Spring’s Blessing

It is officially Spring and I hear that, in some quarters, it’s actually starting to look and feel that way! Though we associate the beginning of spring with the holiday of Pesach, Jewish tradition makes other seasonally appropriate connections, too. Among them are Birkat Ha-Ilanot, the blessing on (blooming) trees:
ברוך אתה ה“ אלוהינו מלך העולם שלא חיסר בעולמו כלום וברא בו בריות טובות ואילנות טובות ליהנות בהם בני אדם
Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melekh haOlam, sh’lo hisar b’Olamo kloom, uvara vo b’riyot tovot v’eelanot tovot lehanot ba-hem b’ney adahm
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who causes nothing to be lacking in His universe and
Who created good creatures and good trees in it so that people can enjoy them.
The occurrence and wording of the blessing make sense: we tend to bless God for those things that benefit us and happen at specific times (think holidays.) We also make blessings on anything enjoyable (Birkhot haNehenin). But there is more to this practice than simply making the blessing. First, you have to see the tree. It is not enough to know that this is when it will happen or to hear that someone else saw it. Second, it is the blossom or flower of the tree that you must see. Third, we say the blessing only when we see this happen to/on a tree that produces edible fruit. Finally, each person says this blessing only once per year, upon seeing such a bloom for the first time.
This blessing fits into a category known as Birkhot haRe’iyah, blessings of seeing, made when seeing things: rainbows, lightning, certain people, oceans and, of course, trees in bloom. Sometimes it is hard to look at something in nature and see a spark of God in it, have a spiritual experience from it. How much harder it is to look at people, especially the ones you don’t like, and see God in them. All the soft-spoken rabbi talk about “the image of God” in the world won’t make that easy. These blessings help. The rule isn’t that one should go out looking for such a tree. When you go out, starting around now, you should try to observe everything around you; don’t necessarily look for a tree, but when you spot one–which means you have to observe everything around you–say this blessing. The blessing is said (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) around this time of year. Despite the cold this year, this is the time when the trees begin to bloom.
But I posit that there is another reason. We start paying attention to blossoming trees now because in a certain way, that’s what this month of Nisan is all about. Nisan is a time to remember that redemption is on its way. Just as we must do with trees, this month, this week, if not all the time, we have to start looking around. Miracles (Nisan from Nes, miracle) can happen at any time anywhere. Most scholars hold that you can’t say Birkat haIlanot after the actual fruit comes out; the whole point of the blessing is to thank God for potential.
This is a particularly auspicious time to be thinking about potential. Our redemption as a people and as individuals may seem hidden; it may seem to cold this year for the trees to blossom. But the potential is there… Only by remembering to bless it will we remember–and merit–to see it.
Hag Sameah!