ago when legislation was passed requiring Haredi yeshiva students to enlist in the I.D.F, signs protesting the “decrees of annihilation” were posted throughout the neighborhood. These signs could could have easily been taken straight out of 19th century Tzarist Russia when the policy of enlisting Jews to the army was part of a deliberate policy of anti-Semitic persecution. How lucky we are to live in a generation where the Jewish people have the ability to defend ourselves from those who wish us harm! But yet, some of the leaders in the Haredi sector continue to relate to modern-day Israel as if it’s still part of the painful exile experience.
Seeing the crowd of religious men gathered around the pomegranate tree reminded me of the ‘mitzvah’ (commandment) to recite the blessing on a fruit tree that has just come into bloom. With the smell of spring finally in the air, fruit trees serve as a powerful symbol for transition. Over the past few months, the same trees that were completely barren have now brought forth their beautiful fragrance, and will soon bare delicious fruit. The blessing of the tree recited in the month of Nissan is one of the most beautiful blessings in all Jewish liturgy. “Blessed are you G-d, King of the Universe, who didn’t withhold anything from the world, who created wonderful creations and wonderful trees so that man can enjoy them”. The blessing of the tree reflects a basic philosophy of life that we are encouraged to adopt, to always be thankful and see the positive in everything, to see the glass as “half-full” and not “half-empty”.
Undoubtedly, this perspective must have been a challenge for Jews in the Diaspora over the past two millennia who often suffered from all of the the hardships of exile and persecution. How blessed we are to live in the Land of Israel, in a generation where seeing G-d’s blessing all around us is as easy as opening one’s eyes!
Eric Grosser is a native of East Liverpool Ohio, and received his B.A from the Ohio State University and M.B.A from Bar-Ilan University. Eric is a certified Israel Tour Guide and founder of Holy Land Escape. He lives with his wife Einav Grosser and six children in Rehovot, Israel, and writes extensively, on current events and every-day life in modern Israel.