The upcoming holiday of Tu B’Shevat celebrates the end of winter, the coming of spring and most importantly, it celebrates trees. It is customary to plant trees and eat food which comes from trees during this holiday. The ‘Tree of Life’ is a metaphor often used in Judaism to describe our most sacred book– the Torah. The tree is used as a symbol of the cycle of life and can even help us understand divinity in nature. (Just imagine the difference between an actual apple seed and a piece of wood that looks just like a seed. What a miracle trees really are!)
Historically, many of the accepted norms of environmental conquest by humans were championed by dominant religions, such as the Catholic Church. These religious institutions worked in partnership with the oppressive economic leaders of the time. They exploited human beings through slavery and institutionalized racism. They forced their religious ideologies upon them, and killed them by introducing new diseases and forcing people off of the land that they loved. This created a world that used our shared earthly resources as if they would never run out.
In Judaism, we too adopted the belief that man has dominion over the world of animals and plants. This belief is in stark contrast to the Indigenous People’s view that the earth and all her creatures are not ours for owning, but are to be shared with one another, as equal partners. Thankfully though, Judaism is an earth-based religion with deep ties to the land, the harvest and the cycle of the moon. We continually move with the rhythm of the cosmos, and this brings an inherent love of Mother Earth. There are many earth-saving techniques in the Torah and in modern Jewish living. These techniques are both ancient and uniquely suited for our more modern day understandings of how to move forward in agriculture and in conservation of nature, in our current rapidly changing environment.
Torah teaches us to allow soil to rest after 6 years, which is good for the sustainability of our food production and gives the land a chance to heal and rejuvenate. In Leviticus 25:4 it states, “For six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather its crops. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land— a Sabbath to the LORD. You are not to sow your field or prune your vineyard. You are not to reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untended vines.”
Or in Leviticus 23:22 helps us make sure not all crops are for profit. Some are reserved for the poor. “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident. I am the LORD your God.’”
These days, progressive Judaism believes (rightly so) that it is our moral responsibility to help take care of the environment. That is why I am happy to share some of the resources available to help us as Jews/Humans get involved and make an impact:
1.) Check out the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest
3.) Get involved with local sustainable farming in Berkeley, CA with Urban Adamah.
4.) Reconnect with nature through Jewish Ritual Practice with Wilderness Torah.
5.) Join the Tu B’Shevat Seder with the Southside Jewish Collaborative
Wednesday, January 27th 6:00 PM
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 825 3191 2219
6.) Donate to Friends of the Urban Forest
7.) If you have the capacity to plant your own garden of edibles— fruits, vegetables, berries, beans and herbs– and create just one meal per week from your garden, you too can make a big impact on the environment.
I’ll admit, changing our lives to take care of the environment is a lot of work. But we must move towards this path, if we are to remain here for generations to come. In Hebrew we call this L’Dor VaDor– from Generation to Generation. I pledge to do what I can, I hope you will too.
Sending Much Love,