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"The Tree of the Field is a Person"

Einat Kramer
January 25, 2016

Almond in bloom Photo: Arie Tenenbaum from PikiWiki  web site

Jewish sustainable celebration of Trees

Wouldn’t we all wish to be like a tree?  Familiar with the soil we are planted in; possessing fresh foliage and firm roots that withstand strong winds?

As the world becomes faster and more interconnected, Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish "Birthday for Trees" - celebrated this year on January 25th - invites us to stop and observe. Where have we put down our roots? What is the culture that they are growing in? How does our landscape and environment form our identity? Where do we want to raise our children?

The Mishnah describes our roots as an expression of our values in action. According to the Mishnah if we want to strengthen our roots we must reinforce our knowledge with actions. As part of this concept we can celebrate Tu B’Shvat as a day to deepen our environmental activities. Whether we choose to spend our time planting new trees or caring for old ones, taking action to reduce our consumption, spend time volunteering in the community or launching a new social action project – we will not only deepen our roots but enjoy a healthy and sustainable environment.


Citrus fruit Photo Yefet Cohen from PikiWiki website

Tu B’Shvat – the social aspect:

Tu B’Shvat first appears in Chapter 1 of the Mishnah, in Rosh Hashanah tractate. According to Beit Hillel Tu B’Shvat was the date used to distinguish which fruits were grown in the past year and those grown in the coming one, for the purpose of tithe – donation of one tenth of the produce to the poor.

This date was created as a result of the ancient Israelites observations of nature, as they noticed the changing seasons.

They noted that most of the winter rains had already fallen halfway through the Jewish month of Shvat, and the fresh fruits had begun to grow. Hence, they chose it to mark the boundaries between the current fruits and those of next year’s crop.

 

Tu B'Shvat – the spiritual aspect:

Over the last two millennia the social aspect of the festival was forgotten and preserved only within the Ashkenazi tradition as a date forbidden to fast and to eat plenty of fruit.

In the 16th century Tsfat spiritualists and Kabbalists revived the concept of a Tu B’Shvat ‘Seder’ – a festive Tu B’Shvat meal where 30 different fruits would be eaten and blessings recited within a specific order. For the Kabbalists the Seder emphasizes the spiritual aspect of nature, seeing man as a partner in the act of creation and its daily renewal, who is able to repair the world through his or her actions.

Tu B'Shvat – a national aspect:

With the beginning of the Zionist enterprise Tu B'Shvat once again evolved, gaining a new practical significance – becoming the day when children from across the country plant trees, putting down their roots figuratively and taking an active part in its building and blossoming.

 Photo The Religious Kibbutz Movement Archive from WikiPiki site

Tu B'Shvat– the international aspect:

In recent years, with our growing awareness of a worsening global ecological crisis Tu B’shvat has taken on a new significance as Jewish "Earth Day".

Many Jewish communities around the world have chosen Tu B’Shvat as a time for ecological introspection and acknowledging that the destruction of nature does nothing but cut through the branch on which we sit. Tu B’Shvat allows us to take action to create a balanced world where nature and man co-exists in harmony.

Tu B'Shvat – the personal aspect:

Today Tu Bishvat is a special day uniquely combining tradition, history, spirituality, mysticism social action, Zionism and environmentalism. We all have the right - and the obligation- to pour our own personal values into this celebration, as we fuse our heritage with the current modern Israeli version of Arbor Day.

 Overlooking Adolam.Photo Dov Greenblat SPNI

So what can you do to celebrate?

Plant a fruit tree: celebrate the traditional way. Just remember a tree is for life not just for Tu B’Shvat! Give it a few years and with the right care you enjoy its fruit at your own Tu B’Shvat Seder.

Make your own Tu B’Shvat Seder:  download a Seder ceremony composed by “Teva Ivri “and invite your friends over to celebrate. You are more than welcome to join one of the Tu B’shvat Seders  organized by SPNI in several locations such as Alon Tavor, the Beit- Ussishkin museum at Kibbutz Dan, and more.

Get out and enjoy nature, wherever you are:  And if you’re lucky enough to live in Israel, SPNI has many activities planned, including our traditional tree planting and guided hikes around Modi’in, attended by thousands. If you live abroad look out for details of activities in your area.

Respect the elderly (trees): every tree has its own story and some trees in your neighborhood may be hundreds of years old. Tu B’Shvat is a great opportunity to do some of your own research and discover your neighborhood’s natural history. What you might find may surprise you.

Protect the environment:  the environment is much more than just trees; you can volunteer in a conservation project by your local organizations, join one of the many action-oriented campaigns spearheaded by SPNI, or support SPNI’s all year round nature protection work.

Happy Holidays!

Category: Our Global Community