What Happens When the Trees Die?

“What happens when the trees die?”
February 7, 2015

Gathering for study a few days after Tu’B’shvat, fruit, nuts, wine encircling our altar, check-ins turned to encompass our relation to the trees, and by extension, to other parts of the natural world.  People spoke of the trees in their yards, the threat of death that the cottonwood trees of the Rio Grande face because of climate change and the lack of adequate flooding of the flood plain, the understanding our ancestors had that you plant trees for future generations not for immediate gain, and the blight that so many of our local trees face.  And we heard of visitations from the animal world: the blue jay arriving in 2 days (or was it 3 days?) at the offering made of bird food in the back yard; the mountain lion coming around; others.

Rather than going right into text study after check-ins, the discussion continued with personal stories, observations, and questions.  And more questions.  The trees are the lungs of the planet.  What happens when the trees die and there’s not enough oxygen to breathe?  What is the role of the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam?  How do we respond?  Do we respond?  Will the “market forces” take care of it in the end, or do the market forces represent a non-benevolent force that should not be allowed to run it’s course?  Do we choose blessings or curses?  Are we engulfed in the pessimism of how we are leaving the planet for our grandchildren, or do we have an optimism that things will work out for them? 

How do we change our minds? How do I change myself?  The question arose during the discussion of the drought, attempts at water conservation, the recognition that most of the water use is through agriculture (e.g. do you know how many gallons of water it takes to export almonds?), rather than being determined by personal use of individuals.  So does it really matter if we personally don’t flush the toilet every time, or take shorter showers?  Do we live in a blessed time, whereby humans have figured out how to feed the masses through large agri-business?  Or are we cursed due to our disconnection from our own food sources?  What is your relation to the chicken on your dinner plate?  What is the mind frame that our ancestors had, when one raised the animals and the plants that later were served at the table?  How does that alter one’s consciousness and relation to earth and spirit, compared to bopping into Ralphs to pick up some chicken for dinner?  What is the difference in one’s mind, in one’s being, between observing the laws of kashrut when it comes to killing the animal you yourself have raised, compared to purchasing a lamb roast at the kosher market?  What does it mean to change your mind, and how can that possibly change the magnitude of what is happening in the greater culture?  Or by changing our minds, is there a ripple that goes out to those we contact, such as our students, patients, co-workers, and then those they contact, and ultimately things undergo major shift?

How does our situation on the planet compare to the concepts of complexity theory – are we bubbling and churning in a field of chaos and turmoil, approaching a quantum frame shift into another field entirely?  Isn’t that what is described in the opening verses of the book of B’ray’sheet (Genesis) – the bubbling and turmoil of Tohu v’vohu, followed by the shefa of light that changed everything?   Or at the moment on the shore of Red Sea – leaving the chaos and confusion of the narrow way of living in Mitzrayim,  but facing . . . what?   The step with pure faith into a new way of being offered the only way out.  Every Shabbat we read the words that Shabbat is about remembering the original Creation, AND the going out of Egypt.  Is the world now approaching a Y’hi Ohr / Red Sea moment?  Will we have the courage to take the step into the water?

Questions, more questions. Can we live a life of blessing?  This is Jewish mindfulness.  Everything is blessed.  The Zohar says, take every action by first creating a space for God to fill so that when you raise your hand to strike someone you must ask, “Would the Divine Presence strike this person in this way?” or when you comfort someone with a hand on the shoulder, it is empowered with Divine Comfort.  An old siddur, handed down through the family, pages yellowed and ragged, listing a blessing for every scenario.  The prayer on seeing trees and animal:

Source of Blessing are You, Infinite Being, our Wellspring of Creation, Teacher of the hidden worlds that such as this exists in the world.

A question: what does this week’s Torah portion have to do with Tu’Bishvat?  This week’s Parshat Ha Shavuah is Yitro (Jethro), the giving of the 10  Instructions.  “I have carried you to Me on the wings of Eagles (or Vultures?)”, to witness, each and every one of you, the revelation of how to live a life of consciousness and justice in relation to Spirit and fellow beings.  Then, after revelation, climb the altar of earth, get back to the earth, get back to living as a human.  There is no need to meditate only for the sake of achieving understanding of the Divine, or how we were before we came to this physical plane.  But rather to bring that consciousness back into this world, that avodah (sacred service) is about sewing the mitzvot into this physical world. 

The disconnection of the Jewish people from the earth and the land, a result of our being forcibly exiled from our earth-based practices to a religion of prayer and thought.  This makes it possible that the cantor in a synagogue does not even know that there are olive trees on the synagogue property.  Can we return to a state of being in right relation with the earth and beings around us?  Can we take the rote prayers, learn them, transform them (as each Sefirah does with the Presence it receives) and let them flow from our hearts in a new way?   A chant:  Aitzim Zaitim Omdim – the olive trees are standing. 

Finally, we get to the text of Perekh Shirah:
Trees of the field declare: “Then shall the trees of the forest sing before Infinite Being” (1 Chron 16:33)
Vine declares:  “This is what Infinite Being says – Just like when fresh wine is found in the cluster, people would protest ‘Don’t destroy it, for it holds blessing’, so too will I act” (Isaiah 65:8)

Next gathering: Saturday March 7, at Devorah’s.  We invite all in the PV community who wish to take part In planning this year’s event to come.  Brief Torah study (~1/2 hour), then an hour of planning, then a pot luck lunch.