Celebrating Israel

Tu B'Shevat Readings

Tags: Tu B'Shevat, Memory

"Our ancestors lived in the natural world every day, and it was an integral part of their lives. The many types of trees were not only important to them, but they were also very personally intertwined in their lives. In many instances, their livelihood depended on these trees, as the trees depended on them for the care they needed to thrive.

The following story highlights an interesting characteristic of olive trees - a widespread and important tree in biblical times. As these trees get older, they tend to become hollow. Very old trees may become entirely hollow, with only a thin strip of bark supporting a few branches laden with fruit." Michael Brown, The Haggadah of Trees

The Olive Tree's Grief

After the Second Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, there was widespread grief and mourning throughout the country. To demonstrate their extreme grief, all the trees of the country shed their leaves.

After the trees were bare, they noticed that the olive tree (which is by nature evergreen) still retained its leaves. Representatives of the trees approached the olive and asked, "Why don't you shed your leaves in grief over the destruction of the Temple?" The olive responded: "You, my brothers, show your grief on the outside for all to see. My grief will be carried within for all times."

And so it is that each year the olive eats away at itself in grief and sorrow until it is nothing more than a hollow strip of bark.

Honi And The Carob Tree

One day when Honi, the righteous man, was out walking, he came upon a man planting a carob tree. Honi watched as he carried out his work. The man dug a hole for the roots of the small tree and then carefully put the tree in the hole and patted the soil around it. Afterward, he gave it some water from a nearby stream.

"How long will it be before this tree bears fruit?" Honi asked.

"Seventy years," the man replied.

"How do you know you'll be alive in 70 years?"

"Just as I found carob trees when I came into the world," answered the man, "so I am now planting carob trees for my grandchildren to enjoy."

Honi then sat down to have a meal and fell asleep. When he awoke, he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, "Are you the man who planted this tree?" The man replied: "I am his grandson." Honi therefore realized that he had slept for many years. As he watched the man gathering the fruit from the tree, he saw beside him several small trees waiting to be planted in the ground to nourish future generations.

The What of Tu B'shevat, Renee Ghert-Zand

"Regardless of what interpretation of the holiday is in vogue, the biblical phrase (Deuteronomy 20:19), ki ha’adam etz hasadeh (For the human is like the tree of the field) is at the core of Tu B’Shevat’s message. Despite all historical progress and technological advancement, we are inextricably and intimately connected with nature in a symbiotic relationship. The tree is the bellwether, the canary in the coal mine – and we had better treat it well and pay attention to what it is telling us.

The Hebrew poet Natan Zach captured this beautifully in a poem, which was set to music and popularized by Israeli singer Shalom Chanoch (the Hebrew is far more eloquent and the song loses a lot in translation):

For the human is like the tree in a field,
like the human, the tree grows too;
like the tree, the human is chopped down,
and I don’t know
where I’ve been and where I’ll be,
like the tree in a field.

For the human is like the tree in a field,
like the tree he strives upwards;
like the human, it burns in fire,
and I don’t know
where I’ve been and where I’ll be,
like the tree in a field.

I loved, and I hated too,
I tasted this and that;
I was buried in a plot of dust,
and I feel sour – sour in my mouth,
like the tree in a field.

For the human is like the tree in a field,
like the tree he’s thirsty for water;
like the human, it stays thirsty,
and I don’t know
where I’ve been and where I’ll be,
like the tree in a field.

Rav Oshaia

Rav Oshaia said, "G-d has done kindness to the Jewish people by dispersing them among the nations " (Pes. 87b). For, as seeds are dispersed by the Creator to make sure that many of them would survive and continue their kind, so, when G-d sent our people into exile, He dispersed them among the nations, so that at no time should any hostile power destroy all of them, G-d forbid.

So has it been throughout the almost 2000 years of our exile. When one Jewish community was destroyed by a cruel enemy, many others thrived elsewhere. But G-d also promised, "Fear not, Israel, for I am with you. I will bring your seed from the east... and from the west... and from the north... and from the south " (Isa. 43:5), to be planted again in G-d's vineyard in the Holy Land.

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Tags: Tu B'Shevat, Memory