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“The Connection Between Death, Devastation, and Trees,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

January 26, 2024 | 16 Sh’vat 5784

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

This Shabbat brings together what might seem like opposing concepts.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day occurs on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz/Birkenau death camps. The United Nations established this commemoration for the world community to remember and recognize the devastation and death wrought upon the Jewish community.

Jewish tradition marks the middle day of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat, when the moon is full and the earth seems barren of growth, as a new year for trees. We might liken it to a Jewish Arbor Day. We are celebrating it this Shabbat (though the actual date was this past Thursday).

The book of Deuteronomy (20:19) provides this instruction:

When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?

Our Torah teaches that we should save the trees, especially the ones which provide food, from the devastation of war.

We are living in a time of war. Our memory of the Holocaust reminds us of the precarious nature of existence. Devastation and death lurked around every corner. The air was dark and gray and hope was bleak. On this Shabbat, we remember that sadness.

On this Shabbat, we also remember that the trees even in war stood strong, even protected sometimes. Their buds produced flowers that turned into food. Their roots dug deep to secure them from the ravages above. And their branches reached toward the heavens like a prayer of hope.

We live with both this week, reminders of the different way the world turns with the paradoxical seasons of life and death, hope and despair.

The poet, Leah Goldberg, wrote this poem after a war. She saw it all right before her eyes.

“The Day After”

הַיָּרֹק הַיּוֹם יָרֹק מְאֹד.
וְהָאָפֹר הַיּוֹם אָפֹר מְאֹד.
וּקְצָת שְׁחוֹר וְאֵין לבֶֹן בָּעִיר.
וְהַנִּסְעָר הַיּוֹם נִסְעָר מְאֹד.
וְהֶעָבָר הַיּוֹם – עָבָר מְאֹד.
וּקְצָת עָתִיד. וְאֵין הוֹוֶה בָּאֲוִיר.

וְעוֹד לֹא קַל לִנְשֹׁם, וְעוֹד לֹא קַל
לַחְשׁבֹ מוּל זֶה הָרוּחַ הַנִּפְתָּל.
וּמְאֹד לֹא פָּשׁוּט לְחַכּוֹת.
הַסְּעָרָה נוֹגַעַת בָּרִיסִים,
וּמִשְׁתַּבֵּר כָּל רֶגַע לִרְסִיסִים.
אַךְ הַיָּרֹק הַיּוֹם יָרֹק מְאֹד

The green is very green today.
The gray is very gray today
There’s a little black, but no white in the city,
What is stormy is very stormy today
And the past, today, is very past.
And there’s a little future, but there’s no present in the air.

It’s still so hard to breath.
It’s still so hard to think in the face of this winding wind.
and it’s really not simple to wait.
The storm brushes against my eyes,
Every moment shatters
But the green is very green today.

All we have is the hope that the green will be very green. Today. Tomorrow. And into the future. And what lays sleeping beneath the earth on these winter days is just hope taking shape in the rebirth of spring to blossom once again.

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think here. Your email goes directly to me!


  • We gather at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat: Shabbat Shira onsite or  on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our website. In addition to enjoying this Shabbat of song, we will celebrate Tu B’Shvat and prepare for Passover, we will be planting parsley after services, so bring your green thumb!
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or online at 9:00 a.m.
  • The Tu B’Sh’vat, Environmental, REDI gathering will be held at 11:00 a.m
  • Village Playspace will be held at 3:30 onsite.  Register here.
  • Riverway Tu B’Shvat Gathering will be at 5:00 p.m. Register here
  •  We will be welcoming Jewish Bluegrass Band Jacob’s Ladder and a capella group Berkalit for a Shabbat Shira concert. 6:45 reception. 7:30 concert. Please register to attend.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.
  • Many of you received news of our beloved librarian, Ann Abrams’s retirement this June. If you are interested in  helping to plan her celebration, please let us know here

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Elaine Zecher