This is the time of year when we sing “the almond tree is growing, a golden sun in glowing;” when we give to the Jewish National Fund; when we take pride in the fact that Israel is one of the few countries in the world to have more trees today than a century ago.
Tu Bi’shvat did not start off as a holiday about conservation. For that matter, it did not start off as a holiday about Zionism. Honestly, it didn’t start off as a holiday at all—it was a rabbinic calendar convention, designed to facilitate observance of a biblical legal measure regulating the consumption of the fruit of young trees. But Tu Bi’shvat became a holiday, five hundred years ago; it became a Zionist day, a hundred years ago, and an environmentalist day, half a century later. Today, it is all three.
We ought to be thinking about trees every day. Tu Bi’shvat is one day a year. Is this going to be the annual checkup, with the power to affect our behavior throughout the year? Or is it like flossing your teeth only once a year, prior to the checkup, which is frankly too little to make a difference?
This year, as part of your Tu Bi’shvat thinking, I hope you will look up the “Trillion Trees Initiative.” Learn what the specific challenges are behind our current consumption patterns of timber, cocoa and rubber. See how the poverty of the small farmer—often a third-world farmer—the short-sightedness of too many key players throughout the economic system, and the unfounded fantasy of unlimited resources in the behavior of the consumer all come together to threaten our planetary health.
For those whose compassion does not extend to the animal and plant world, consider the following: human health is linked to the health of the planet. The birds of the Brazilian rain forest are the canaries in the coal mine--- and we are all living in the coal mine. Save a species because you are next.
And so, I urge you—plant a tree in Israel. But don’t stop there. Think about what changes we need to make, every day. What changes do we need to make in our consumption? What changes do we need to make in our messages to elected officials?
And don’t just think. Act. Because your life depends on trees.
Rabbi Michael Panitz