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This coming Monday marks the fifteenth day of Sh’vat, new year of the trees. We learn this from Talmud — this day is one of four different new-year markings. The Torah contains several laws relating to the produce of Eretz Yisrael, and for farmers as well as consumers in Israel, these laws are relevant. For the longest time — for everyone living outside Israel, Tu B’shvat didn’t garner much attention.
Many of us have some familiarity with a Tu B’shvat Seder, whose roots — pun intended — go back to the 16th century mystics living in Tsfat. How did this esoteric custom make its way into the consciousness of Jews living four centuries later? Two game-changing events unfolded in the 20th century — the first one was the birth of Israel as a modern sovereign state (1948), and the second was the founding of Earth Day on March 21, 1970, at a UNESCO meeting in San Francisco.
At this point, there is a generalized awareness of the importance of taking responsibility for the stewardship of our planet. And for many Jews, Earth Day and Tu B’shvat have some overlap in terms of the take-home. My childhood memories of blue JNF tzedaka boxes had a focus on Jews in Israel ‘reclaiming the wilderness.’ And this point, I think we’ve enlarged our vision to include gratitude for our relationship to the environment. That means many things, including an honest grappling with climate change, a critical evaluation of the carbon footprint of the way we do business, the way we live. It’s also about celebrating our ability to grow food, flowers, trees. Little things that matter — parsley and horseradish in our gardens that could play a starring role in the Passover Seder.
Think of the tiny seeds that miraculously transform. Tu B’shvat may seem small but its significance is huge. We celebrate nature in Israel and all over the world, we embrace our role as guardians of the earth, planting seeds for those who come after us.