Happy Tree Day! It’s Tu B’Shevat! Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month Shevat, is the New Year for Trees. It’s the Rosh Hashanah for trees. Trees have their own ‘New Year’ just as we humans do.
Trees and the environment hold a very special place in Jewish law. There are about 200 Jewish laws that are concerned with the care of the earth. This should not be completely surprising when we consider that the very first job that God assigns to Adam in the Garden of Eden is to till the earth and care for it (Genesis 2:15) In a midrash on this verse, we learn that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said to him, ‘Behold my works, see how beautiful they are!…Pay attention to it and take care of it so that you do not corrupt and destroy it; for if you corrupt it there is no one to repair it after you.’ (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:20) Indeed, it is our responsibility to keep the earth healthy and to appreciate it as a gift.
The holiday of Tu B’Shevat helps us to fulfill our obligation to care for the earth and specifically to honor trees. It is customary to eat many of the fruits that grow from ‘trees’ that live in Israel. We eat dates, figs, nuts, olives, pomegranates, and even chew on dried carob pods (which are known in Yiddish as bokser.) In this way, this holiday helps us to pause and give thanks to God for these delicious and nutritious snacks.
Most likely, this date was chosen to celebrate trees because it is at this time in Israel that saplings are planted. So it is also customary on Tu B’Shevat to plant trees, either here or in Israel. Here’s an interesting fact about how we Jews have taken this holiday to heart. Over the past century, JNF has planted over 240 million trees, making Israel the only nation in the world to end the 20th century with more trees than it had at the beginning of the century!! You may want to consider continuing this tradition by visiting the The Jewish National Fund website at www.jnf.org and having a tree planted today!
Again, Happy Tree Day! I hope you take some time today to eat some yummy and healthy fruits, and mostly I hope that we all feel our sense of responsibility to “Behold God’s Great Works.”
Rabbi Todd Chizner