Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Green Leaves: Shoftim and Photosynthesis

Learn about the most important narrative in the world in a creative exploration of this week’s Torah portion Shoftim in the excerpt below from my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life .

The book describes the Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage.  During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted six photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.

See all six green leaves photographs and Torah tweets for Shoftim at


Shoftim/Judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

You must not destroy trees by swinging an ax against them for from them you will eat.  Do not cut them down because the tree of the field is man’s life. (Deuteronomy 20:19)

When we were first married, Mel was a biology teacher teaching about the crucial role of trees in maintaining the global ecosystem.

He taught how trees draw water up through their roots, take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and transform them into sugar and oxygen.

The most important narrative in the world:

6H2O + 6CO2 + chlorophyll + sunlight yields C6H12O6 + 6O2

Without it there’d be no life on our planet. Photosynthesis creates all the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe.

Judaism develops from this biblical passage the ecological laws of bal tashhit (don’t destroy) that even forbids destroying a mustard seed.

Judaism celebrates the New Year of the Trees on Tu B’shavat when we begin to see the blossoming of almond trees on our drive to Jerusalem.

The Torah is likened to a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18).  A righteous person flourishes like a palm tree and grows tall like a cedar. (Psalm 92).

We photographed the large leaves of the frangipani in front of our house, the bougainvillea on our porch and the ficus down the street.

Mel reveals beauty hidden within leaves by photographing them through a microscope on which he paints with pigments mixed into molten waxes.

His encaustic painting of the cellular organization within a pine leaf cross-section enlarged 600 times shows where photosynthesis happens.

We photographed new leaf growth sprouting from an old pine tree in the park near our house and date palms in Ein Gedi.

In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, beauty (tiferet) is the innermost junction of 22 branches through which Divine light flows into our lives.

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.