Deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see, today, where the Lorax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lorax away.
One page into Dr. Seuss’s timeless classic and Jewish symbolism is abundant. The presumed gravesite of the Lorax, protector (creator?) of the trees, is surrounded by stones. In the animated movie adapted from the book, the Lorax and forest creatures bring stones to surround tree stumps after they have been cut in vain. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, small stones are placed at grave sites and when we bring these tangible stones and roll them around in our fingers, we can still feel our loved one; we can still feel the impact that has been made on this life.
The Lorax is often mentioned when we talk about Tu Bishvat, the New Year of the Trees, the Jewish holiday associated with environmental conservation. In Genesis, Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden to “keep it and watch over it.” And the value of bal tashchit, “do not destroy,” has become the Jewish earth day anthem. The book absolutely teaches us that trees are sacred, but if we look deeper there is so much more.
My mother-in-law died when my husband was a teenager. She didn’t get the opportunity to help him set up his college dorm room, choose a major, or watch him fall in love. I never met her but my husband says her smile would light up a room and he could sit and talk with her for hours.
When we found out we were pregnant with our first son, we flew from our home in Ohio to the beautiful Jewish cemetery in Oregon where she is buried. The sun was shining brightly and a crisp breeze welcomed us to that carefully tended plot of land. As we sat down hand-in-hand in the fresh grass my husband–before her as a grown man, a husband and soon to be a father–told her we were expecting and then told me how happy she would have been to be a grandmother. We placed three small stones at her gravesite that afternoon, one for him, one for me, and one for our unborn son: her first grandchild.
Our beautiful firstborn son was circumcised and given his Hebrew name on the eighth day of life surrounded by friends and family. The ancient Israelites buried their foreskins (orlah) and blood of the circumcision in earth. A beautiful modern-day tradition is to bury the orlah under the roots of a young tree, then harvest branches from the tree for the child’s chuppah (marriage canopy). Because we were moving, and continue to move throughout my husband’s medical training, we didn’t want to leave this part of our son behind. Instead his orlah was buried in Oregon at the grave of his paternal grandmother–in a place where there would always be someone to “keep it and watch over it.”
This past weekend, just days before we celebrate Tu Bishvat, my husband again traveled to Oregon and found himself kneeling at his mother’s grave. In one hand he held the orlah of our second son who was circumcised last year on his eighth day. This sacred fruit was buried at the top center of the grave–in the place closest to her heart, the same place his brother’s orlah was buried not three years ago.
And in his other hand my husband held five rocks he collected from our yard in Pennsylvania. He rolled them around in his fingers, a tangible reminder of his mother’s life, love, values, and morals forever imprinted on his heart. He placed those five smooth stones on her headstone. One for him, one for me, one for each of our sons…
And one for our baby girl, her first granddaughter, who will be born in the spring.
In his mother’s absence we realize that being a parent is truly the most important and wondrous role you will ever play in life, and in death. Her connection to the Jewish people was a seed planted in history and passed on through her son to her grandchildren. Her earthly remains are forever intertwined with the sacred fruits of her grandsons, their Jewish identities never to be destroyed.
Keep them and watch over them.
Here’s a reminder to us all as Jewish parents this Tu Bishvat, thanks to The Lorax: “You’re in charge of the last of the Truffala Seeds. And Truffala Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Truffla. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends, may come back.”