Beyond The Headlines A Weekly Glimpse Into The Israel You Won’t Read About In The News (Week of Parashat Metzora) Photos

By Sivan Rahav-Meir/Translation by Yehoshua Siskin, Janine Muller Sherr
Posted on 04/16/24

Have You Heard About Birkat Ha’Ilanot? 

Have you heard about Birkat Ha’ilanot, the brachah over trees? We recited it yesterday in Jerusalem and anyone can recite it anywhere until the end of the month of Nisan. The brachah should be said next to two blossoming fruit trees of different kinds.

Rabbi Itamar Heiken, head of a premilitary academy in Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak went with his students to recite this brachah and returned with the following valuable insight:

“There is clinical death and psychological death, the latter afflicting a person while he is still alive. It happens when individuals lose their sensitivity and enthusiasm, when they are incapable of seeing the beauty of nature or experiencing the magic of life.

Our Sages say:  ’An evil person, while alive, is considered dead. Why is this so? When he sees the sun rising he does not recite a blessing, and when he sees the sun setting he does not bless. But the righteous ones make blessings over every single thing.’

“According to our Sages, refraining from reciting blessings is not a sign of apathy, but of evil! It’s evil also toward oneself, toward a life wasted, with the rising and the setting of the sun going unnoticed. It is the height of ingratitude not to notice all the good and kindness that surrounds us and not to offer thanks for it.”

In the month of Nisan, just once a year, and only in the spring, we go out to recite Birkat Ha’Ilanot. This is an opportunity to take a break from the hassle of work, school and everything else, to go out into nature, or even just a small patch of ground where you can find two blossoming trees, stop for a moment to contemplate, and say:

“Blessed are you, God, our Lord, King of the universe, that His world is not lacking anything, and he Created in it good creations and good trees for the pleasure of mankind.”

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁלֹּא חִסֵּר בָּעוֹלָמוֹ כְּלוּם, וּבָרָא בּוֹ בְּרִיּוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבוֹת לֵיהָנוֹת בָּהֶן בְּנֵי אָדָם.

So beautiful and so simple.  Later, if someone asks you what you did today, you’ll be able to say: “Today I said Birkat Ha’ilanot. I took a break from my busy day and remembered to stop and look.”

Be Joyful!

Nevo Peretz lost two of his cousins on October 7th. Brothers Ariel Refael and Roy Chaim Guri sacrificed their lives while protecting their city of Ofakim. The family recently received a poignant gift: Roy’s personal diary, which provided great inspiration and comfort for them all.

On Oct. 4, just 3 days before Simchat Torah, Roy penned the following.

Goals for the next two months:

  1. Finish the book, “Fear the Lord, Your God”
  2. Call mom at least twice a week
  3. Do a minimum of at two 20-minute workouts a week
  4. Be JOYFUL 😊

“This entry was written just before Simchat Torah, and now, before Pesach, we see it as a Heavenly message from them,” wrote Nevo. “They continue to speak to us. We wept, but they weren’t tears of sadness but of pride, joy and a sense of mission. They tasked us with making the world a happier place. Wishing all a joyful holiday, in spite of everything!” 

Organizing Our Closets, Bringing Order to the World

With Passover approaching, I was organizing my closets and noticed that a lot of the stuff that I threw out or gave away had been taking up precious space, at the expense of possessions that were much more important to me. I could have discarded those items a long time ago! When I finished the task, I felt tremendous satisfaction that every item was now in its proper place.

The Maharal defines exile as a state in which things are not in their proper place, and redemption as when things are in their proper place.

When the nation of Israel is in Egypt — that’s exile. When the nation is in its place, in the land of Israel — that’s redemption.

When the hostages are in tunnels in Gaza — that’s exile. When they return, with God’s help, to their homes, healthy and unharmed, to their fathers and mothers — that will be redemption.

When the evacuees from the north and the south are still in hotels and temporary housing — that’s exile. When they will live securely in their homes — that will be redemption.

When teenagers feel disconnected and unable to find their place in the world, when older singles continue searching for a spouse, when I am scrolling through WhatsApp instead of focusing on the person in front of me — these are types of exile, too.

With the holiday of Passover soon upon us, we pray that everything will return to its proper place. Just as we organize and clean our homes, so, too, should God bring order to the entire world (Hamas, for example, should finally be tossed into the dustbin of history), placing every single item precisely where it belongs.

This is redemption.

70 Years of Resilience

On 7 Nisan, Miriam Peretz turned 70.  Here's what I learned on the evening that I was privileged to host with her last week, held in the town of Yavneh.

Speaking to Mayor Roy Gabbai behind the scenes, she remarked, “Yavneh is exactly what we need now. After the Romans destroyed the Temple, the Jewish slogan was: "Give us Yavneh and its sages." From there we returned to life; that's how our people continued after the crisis. We need to learn from this spirit of resurgence and renewal.”

On stage, I decided not to talk about the Miriam Peretz everyone knows, the mother of Uriel and Eliraz and the widow of Eliezer, but about Miriam as a child.  She grew up in Morocco to parents who could neither read nor write. Moreover, there wasn't a single book in their home. “My mother worked as a cleaner in the house of the rav of Casablanca, and I came to help her clean,” Miriam shared. “There I saw a book for the first time. Wow! The rabbi of Casablanca made sure I started school, and I am grateful to him for that. In third grade, the teacher asked me to come to her house after school to clean. I cleaned and again saw something I did not recognize: a faucet! You turn the handle – and water comes out!”

The audience laughed at the anecdote, but I think I saw a tear in Miriam's eyes. That girl from Morocco became a school principal, a senior supervisor in the Ministry of Education, and a recipient of the Israel Prize. From Yavne through the book and the faucet – how much one can grow and build from difficulties. Mazel tov, Miriam, on your first 70 years!

A Reminder for Ourselves and Our Enemies

Last Motza’ei Shabbat in Israel was a historic night whose significance has yet to be understood. After hours filled with anxiety followed by relief and gratitude, I believe that these compelling words written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks best express our feelings the following morning:

“The fear is real, and the pain is deep, and yet that faith that carried our ancestors will carry us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death into the light of the promised future that still awaits us, when an anguished people will finally know peace, the last of all our blessings, but still the greatest, speedily in our days. This is the moment when the prayers of all Jews – like a single person with a single heart – are with the people of Israel in the Land of Israel, the people and the land that give us so much strength and pride. Let us be strong and strengthen one another, until the city whose name means peace at last becomes a true home of peace.”