Next week we will mark Tu Bi’Shvat — the 15th of the month of Shvat. Known as “The Birthday of the Trees,” its meaning and purpose, like so much in Judaism, has evolved over time.
In antiquity, Tu Bi’Shvat was used to determine the age of trees for both economic and religious purposes.
In the 16th century, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, a central figure in the development of Jewish mysticism, began holding a Tu Bi’Shvat seder and viewed the day through the lens of Kabbalah.
When the State of Israel was established, Tu Bi’Shvat became an important symbol of the early Zionist commitment to “make the desert bloom.” It is no accident that Israel was the only country to enter the 21st century having seen a net increase in trees during the prior 100 years.
And in our day, Tu Bi’Shvat has taken on an even greater urgency as part of our Jewish commitment to environmentalism.
This year, however, I see Tu Bi’Shvat as a reminder of our interconnectedness. It is a day to remember that we are part of, rather than above or separate from, the rest of nature and that what we do has impact, potentially long term impact, on the world around us. That message becomes increasingly urgent each year as we see the planet become warmer (a recent report concluded that the last seven years have been the warmest on record) and as we see more and more weather events suggesting that climate disruption is already upon us.
Tu Bi’Shvat is an annual wake-up call reminding us that what we do today has serious implications for tomorrow. Sadly, such a message seems out of step in a world where far too many people only seem to care about themselves and what they can and cannot do in the moment. After all, if we can’t convince others to take steps to protect themselves and their neighbors today (is it really too much to ask people to wear a mask in the middle of a pandemic?), how can we expect them to consider how their actions will impact those who come after us? But, according to Judaism, that is exactly what we need to do.
And, as a Midrash from two thousand years ago makes clear, this is not a new lesson. The Midrash teaches,
After God finished creation, and breathed into Adam the breath of life, God gave Adam a tour of the Garden of Eden.
God said, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are — how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it after you.”
Tu Bi’Shvat may be the Birthday of the Trees, but it is also a reminder of our role in planting seeds of kindness, equality and inclusion today that will yield fruit for those who come after us.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
Dvar Acher: Another Thing….
Celebrating Tu Bi’Shvat reminds us that we are all connected to one another and that we rely on one another to stay healthy and to keep our community strong. Here are two opportunities to make a real difference right now!
January is National Blood Donor Month and the Red Cross has declared a blood emergency due to a historically low supply, partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One donation can potentially save up to three lives.
To find a blood donation center near you follow this link: https://www.redcrossblood.org
Another way you can make a difference is by eating locally. With the uptick in COVID-19 cases many local restaurants and businesses are once again struggling. Please consider supporting our neighbors during this uncertain time.