🌳Planting Trees for a Better Future
A Tu BiShvat message during a time of war.
This Drop is dedicated in memory of Leon Wildes z”l, who loved learning and teaching. May his memory be a blessing.
Approaching Tu BiShvat, Judaism’s “birthday of the trees,” we often turn our thoughts to being good stewards of the earth, the growing challenge of climate change, and our connection to the land of Israel, where the trees are about to bloom.
This year, my thoughts of Israel are colored by the war. I long for its quick conclusion - hoping for a return of the hostages and an end to the suffering of all affected by the hatred that fuels this conflict. I have felt sadness, sometimes anger, and often despair.
How might I connect these feelings to a Tu BiShvat message? Beyond seeing trees as a source of beauty and sustenance, Judaism sees the planting of trees as a message of hope and a commitment to our active involvement in building a better future.
“Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught, ‘if you have a sapling in your hand, and someone says to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah.’” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan)
In another well-known text, a wise man named Honi the Circle Maker meets an elderly woman planting a carob tree, which takes 70 years to produce fruit. Recognizing that the tree will not bear fruit in the woman’s lifetime, Honi questions the value of planting the tree. The woman replies, “Just as my ancestors planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren.”
Why does planting the tree take precedence over greeting the Messiah? Why does the elderly woman plant a tree she knows she will never benefit from? Planting a tree maintains our commitment to the here and now and demonstrates our promise to build a better future, even if we will never live to see the outcome.
When the war began, I felt helpless and paralyzed. As the conflict continued, I looked for ways to help. It was daunting. How could I make a difference from so far away? I felt that only a miracle could change the course of the conflict.
But these texts remind me that we cannot rely on miracles, and our actions are critical for ensuring the future we wish to see. We cannot stop preparing for the future, even if the present looks bleak.
Empowered with this understanding, take action! Most importantly, educate yourself about Israel’s current conflict and its historical roots. Demonstrate against the rise of antisemitism. Donate to relief efforts. Check in with Israeli/Jewish friends and family.
And when this conflict ends, go to Israel and plant a tree, a statement of renewal and hope! Return to Israel and contribute to making it bloom, and be beautiful, again.
Jonathan Fass is a lifelong learner who is deeply committed to a Jewish and democratic state of Israel. He serves as the Senior Managing Director of RootOne, an initiative of The Jewish Education Project, that supports immersive Israel experiences for teens.