For Diaspora Jews, there are four blessings that are each said a maximum of once each year. They include the blessings for candle-lighting on Yom Kippur Eve, before the ritual of searching one’s home for Chametz on the night before Passover, a blessing unique to the Tisha B’Av afternoon Amidah, and – my favorite – Birkat Ha-Ilanot, recited when one first sees fruit trees in blossom each Spring (ideally during the month of Nisan; in practice, whenever the local climate permits).

The blessing praises God “Who has withheld nothing from His world, and has created therein beautiful creatures and beautiful trees for human beings to enjoy.”

With this one, annual blessing, we acknowledge our indebtedness to God as Creator, we gratefully celebrate the bounty and beauty of nature, we marvel at the variety of flora and fauna among which we live, we recognize that God’s Creation provides every resource human beings require if we would but use and allocate those resources wisely… and – distinguishing Judaism from more ascetic and dour religious traditions – we assert quite unambiguously that it is God’s will – indeed, God’s sacred trust – that we derive pleasure from the world around us!

Birkat Ha-Ilanot is a worthy primer on the Jewish approach to bio-diversity and environmental ethics…

… for the budding theologian

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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