Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whose Woods These Are I think I know...

Rabbi Bogomilsky thought he was making a simple request – to place a eight foot menorah display among the Christmas trees which decorated the international arrival hall at the Seattle Airport. He was hoping that the airport management would be reasonable and have it up in time for Hanukkah which begins this Friday evening. He was even willing to pay for the installation. Instead of putting up the menorah, however, airport officials removed all the Christmas trees. Now the Christians are up in arms and the rabbi’s name is mud.

The Christmas tree was introduced to English high society by Prince Albert who put up an evergreen for the holidays in Windsor Castle in 1841. It had been a pre Christian German symbol, and most Christians at that time abhorred the idea of connecting the tree with Christmas. But within 10 years the fanciful custom took root in England and by the end of the 1800’s it also become an established tradition in America with Woolworths stores selling Christmas tree decorations and all.

But the question is, why did Rabbi Bogomilsky feel slighted by the tree? The evergreen (these however were plastic) and the decorative lights are really universal symbols. The Rabbi, for instance, could have seen the Christmas tree display as the Torah itself, which is referred to as the Tree of Life. The Torah is likened to the branches of a great tree spreading into the sphere of our lives, and it calls upon us to make every act an act for God. Upon seeing the tree, he could have thought, “the airport management has kindly reminded me of my connection with the Torah.”

When Buddhist see the tree, they can be reminded that the Buddha attained enlightenment sitting beneath a tree. At one point in his meditation when he was assailed by raging storms and other strange occurrences, a divine serpent arose from the roots of the Bodhi tree to protect him.

A Hindu mystic implores us to be as tolerant as a tree which patiently endures the rain and cold and heat. The Vedas also explain that one of the most pious and selfless acts is to plant a fruit tree.

Nearly a thousand years ago on this continent, the Peace Maker called for a great council by the shores of Lake Onondaga. There, he carefully uprooted a Pine tree and urged all of the warriors from the gathered tribes to throw their weapons into the hollow of the earth. Then the tree was replanted over the weapons. The tree (the Tree of the Long Leaves) became known as the Tree of Peace. Thus the Great Peace was declared and the five nations of the Iroquois was established.

Symbols of spirituality and peace from whatever tradition can surely be revered by all.


Blogger Jim Stahl said...

I enjoyed reading your story and how symbols such as trees can evoke strong emotions. Too bad this story resulted in unintended confusion. We've lived in Vanuatu for 15 years now and note how symbolic certain trees are to different Vanuatu cultures. For some, banyan trees are primary village centers where meetings are held. While other trees serve as land boundaries and have other functions. And yes, there are trees, whose branches are used for symbols of peace.

Thanks for this well-made website. I'm enjoying it.


11:46 AM  

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