One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking along the road in his village, and he noticed a man planting a tree. He asked the man about tree. The man told Honi that it was a carob tree and that it would take seventy years for the carob to grow. Honi wondered why the man would be planting a tree from which he would not be able to harvest the fruit. The man replied that he was not planting the tree for himself, but that so his children and his grandchildren could reap the benefits and taste the sweet carob. Honi continued along the path until he felt too tired to continue. He noticed a comfortable-looking rock and went to sleep. The rock grew and surrounded Honi and became a tent, which protected him from the elements. Honi slept comfortably for a very long time, seventy years! Then, the tent shrank and once again became a rock, and Honi woke up refreshed. He went back down the road and saw some children picking carob from a tree. Honi discovered that these were the grandchildren of the man whom he had seen planting the carob tree, reaping the benefits of the tree that their grandfather had planted.
On January 28, we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the birthday of the trees. The holiday coincides with the first blossoms in Israel, those of the almond tree, but over the years, it has become so much more. Tu Bish’vat is a day for us to think about how we are at one with nature. The Hebrew words for human, אדם (adam), and land, אדמה (adamah), are connected. We come from the land, and we return to the land. As it is written in our Torah: “Then Adonai, G-d, formed the human of the dust of the ground, and breathed into the nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living soul.” (Genesis 11:7)
When we think about how we reap the benefits of the Earth, we must also think about our children, our grandchildren, and all our descendants. It can sometimes seem as though the land gives us unlimited resources, but it doesn’t, and it is our job not only to save these resources for generations to come, but to make the world a more beautiful and bountiful place for them. The man planting the carob tree was thinking of the future, and if we want to continue to thrive on this planet, we need to do that too.
There are many ways in which we can make the Earth a better place for future generations. First and foremost, we can do as the man in the story did, and plant more trees. Trees provide us with shade, oxygen, fruit, and beauty. We can also reduce our use of single-use plastics and recycle what we do have to use. We can buy recycled paper, or we can reduce our use of paper altogether by reading documents and publications electronically. When it is safe to do so, we can carpool where possible to reduce the emissions from our vehicles. We can work towards using renewable sources of energy where possible. All of these things will help make the Earth a beautiful place to live for generations to come. On this Tu Bish’vat, think about how you can make the Earth a better place for your children and grandchildren.
Cantor Sara Kheel