I went into the garden to pray; I feel among my betters there too. The plants breathe into the words, then the birds carry them on their wings and with their songs.
I was struck by the sight of this apple tree, its fruit in perfect time for the New Year’s blessing. People may remember; I bought that tree in memory of the three daughters of Dr Abuelaish, killed in their home in the Gaza war. I planted it not to take political sides, but out of sorrow; I planted it because amidst the deaths it felt essential to side with life.
Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish spoke last year in my community. Afterwards, though it was already dark, he asked me to show him that tree, which he photographed for his other children. It felt as if we prayed together there, calling on the God of life.
‘Life’: if there is one word stressed above all others in the long liturgy of the New Year it’s the single syllable, ‘life’. ‘Choose life’, the Torah demands. God is ‘the living God’ who ‘loves life,’ ‘remembers us for life,’ and whom we ask to ‘write us in the book of life’.
Yesterday I wrote about hesed, loving-kindness; it’s the natural expression of the longing to cherish life, to nurture, tend, listen, care and heal. In these acerbic and divisive times, life can be assured and enhanced only by healing, not by more anger and hate. It was surely this generous and instinctive insight which led Dr Abuelaish to title the book he wrote in the wake of his tragedy I Shall Not Hate:
We need to reach each other by embracing one another’s realities, sending messages of tolerance rather than intolerance and healing instead of hate.
Healing is what the vast majority of people want, even in the midst of conflict. Rushing his other wounded to children to hospital – in Israel – Dr Abuelaish reached the Sheba hospital
to an enormous show of support from the staff I’d worked with, as well as passionate blessings from Arab, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian people…
‘Hatred’, he concluded, ‘is an illness. It prevents healing and peace.’
We need healing in every dimension of our lives. It’s impossible to live, have a heart, be a rabbi, for even a day without being aware of life’s cruel injustices. I often wish that there existed some power or means to take the wounds out of each other’s hearts. But I know we can offer only companionship, understanding and prayers that life will breathe a wind of healing over the sores in our souls.
Amidst the acrimony of Brexit and similar divisions afflicting other societies, we need to try to comprehend and not just condemn. What does life feel like for ‘them’, whoever our ‘them’ might be?
Most of all, we must act and pray for the world’s healing, so that apple trees can grow in gardens and songbirds peck at the fruit.
We must be on the side of life.