God planted an olive tree between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal.
A dove had snatched an olive from a farmer’s cart, and dropped it in her flight over Shekhem. It landed in a quiet corner of the valley.
The seed nestled into the earth, and began its silent, invisible unfolding, sending roots into the deep, until the seedling poked above the ground, and grew into a sapling. It stretched up, blending light from above with water from below to build itself, cell by cell. Slowly, slowly, its trunk hardened, its branches spread, and in the seventh year, it began to bring forth fruit.
Years turned to decades, decades to centuries. The tree’s dense trunk gained girth and grew gnarled and knotted. Each year its branches became heavy with olives, and then gradually shed them, scattering fruit for the animals to eat and assist in the tree’s task of spreading its seed. The young shoots took root. As time went on, a modest grove had grown along the foot of the hill. The trees stood together through the sandstorms and rainfalls, the parched desert winds and the occasional dusting of snow.
One summer a young man was walking through the valley and he stumbled across the grove. He sat in the tree’s shade and ran his hands over its bark, and a few days later he was back with water and strange implements of a hard, shiny material the tree had never known before. The man’s sweat dripped down his beard and the locks of hair by his ears as he trimmed and watered. The tree could not know what he was doing, but when the man left, it felt lighter, healthier, more alive.
It could not have been a week before another young man came across the grove, from the other side of the hill. His skin was darker, and a checkered scarf was tied around his neck. He also ran his hands along the tree’s bark, and plucked a sample of its leaves. He, too, was back soon with water and implements similar to the one the other man had brought, and he began to work on the other trees in the grove.
For months, unbeknownst to one another, the men came to care for the trees. It was the day after the first rain when they finally met. The man with the beard was resting in the shade of the father tree when the other man approached. Their eyes met, and both of them froze. For a moment, neither of them moved. The man with the beard discreetly slid his hand towards a lump of hard black on his hip. But the other man said something, nodding towards the trees.
Neither the tree nor the man with the beard understood the words, but something in their tone made the man relax his grip on the lump. He stood, slowly and carefully, and said other words, different words, that neither the tree nor the man with the scarf could understand. But something in their tone made the man with the scarf smile. And soon the two men were walking through the grove together, pointing to the trees and saying more words.
They continued visiting the grove from either side of the hill. Sometimes they worked alone, but sometimes they met. And when they did, they smiled and helped each other with their work. They clapped each other on the back and laughed, and they embraced before parting.
The rainy season was beginning in earnest, and the tree’s branches were heavy, heavier than they had been in many years. The tree waited for the young men to relieve it of its burden.
But one day a group of other young men came across the grove, and began to harvest the olives. And the next day, another group came. The tree could tell that they were different; one spoke in the words of the man with the beard, and one in the words of the man with the scarf.
And when the day came that both groups arrived at the same time, the tree expected that they would greet one another and work together to reap the fruits of their labor, as the first two young men had done.
But that is not what happened.
There was shouting, and noise, and scuffling. And those sharp implements that the tree had only known to care for it and its offspring were swung, scattering bark and leaves and blood. There was fire.
And that tree, the tree planted by God hundreds of years ago between Mt. Grizim and Mt. Ebal, was hacked in half, its trunk cracked and split down the middle, its great crown of olive branches crashing to the ground.
Men in uniforms came to pull the fighting men apart. They tied some of them up and dragged them away, and the others fled to either side of the hill.
The rain fell in a great torrent, putting out the flames with a hiss of steam.
And when the rain subsided, two men made their way to the grove from either side of the hill. One with a beard, and one with a scarf. They met there in silence, and stared out over the stump of the tree they had both cared for so tenderly.
They turned to one another and fell into each other’s arms and wept.