Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
On the Jewish calendar, toward the end of winter, we celebrate a unique holiday that honors trees. Tu b’Shevat, often referred to as the birthday of the trees, will fall on the eve of January 30th this year. Tu b’Shevat was established during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in order to determine the age of a tree for the purpose of tithing its fruits. It is at this time of year that the first pink and white blooms of the almond tree can be seen in the land of Israel, a fitting time to mark the new year for trees.
However, in the Jewish tradition, trees also represent the very source of life. “And the Lord God caused to sprout from the soil, every tree lovely to look at and good for food, and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden.” (Genesis 2:9) This image of a primordial “tree of life” is found across the globe, in a wide variety of cultures, mythologies and religions. Understood as a spiritual source for the nourishment of the entire world, the tree of life also became the Rabbinic symbol for Torah itself.
In later generations, with the flowering of Kabbalah between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries, the image of the Tree of Life took on new significance. Not merely an image from a lost paradise, the kabbalists understood this spiritual tree to be the very source of all abundance in the physical world. They taught that human beings can affect the Divine flow of abundance into the world or disrupt it through their behavior. Through the act of offering blessings before one consumes food, the Divine flow of abundance is strengthened. This kabbalistic perspective views the universe as one intentional, interactive, spiritual and physical eco-system, wherein all is dynamically connected: the Source of life, human beings, the natural world, heaven and earth. This is the source of the Tu b’Shevat Seder.
Today, as climate change threatens the delicate balance of our eco-system, we are reminded daily of the profound interaction between our personal behavior and the environment. Jewish teachings call upon us to consider the many ways in which we are wounding God’s Creation and the ways in which we can repair the world. Jewish tradition acknowledges that trees are more than simply a metaphor for the source of life. Trees do, in fact, hold the precise medicine needed for the restoration and re-balancing of our world for they absorb carbon and deliver oxygen to our planet.
One of the more modern customs for the celebration of Tu b’Shevat has been to plant a tree in the land of Israel. Today, however, reforestation is desperately needed throughout the globe. There are many reforestation projects currently underway. Please consider supporting any one of these reforestation projects and join me in finding out more about reducing our carbon footprint. Together, through countless small acts of kindness, tree by tree, we can repair our world.
www.kkl.org.il/eng (Jewish Nat’l Fund- Trees in Israel)
www.edenprojects.org (trees in Haiti, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and Nepal)
www.americanforests.org (plants millions of trees in US and Internationally) www.carbonfund.org (how to reduce your carbon footprint)
PLEASE JOIN US at our Tu b’Shevat Seder on Tues. January 30th at 6:00pm.
We will sing, bless and eat many delicious fruits and nuts together. Our seder will also include a light dinner. All are welcome. Donations accepted at the door to cover costs of the meal.
Hinei mah tov u’mah na’im, shevet achim gam yachad-How lovely and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to sit together as one!
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
More about Rabba Kaya