In her Jewish Book of Days for 30 Shevat, the day before Rosh Chodesh Adar, Reb Kohenet Jill Hammer tells of a tree ritual practiced by North African Jewish women. Women struggling to become pregnant would confide in a tree, asking the tree to bless them with fertility, which would lead to their bearing a child. They would take a piece of fruit from the same tree, carry it home, and eat it in bed, thus bringing the tree’s fertility to their lovemaking.
What can we learn from this? Whether or not we are yearning to create physical children, most of us birth something every day: prose or poetry, art or music, cooking or crafts, teaching or ritual, or just our daily lives, day in and day out. We don’t always find ourselves filled with creativity or spirit or new work. Sometimes we feel very barren indeed. Can we adapt this ritual to address our needs for fulfillment?
I am a big fan of hugging trees, literally and metaphorically. Trees restore my soul as well as restore the earth and regenerate the oxygen that sustains life. They feel strong and solid and affirming when I wrap my arms around them. And I don’t at all mind being referred to as a “tree-hugger,” meaning someone concerned about the environment and trying to live more sustainably in order to repair some of the damage we humans have done to it.
However, there’s another tree for us to hug for our spiritual and creative needs: the Tree of Life, however she manifests for you. We Jews are taught that the Torah is a tree of life, and we should cling to her (another way of saying “hug”). We have the image of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah, manifesting in the sephirot and teaching us how to live. This tree is not found just in Jewish tradition, however. It’s an archetype across time and space, centuries and continents, and multiple faith traditions. When something is that pervasive, it merits attention.
So, go forth and hug a tree today. Thank it for its work in the world. Give it your troubles and take from it strength and resilience. Eat a piece of fruit. Rejoice in your creativity. Hold fast to the Tree of Life, today and every day.