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Tu B'Shevat tales
Tales about trees that are timely for this holiday celebrating nature
By Michael Brown
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 24, 2001
KENDALL PARK, N.J., Tu B'Shevat gives parents the
opportunity to share with their
children the importance of trees in everyday life.
Jewish tradition is full of parables using trees to convey messages.
This tale happens to specify a carob
tree, but it could just as well have been an olive, fig or even mulberry
tree. The message remains the same.
``Honi and the Carob Tree"
One day when Honi, the righteous man, was out walking, he came upon a
man planting a carob tree.
``How long will it be before this tree bears fruit?" Honi asked.
``Seventy years," the man replied.
``How do you know you'll be alive in 70 years?"
``Just as I found carob trees when I came into the world," answered the
man, ``so I am now planting carob
trees for my grandchildren to enjoy."
Honi then sat down to have a meal and fell asleep.
When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he
asked him, ``Are you the man
who planted this tree?" The man replied: ``I am his grandson."
Honi therefore realized that he had slept for 70 years.
(Babylonian Talmud Taanit 23a)
Some folk tales help explain particular characteristics of trees.
The first is about the olive tree. Olive trees tend to become hollow as
they get older. This is possible
because the tree gets its nourishment from the thin layer of inner bark just
underneath the outer bark.
The second story concerns the Oriental strawberry tree. This
particularly striking tree can be found growing
in the Galilee, Carmel and Judean mountains. It's most noteworthy
characteristic is its red bark, which has been
associated throughout the ages with bloodshed.
``The Grieving Olive Tree"
After the Babylonians destroyed the Second Temple, there was widespread
grief and mourning throughout
the country. To demonstrate their extreme grief, all the trees of the
shed their leaves. After the trees were
bare, they noticed that the olive tree -- which is by nature an evergreen --
still retained its leaves.
Representatives of the trees approached the olive tree and asked ``Why
don't you shed your leaves in grief
over the destruction of the Temple?" The olive tree responded: ``You, my
brothers, show your grief on the outside
for all to see. My grief will be carried within for all times." And so it
that each year the olive tree eats away at
itself in grief and sorrow until it is nothing more than a hollow strip of
``How the Katlav Tree Came to Be"
One day a young shepherd became embroiled in an argument with his
over the affections of a young
woman. Words were said on both sides as tempers flared. Suddenly, in anger
the shepherd raised the staff in his
hand and struck his father, killing him. In shock, the son threw the blood
stained staff to the ground, where it
Sacred trees and groves are scattered throughout Israel. Many of these
trees are quite old, and many folk
tales have arisen concerning their origins as well as their special powers.
The first story concerns a sacred grove in the Galilee village of
Peki'in. On the outskirts of the village is a
cave and ancient carob tree that is connected to the talmudic sage Rabbi
Shimon Bar Yochai and his son. According
to legend, the pair were nourished by the fruit of the tree and a magical
spring of water while they hid from the
Romans. Christian residents of the area also associate the grove with the
sons of Jacob, and therefore refer to it as
the carob trees of Bnei Ya'acov.
The second story takes place on Mt. Carmel. On this mountain there is
ancient grove of oak trees sacred
to the Druse. According to tradition, there was an assembly here of 40
prophets. The following story takes place
during World War I, when Turkish authorities were cutting down large numbers
of trees throughout the country as
fuel for their steam engines.
``The Carob Trees of Bnei Ya'acov"
It is told that the men of Ras-Abad collected a head tax from the
residents of Peki'in, and every year they
would come and take away for themselves one of the young girls of the
One year it was the turn of one particular girl, and the tax collectors
arrived at the door of her home, which
was next to the grove of carobs. The young girl hesitated and then she fled
through the window and hid among the
dense growth of trees. When the tax collectors noticed that she fled, they
chased after her.
When the young girl saw her pursuers approaching near, she raised up
voice in prayer to God that she
would be saved from these strangers and she asked that the carob trees
Her prayer was answered: The branches of the carobs suddenly sprouted
flames that burned anyone that
tried to get near the girl. The flames also pursued the rest of the tax
collectors and burned their clothing and their
bodies. They fled far away from the village.
From then on, thanks to the carobs of the sons of Jacob, this tax was
``Grove of the 40"
One day the Turkish overseer cast his eyes on the Grove of the 40. He
yelled to his Druse workers to cut
down the trees, but they refused. Angrily he summoned the Turkish soldiers
and ordered them to cut down the trees,
but they also refused.
Dismissing the fears of the workers and soldiers, the overseer decided
to demonstrate his courage in this
regard. He grabbed an ax and approached one of the trees. Raising the mighty
ax he took aim at the tree. However,
as the ax neared the tree his arm withered and became useless. Thus the
Michael Brown, a school librarian in Marlboro, N.J., is the author of
the ``Jewish Gardening Cookbook.''
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