All the Creatures Pray for a Fruitful Harvest

Tu B’Shvat, 5778 / 2018
Sarah Yehudit Schneider

All the trees of the field (שִֹיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה) did not yet exist on the earth, and all the wild plants had not yet sprouted. This was because God had not brought rain on the earth, and there was no man to work the ground.
וְכֹל | שִֹיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ וְכָל-עֵשֶֹב הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִצְמָח כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר יְי ﭏהִים עַל-הָאָרֶץ וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה
SIACH HASADEH (TREES OF THE FIELD) …[Gen 2:5.] The trees converse with each other. The trees converse with mankind. Trees were created to benefit the world…The focus of creature talk is the earth: “Is the land working [and producing its crop]…or not?” The focus of creature prayer is the earth: “My Master! Let the earth yield [it fruit]. Let the earth prosper!” The focus of Israel’s prayers are the Temple: “My Master! Let the Temple be rebuilt! When, at last, will the Temple be rebuilt?” [GR 13:2] וְכֹל | שִֹיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה…: כל האילנות כאילו משיחין אלו עם אלו. כל האילנות כאלו משיחין עם הבריות. כל האילנות להנאתן של בריות נבראו… כל שיחתן של בריות אינה אלא על הארץ: עבדת ארעא? לא עבדת? וכל תפלתן של בריות אינה אלא על הארץ. מרי תעביד ארעא. מרי תצליח ארעא. כל תפלתן של ישראל אינו אלא על ב״ה. מרי יתבני בית מקדשא. מרי מתי יתבני בית מקדשא

There are several words for tree in Hebrew.  Most notably eitz/עץ (which appears numerous times in the Torah (and is the only term for tree employed until this verse).  Why does the Torah use a more obscure synonym—siach—at this point.

The letters comprising the word, siach / שיח  / tree, are the same letters as the word for speech, conversation, prayer and meditation. It might be that these two share a common root…or not. Yet the fact that they’re spelled alike, means they are intimately related either way.

Furthermore, the context of this verse (about trees), is already connected to prayer. Another midrash explains that the reason it had not yet rained is because there was not yet an Adam to pray for rain.[1] And so, in the very next verses G-d remedies that problem by creating Adam.

Our midrash plays on this web of associations and concludes that the Torah employs the word siach to teach that these stately timbers do, in fact, have a social life—that they “converse” with each and with the world around them.[2] This is certainly a scientific fact, recently proven by forest researchers.[3] They have shown that the underground tangle of roots and fungal threads function like a world wide web that weaves the forest into a single organism. Information about each plant’s wellbeing circulates through the system, and draws support in the form of chemical nutrients offered by the “haves” and borrowed by the have nots. It’s a “you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours” kind of world beneath the forest floor—with both competition and cooperation in full swing.

And so our midrash describes how the trees work together, and plot together, to serve the creatures of the world. Every food-chain (with the rarest of exceptions) depends upon the plant kingdom. If our photosynthesizing friends would cease, the food supply would collapse and life on this planet would end in starvation.

And so, says our midrash, the main focus of creature talk and prayer is that the earth should yield its produce—a multitude of fruits and growing things—so that there’s plenty of food to go around. And really, this is HaShem’s “prayer” too, for the Talmud informs us that one of HaShem’s most difficult tasks (so to speak)—one out of two—is to provide each creature with its rations.

It’s is as difficult for HaShem to pair a man with his sustenance as it was for Him to part the Reed Sea.[4]
קשין מזונותיו של אדם כקריעת ים סוף

We pray with our mouths and we pray with our feet (so to speak).[5]  Our investments of time, money and energy express our desire for certain things, which is precisely what’s conveyed by our prayer requests. The fact that man, beast and plant alike spend much of their days gathering provisions (directly or indirectly) amounts to one giant planetary prayer for a bountiful earth.

“Hashem, please, Let the earth yield [it fruit]. HaShem, please, let the earth prosper!”
מרי תעביד ארעא. מרי תצליח ארעא

Yet the Midrash says that Israel prays for that and more. As members of the world community (בריות) we pray for a bountiful earth. Yet as members of Kenesset Yisrael we pray (with mouths and feet) for the Temple which, say commentators, is the mystical meaning behind the two words that prompted our midrash: שיח השדה – siyach (tree/prayer/meditation) and sadeh (field).

Since the Temple was destroyed there is no day without a curse, the dew does not descend for blessing, flavor has departed from the fruits…they [the fruits] have lost their power to nourish …taste and fragrance is gone from them…[TB Sota 48a]

The Temple—built from the Cedars of Lebanon (שיחין) in the field of Mt. Moriah (שדה)—is the place where heaven touches earth, making it the most powerful spot for prayer (שיח) on the planet.[6] It’s the umbilicus that connects our physical world with the Infinite Light. However one conceives of the Temple—whether as something local or diffuse[7]—its whole point (and power) is to pull the world into line with G-d’s harmonious vision for it.  When the Temple returns, the channels of bounty will open full throttle.

The Torah calls Adam an eitz hasadeh, a tree of the field. Our midrash suggests that Adam (meaning the human kingdom) is a very special tree…a praying tree…a siach hasadeh, whose prayers are absolutely potent (and necessary) for a bountiful harvest.  Yet it takes one to know one—it takes a siach hasadeh (an Adam) to know and yearn for the collective siach hasedeh (ie, the holy Temple) and the paradigm shift of bounty that it will bring.

In that time there will be neither famine nor war, envy or competition.  Good will flow in abundance and all delights [including fruits and nourishing things] will be [as common] as dust.[8]

As the Kohen Gadol would pray after completing his Temple service at the close of the Yom Kippur:

May it be your will, HaShem, regarding this coming year that…if it must be hot, let it be rainy…and let the trees of the field bring forth their bounty.[9] And, guided by our Midrash, let us add a plea that the Temple (with all the bounty that it brings) be revived this year.

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[1] TB Chullin 60b; Rashi on Bereshit 2:3.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrrSAc-vjG4  “What do plants talk about.”

[3] Suzanne Simard: https://www.ted.com/talks/suzanne_simard_how_trees_talk_to_each_other

[4] TB Pesachim 118a.  The other “difficult task” is to match marriage partners.

[5] R. Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu, vol 3, p. 68, ot alef.

[6] Eitz Yosef on GR 13:2.

[7] See the Still Small Voice Illustrated Video Teachings on Tisha B’Av for a short explanation of this idea: http://astillsmallvoice.org/video-teachings/holiday-teachings-video-series/

[8] Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:5.

[9] This is greatly excerpted and only includes those requests that are related to the subject at hand. I did notice that it seems (perhaps) to anticipate the problem of global warming.

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