Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from ReformJudaism.org, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.
A man wandering the desert grows thirsty, tired, and hungry, but for miles, all he sees around him is sand. Finally, he comes upon an oasis: a puddle right next to a big, lush tree. After relaxing for a bit, he gathers some branches for building fires and fruit to sustain him for the rest of his journey. Before he leaves, he wants to offer the tree a blessing in return for what the tree has given him. What kind of blessing can he leave for a tree that is already tall, grounded, and lush? Rabbi Marc Katz of Congregation Beth Elohim retells the classic story. For a written version, see “How Shall I Bless You?” in The Essential Jewish Stories collected, annotated, and retold by Seymour Rossel.
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Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast from ReformJudaism.org. Every week we share a story to give you something to think about. And this week, Rabbi Mark Katz from Congregation Beth Elohim shares the story of How to Give a Blessing.
A story is told about a man who one day is wandering in the desert and he realizes that he's growing thirsty and tired and hungry. But all he sees around him is sand. So as he keeps walking further and further he sees in the distance that there is an oasis and he moves faster and faster until he sees that there's a puddle and above that puddle is a big lush tree. And the man's so tired, sits underneath that tree. He rests on its trunk. He smells the beautiful fragrant scent of the tree, reaching up every once in a while to grab a little bit of fruit. He hears the sound of the trees rustling in the wind, and he thinks to himself how happy and how content he is.
So he sits there for a while until he realizes he must move on. And he gathers a few branches which he knows that he can carry with him to make a fire. And he takes with him some fruit that will give him sustenance on his journey. But on the way out he thinks to himself that he wants to give the tree a gift that the tree gave to him. And he realizes that the only thing he has to offer is a blessing. And so he thinks to himself, "Well, maybe I'll bless the tree that it will grow tall."
But he looks up and he sees that the tree is already tall. And then he thinks, "Maybe I'll ask that the roots go deep." But he sees as the wind rustles the tree and the tree doesn't stir and he knows that already the roots are deep and have found the water below. So then he thinks, "Maybe I'll ask that this tree grow lush." But looking at these branches and at these leaves and as the fruit appears above him he knows that the tree is already lush.
So he's wracking his brain trying to figure it out. And as he's gathering up his stuff to go, thinking to himself that he'll never find a blessing good enough for the tree, something occurs to him. The perfect blessing for the tree. And he looks up and he says to the tree: "May you produce seeds that will scatter around, moving to each corner of the Earth. And that will grow into a tree just like you."
After hearing the story of How to Give a Blessing from Rabbi Mark Katz, we're wondering if you've ever thought about how you might give a blessing, maybe even to a person. If you want to share that with us, we'd love to hear about it on social media. You can find us on Facebook at facebook.com/ReformJudaism and on Twitter our handle is @ReformJudaism. Thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story rate and review us on iTunes, but only if you enjoyed it. And you can always find new episodes every Thursday on ReformJudaism.org. Don't forget you can go there to learn more about Jewish rituals, culture, holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitraot!