Exploring Etz Chayim with Kavanna BaShanah!


Kavanna BaShanah has gotten off to a great start and we wanted to
share our experience with the rest of our Camp Ramah family! You can
have these conversations at home, too. Below is an outline for a
discussion you can have with your friends and family based on our
Kavanna BaShanah program. Consider exploring these talking points at
your dinner table, on Shabbat, or any other time that you can get
together. We have had a great time so far talking about Etz Chayim
(Tree of Life) and we think you will too!

There is a line in the Torah that says “Ki ha’adam etz hasadeh,” “are
people like trees of the field?” (Deuteronomy 20:19, see full verse below)
In what ways are people like trees?

Got an idea? Great, now let’s use those similarities to get to know
each other better.

Learn about your loved ones in new ways by answering some of these
questions based on some commonalities that we came up with between
people and trees. (Feel free to add your own questions as well!)

  • What are your roots?
  • What are your branches reaching for?
  • What do you give to others?
  • What nourishes you?

One thing that people and trees have in common is that we support each
other: people breathe in the oxygen that trees give off, and trees use
up the carbon dioxide that we breathe out. What other ways might
people and trees be dependent on each other?

We find one example of this pretty early on in the Torah. According to
the story of Breisheet (creation), people were given the job of
“guarding the land.” [God took Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden
to work the land and to protect it. Genesis 2:15]

According to Kohelet Rabbah (a collection of Midrash, or rabbinic
interpretation of the Tanakh), when God created Adam and Eve, God took
them and led them around all of the trees of the Garden of Eden, and
said to them “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are!
Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit.  Be careful
that you do not ruin and destroy My world; for if you destroy it there
is no one to repair it after you.”

Some questions to consider:

  • According to the Midrash, what is our job as people?
  • What does it mean that “there is no one to repair it after you?”
  • What are some ways in which we might do this job? What might prevent
  • us from doing this job?

Below is a sampling of three different verses from the Torah (two of
which we have referenced already) that represent different ways that
Jews have traditionally tried to do this job. Read them, and pick one.
Which is most meaningful or interesting to you? Why?

If there is disagreement in your family or among your friends, have a
debate. Defend your chosen text. Consider making an advertising
“pitch.” Listen to the arguments made, as well. Which was the most
convincing and why?

Guiding questions to think about while you read the texts and for you
to discuss once you have chosen:

  • How does your chosen text help us not to ruin or destroy the world?
  • What is a modern thing that you do in your life to protect the environment?
  • What is something we do at camp or can do at camp to fulfill what your
  • text ways we should do?

Stay tuned for the next edition of our Etz Chayim conversation!

We would love to hear about your conversations! Consider joining us at
future “Kavanna” sessions! To join the Kavanna BaShanah family, be in
touch with Rami (ramis@campramahne.org) or Ariella


The Torah verses

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 20:19

“When you capture a city and put it under siege, in making war against
it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by cutting them down
with an axe; for you can eat the fruit from them, but you may not cut
them down. Is this tree of the field a person, that you should besiege
it as well?”

In other words, when you go to war with people, you cannot destroy or
harm the trees.

 Breisheet 2:15

“God took Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work the land and
to protect it.”

In other words, people have an important job in the world: to work and
protect the earth.

Exodus 23:10-11

“For 6 years you should work the land and gather its produce, but on
the 7th year you should let it rest (don’t harvest it). The poor can
come and pick the foods of your fields, and what they leave will be
for the animals. You should do the same for your vineyards (grapes)
and olive groves.”

In other words, it is important to give our land that grows our food a
break, a Shabbat of its own. During that time, anything that grows
naturally doesn’t belong to you, but should go to feeding the poor.


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