The Souls of Trees in Judaism

Jewish sensitivity to nature has existed for centuries

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This item is translated by Howard Schwartz and is reprinted with permission from Trees, Earth,and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society).

Reb Nachman was once traveling with his Hasidim by carriage, and as it grew dark they came to an inn, where they spent the night. During the night Reb Nachman began to cry out loudly in his sleep, waking everyone up in the inn, all of whom came running to see what happened.

souls of treesWhen he awoke, the first thing Reb Nachman did was to take out a book he had brought with him. Then he closed his eyes and opened the book and pointed to a passage. And there it was written "Cutting down a tree before its time is like killing a soul."

Then Reb Nachman asked the innkeeper if the walls of that inn had been built out of saplings cut down before their time. The innkeeper admitted that this was true, but how did the rabbi know? 

Reb Nachman said: "All night I dreamed I was surrounded by the bodies of those who had been murdered. I was very frightened. Now I know that it was the souls of the trees that cried out to me."

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) was a Hassidic leader who lived in the late 18th century in Podolia and the Ukraine. He was a great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov.