Aviva Edelstein
Aviva Edelstein

Hearing the tree that falls

Everyone knows the famous thought experiment which asks: “if a tree falls and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”. This somewhat cliched scenario was brought to life to me in a startling way this past Rosh Hashana morning, when I experienced a small miracle, or perhaps a sequence of miracles, that pierced my soul.   As a result, I found my prayers charged with profound gratitude and reconnection.  My hope is that sharing this story will invoke heightened sensitivity to the subtle and not so subtle daily miracles in all our lives. 

At 5:15am the first day of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), I thought I was dreaming of a blaring alarm.  It became quickly apparent that this was no dream, and I ran upstairs to the source of this erroneous phone alarm to muffle it as best I could.  I do not know why the alarm sounded at this time or why I was the only one in the house to hear it.  I was relieved that it did not waken anyone else, but also frustrated that I was not able to return to sleep.   I got dressed, put on my sneakers and I went for a walk.

In truth, I  questioned if I was doing the right thing on one of the holiest days of the year.  Yet, amid the hectic nature of the chagim (holidays) for all of us, I could not resist the opportunity for some peaceful quiet time.  As I headed uphill toward the path around the park that I walk most days of the week, the world around me felt still.  I walked in perfect silence, taking in every bird’s chirp, ruffled leaf, and the sounds of my own breath as I walked.  I could see through the windows of one of the shuls (synagogues) I passed that prayers for the early risers had already commenced, and I considered this time to be a sacred preamble to my own prayers.

I started to see more people as I got to the walking path at the park and as there were so few of us, I was keenly aware of each person and our proximity to each other.  I enjoyed the feeling of tranquility that my fast-paced walking helped bring my mind and spirit.   It seemed to me that the sounding of the alarm was itself a sign and I knew this was where I needed to be.

By my third circle around the park, I started to notice a few more people, though the sounds of nature were still more palpable than that of anything or anyone else.  I saw two women walking in the street alongside the path, who following the curve, made their way back to the path right behind me.  I could hear them in conversation and that they were getting closer to me.  From my walks with my regular walking partner, I am conditioned to respond with increased speed, as I am accustomed to trying to keep up with her, weaving my way past stragglers, determined not to be one.  As I was speeding up, aware of the conversation continuing right behind me, I also noticed a man walking toward me, who was formally dressed and carrying his tallit (prayer shawl), likely on his way to pray on the other side of the park.  He walked briskly but casually, seeming very relaxed and carefree.  His formal dress and his leisurely stride felt paradoxical to my own casual attire and speed, and I recognized we each have our own time, place, intent, and purpose.

Suddenly, I heard a crack.  I stopped quickly, looked up, and saw a tremendous branch akin to a tree itself, crack off a tall trunk and crash to the ground across my path right in front of me and right behind this man.  The two women behind me stopped quickly too and there we stood still gaping together as this man not only did not turn around, but continued putting one foot in front of another, seeming completely unphased.    When one of the women from behind me, now standing beside me, commented, “he didn’t even turn around!” he turned to us and said, “what can I say, you only live one life,” his steps uninterrupted.  We were astounded – by both the formidable dam across our path and the resolute response of this passing tallit bearer.    

It was a lot to process.  I had already walked past that exact spot twice that morning.  I was only a few feet away from unanticipated danger, and because of the quiet of the hour and it being a holiday, meaning no headphones or planned company and conversation, I was lucky enough to hear the crack and to stop when I did.  Fortunately, the women behind me did too.  And G-d bless this man who just knew it was not his time and continued contently on his way to pray.  

As I continued to stand in quiet awe, shock, and reflection, the two women remarked about this “Rosh Hashana miracle” and walked ahead.  I wished them a Shana Tova (a good year) and started to slowly regain my momentum behind them.  As I did, I looked up ahead at one of the women who I sensed something familiar about but could not yet identify and said, “I know you!”  She had recognized me too but said she was not sure whether to say something.  It was a very emotional reunion with someone who showed astounding knowledge and kindness at a time of vulnerability years earlier.  We had lost touch but not stopped thinking about each other.  We hugged (repeatedly), we cried, and we told each other that we each knew exactly why we were meant to take this walk on Rosha Hashana morning.  

When I arrived back home, what I anticipated being the morning rush of arranging clothing, food, and temperaments, just all sort of worked itself out.  When I arrived at shul, I felt a closeness to G-d that is hard to describe.  Each word of each prayer spoke directly to me.  I felt myself cradled in G-d’s hands.  I felt myself in direct communication, each prayer an intent conversation.  Emotions flooded through me, tears fell, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of profound gratitude to G-d who I knew had just saved me – again.  Reflecting on a challenging few years, my sensitivity to the meaning of the day was already strong and then taken to a whole new level.  The episode in the park of experiencing a miracle and reuniting with a special person and the time in my life she brought me back to, solidified everything I longed for on this day and gave life to my prayers.  

It is clear to me now that there was nothing erroneous about that alarm going off or my having been the only one to be woken by it.  I am grateful for having heard the tree crack and that it prompted me to stop.  They were my personal tekiot (shofar sounds) to move me to experience the hand of G-d in exactly the way I needed to – to assure me that there are all sorts of forces in this world, and that G-d’s protection is real and worth praying for.  I can remember a range of prior experiences of shofar – cerebral experiences of swirling thoughts and ideas – and times when my mind was quiet, and I felt the sound vibrations pulsating through my veins.  This year I felt gratitude for a miracle I shared with a certain other very special person and her daughter that I believe we are forever changed from.  May we merit to be attuned to all our personal tekiot and the compassionate hand of G-d guiding each and every detail of our daily lives. 

About the Author
Aviva Edelstein is an educational consultant living in Teaneck, NJ. Her academic background in Jewish philosophical healing texts has inspired her current work in mindfulness and education.
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