© Lauren Fellows

Blessing of the Blossom

© Lauren Fellows
© Lauren Fellows

Have you noticed the eruption of color and fragrance in the blossom in our neighborhoods? Hard to miss, right?

There is a powerful blessing traditionally recited when seeing the first blossoms on fruit-bearing trees, specifically during the Hebrew month of Nissan. This year the last day of April and the last day of Nissan coincide so we have only a couple of days left to say it!  The words of the blessing are below.

Text:Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech haOlam shelo chisar b’olamo davar, u’vara vo briot tovot v’ilanot tovim l’hanot bahem b’nei Adam
Translation: Blessed are You Eternal our God ruler of the Universe, who has left nothing lacking in His world and who has created in it goodly creatures and goodly trees, through which people can derive pleasure.

This blessing appears in The Talmud (Berachot 43b) with no real explanation or context given to it; just that, according to Rav Yehuda, “a person seeing blossoming trees in the days of Nissan should say these words.” It has an enigma to it that is intriguing.

The blessing is known as Birkat Ha’Ilan, the tree blessing. In the days of spring, when we celebrate Passover, with its themes of freedom and renewal, we also have this extraordinary opportunity to notice and to bless the blossoming buds on the trees around us.  This blessing mirrors the evocative, sensory world so powerfully captured in Shir HaShirm, Song of Songs, also recited during this season.

© Lauren Fellows
© Lauren Fellows

After a dark winter, where the short, cold days often allow us to forget the light of hope, there is luscious potential for growth and transformation in the flowers of these fruit giving trees.  The words of this blessing awake us to the notion that the world is complete, even though it seems so broken and empty at times; that God holds nothing back from us, as testified by the stunning sight of blossoming trees, a bountiful gift like the dew, whose magic we invoked on the first day of Pesach with the help of Reb Zalman.

This is what Abraham Joshua Heschel calls radical amazement; allowing the natural world to move us into a sense of awe and wonder through blessing and praise, and the possibility of being transformed.  It is somewhat surprising that the blessing mentions beautiful creatures as well as beautiful trees and yet it is only recited over trees.  According to the Ben Ish Chai, a great nineteenth century Iraqi rabbi and leader, the creatures (briot) refer to us, to humanity. Just as the withered trees of winter are renewed, we too can be revitalized and given new vision and hope by the explosion of spring flowers.

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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