Reuven Rivlin .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
According to Jewish tradition, during the month of Nisan, when one sees fruit-bearing trees that are blossoming, one recites a blessing – birkat ha’ilanot.
The presence of a rabbi is not required, but it seemed inappropriate for the blessing to be recited in the presidential garden without at least one of the state’s chief rabbis on hand. As has happened previously, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef was invited to do the honors.
There are many trees in the presidential garden, and as President Reuven Rivlin led the rabbi and his entourage from inside the President’s Residence to the back garden, Rivlin attempted to explain something of the history of the trees to the rabbi, who did not appear to be particularly interested in dendrology.
Just as with everything Jewish, when there are two Jews, there are three opinions, this applies equally to birkat ha’ilanot.
Some traditions hold that there must be at least two trees to allow for the blessing, while others decree that one tree is sufficient.
The president’s staff had chosen an area in which there are two beautiful tall trees with fascinating trunks almost reaching out to each other over a clearing.
The rabbi opted not to stand in the clearing and, with his back to both trees, recited the blessing, with Rivlin joining in. Yosef also recited a Psalm, after which Rivlin repeated the blessing and stated that it was an honor to have the chief rabbi come once again to recite the blessing, especially as the blessing pertains to both the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel.
“We have to returned to our land, to our homeland, and have put down roots in our soil, and the beauty, ability and creation that comes from this benefits all the residents of this land,” said Rivlin.
According to Yosef, the blessing over the trees “strengthens our faith in God.
A man takes a seed and puts it in the ground, and after three days it takes root and subsequently becomes a tree and bears fruit, and each fruit has a different taste and different vitamins. That is the work of the Creator. Therefore, once a year, when someone sees a tree in bloom, he should recite a blessing over it.”
Yosef also explained that unlike festivals, in which the various blessings include the “Shehehiyanu,” which in essence thanks the Almighty for bringing the person to this period in time, this blessing is not recited over a tree, because unlike festivals, which start and finish at set times, the blessing over trees has open chronological borders, and the only other blessing recited is over the fruit when it is eaten.
Nonetheless, Yosef recited another blessing that was both related to and removed from the trees. He blessed the president with health and long life and joy and enrichment to the people of Israel. In Jewish families, the patriarch is likened to a tree.