This week we celebrated the festival of Tu Bisvhat: the New Year for the Trees! As a gift to the trees, this week’s parshah includes an important teaching about caring for the environment. Parshat Beshalach, recounts the departure of Bnai Israel from Mitzrayim. Our middah, “Take only what you need,” is an important message for a newly freed people. As they traveled in the desert, the people of Israel received “manna” – heavenly food from God. They 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. Bnai Israel were being taught that free people seek to free themselves from the enslaving impulse to hoard.
At Heschel, we celebrate Tu Bisvhat by conducting a beautiful Tu Bisvhat Seder that celebrates the seasons, shivat haminim (the seven species of Eretz Israel), diverse symbolic fruits, and the new year of the trees. We also see Tu Bisvhat 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 a sustainable world for future generations.