"From the forest itself comes the handle for the axe". This quote is originally from the Talmud and is also the opening line of the song "Chop em down" by Matisyahu, Jewish reggae singer. These words floated into my head as I hiked the Wildcat Gorge Trail in Tilden Park. The trees along this trail are spectacular, many of them lean toward the sun. They come in all shapes and sizes and on my most recent walk many of them have been uprooted from the storms.
The presence of wood was everywhere; trees, fences, fallen trees, some which had been cut into logs, some still in the same position in which they fell. I noticed some new fencing replacing the old ones. The wood looked like it had been freshly chopped the gate newly erected. I reflected for a moment on the irony of the fence possibly having been built from the wood of the trees along the trail, in order to protect those who had come to walk the trail and be in the presence of these very same trees. Additionally, the tool of destruction for these trees is also made of wood as stated in the Talmud.
It got me thinking of all the different possibilities that exist within a single resource. We each have inborn traits and personalities as well as learned ones. The different circumstances and experiences that we have lived through shape us. These can be used in a myriad of ways; they can stand tall and provide beauty, shade, even fruit or they can become a tool of destruction for ourselves or for others. They can also become the building blocks of something new, something that creates a path of where we would like our lives to lead.
We are now in a period called Sefirat Haomer, the counting of the Omer which is a daily count of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. This time is one of preparation for the receiving of the Torah which occurred on the holiday of Shavuot at Mount Sinai. For the duration of seven weeks we not only count the days but work on refining a different Mida-emotion to help us achieve spiritual maturity in order to receive the Torah. The seven Midot are: kindness, boundaries, harmony, endurance, humility, bonding and dignity. Every week focuses on one of the seven midot.
Just like the trees each one of these has the capacity to bring beauty or destruction into our lives and the lives of those around us. Even kindness must be harnessed and used properly. In this period of reflection, we have an opportunity to examine each of these qualities and how they're showing up inside of us and in our relationships with others. All of our experiences can be examined so that even the negative ones become building blocks for our future. We ask ourselves where some rectification may be needed in these areas and in this way we create a path for ourselves. This path leads us to a place where we can receive the Torah anew directly from Hashem and His Divine Will.