As always, the message of the parshah and its middah are never a coincidence: they always speak to something relevant that is going on. This is certainly the case as we prepare to celebrate Tu Bishvat. Tu Bishvat is a day that commemorates the New Year for Trees. The name Tu Bishvat literally means the 15th of the month of Shevat, which falls this coming Sunday. On Monday, we celebrate Tu Bishvat at Heschel with a Seder and the Environmental Symposium. This week we read Parshat Beshalach, which recounts the departure of Bnai Israel from Mitzrayim. Our middah — “take only what you need,” is based on the moment when Bnai Israel received manna as their first taste of freedom. The people of Israel were instructed to collect only as much of the heavenly food as they could eat, no more and no less. Anyone who took more than required found that the left-over rotted. The experience was a lesson in faith that it wasn’t necessary to hoard; that there is enough to go around. At Heschel, we celebrate Tu Bishvat by conducting a beautiful Tu Bishvat Seder that celebrates the seasons, the Seven Species of Eretz Israel, diverse symbolic fruits, and the new year of the trees. We also see Tu Bishvat as an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to Environmental Stewardship and our responsibility to ensure a healthy ecology for generations to come. We learn that we have the right to take from the earth what we need to live and be satisfied. We are not required by Judaism to be ascetics. At the same time, we are obligated to preserve the world in good condition for our children, grandchildren and future generations. This means we need to check our impulses to take more than what we need. A well-known Talmudic tale teaches about the character Choni Hameagel, who once saw an elderly person planting a carob tree. Choni asked the person, “Why do you plant a carob tree that will only give fruit in 70 years long after you are gone?”. The person replied, “When I arrived in this world, I found carob trees that my ancestors planted. I want my children to find them after I am gone.”
This Shabbat may we all contemplate the value of trees and the self discipline of taking “only what we need,” so that we can leave behind sustainable earth for future generations.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Tu Bisvhat Sameach,