So there’s this tree.
It’s not far from my home – about 5 minutes’ drive, allowing for some moderate traffic. In the 15 years I have been living here, I never really noticed it. Perhaps it’s because it never blossomed like this, or perhaps it’s because it’s in a neighborhood I don’t really have anything to do with.
You see, for years, the city of Beit Shemesh has been riven with internecine quarrels about the religious nature, social fabric, and political future of the city. Each of three major population groups feels that at least one of the other ones is threatening to impose its way of life. And in some cases, that is true. And the result is generally either one of friction, or one of “never the ‘twain shall meet.”
I generally prefer the latter when it is possible. I have my own views, which I confess are often none too kind to some of the residents, groups, leaders, and “community organizers” of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. I have my own way of considering the reasons that may motivate the behavior of those residents, groups, leaders and community organizers, and those views are open to debate and discussion.
“…for years, the city of Beit Shemesh has been riven with internecine quarrels…”
But I generally keep those views as just that – views, general opinions that may or may not have some basis in actual reality.
Over the past two weeks, I have noticed this tree. It is growing right in the middle of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. It is a block away from the main street in the neighborhood, and easily discernable from the bus window as I pass by twice a day. I had never really noticed it before. And once I did notice it, I also noticed three other trees of the same type in various other locations in the city.
Today I took my camera and went to get a closer look at this tree. I began taking pictures of it from various different angles – all on the sidewalks at various distances, some from across the street, some from down the block.
As often happens when there is an event that is out of the routine in the neighborhood, half the kids on the block came to see what was going on. One of them got up the nerve to ask me, “Why are you taking pictures?” I responded that I thought the tree was very beautiful. He asked me again. I answered, “G-d put such beauty right here, why shouldn’t I take pictures of it.” The kid thought for a moment, and then said to me quite honestly, “I am really impressed that you put it that way.”
More kids came to look. Then an adult came over, long black coat, black hat, side curls down past his chin, and asked me the same question – to which I gave the same answer. He then said, “You know, that really is a beautiful tree. But it’s much nicer if you get it from above.”
I said that I had no way of photographing it from above, and that I wasn’t about to go asking the neighbors for permission to use their balconies. He invited me to use his balcony, just across the street. As I accompanied him to his apartment, I mentioned that I had never seen these trees blossoming like they are now.
He told me that in all the years he has been living here, the tree has always just remained green, and has never been so completely covered in yellow as it is now. Apparently, this happens about once in a decade or so.
“I began taking pictures of it from various different angles…”
We went out onto the balcony, where I was greeted with smiles from his wife and four children. And as I stood on the ledge inside the railing to get a good shot, I felt a small tug on my pants leg. I looked down, into the face of a beautiful baby boy who could barely walk. He was yanking on my leg with a smile mixed with curiosity on his face. I said hello to him very cheerfully, and was rewarded with a huge grin.
After I took a few pictures and thanked the man and his wife, I drove home, pondering what had just transpired. And I thought of all the times I have been so critical of the residents of “Bet”, feeling threatened – often justifiably so – by their actions, their vociferous opposition to different ways of life, their borderline violence.
And then I thought of the tree. “Eitz Chaim Hee Lamachazikim Bah” – the Torah is a tree of life to those who cling to it. It blossoms only rarely, but when it does, we must take our guidance from its beauty – and its wisdom. With all the “just green” in the world, we must be able to notice the colorful blossoms when they do appear.
This tree was a lesson to me, and the guy in the apartment across the street drove it home. He was right about one other thing too. The different angle made for a much better picture.
Tzivia / צִיבְיָה
[photo credit: Yehuda Poch]