A letter from Rabbah Michal Schwartz, The Masorti Congregation of Petah Tikvah, Shomrei Emunah’s sister congregation in Israel.
Tu BiSh’vat (- the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Sh’vat – falling this year on January 25, also called the Holiday of the Trees) symbolizes the end of the Israeli winter, so sunny and sparse of rain. The last chance for rain is embodied by the month of Sh’vat. All the produce of this year: the grain, fruit, vegetables and the amount of drinking water, all depend upon how much rain will fall this winter. Without water there is no life. The end of the winter is the end of the rainy season. Until next year.
Early humans lived from the fruit of their land. They sowed, hoped, anticipated and watered. “Walking back and forth while weeping, carrying the seed bag.” (Psalms 126:6) The fruit ripened on the tree, the stalks stood tall in the field, and, usually, there was enough yield for a whole year. “He shall surely enter in joy, carrying his sheaves.” (ibid.) The joy of this success and the abundance in the storehouses created an illusion of grandeur and control for people. In order that this success not ruin the person and erase his inner sense of humility, there is a commandment to care for all those who were not able to support themselves, with a constant awareness of who really possesses the land. “And when you harvest your land’s harvest, do not finish off the corner of your field as you harvest; and do not glean the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the needy and the stranger; I am the Eternal …” (Lev. 23:22) The anxious anticipation for rain, as well as the relinquishing of part of the yield, remind a person, year after year, just how much his control over nature in general, and over her own life, in particular, is an illusion.
But how are these things relevant to someone who does not work the land?
The technological human being investigates, discovers and conquers the depths of the earth and the mysteries of space. Yet such a person stands overwhelmed and impotent before the daily wonders of nature, such as birth or the migration of birds. He is left confused and beaten before the waves of a tsunami, earthquakes and plagues.
Tu Bish’vat, a holiday that is all about nature, invites us to set aside the illusion of control over our lives. The sun will shine tomorrow even if I do not get up early in the morning. The seeds will germinate even if I don’t water them. And even the stock market in New York will continue on its accustomed path without my getting involved. At times all that is left for me to do is to pray, to hope, to feel wonder and to bless.
Come, let us learn from the workers of the land.
“Earth – please teach your child, the human being.
Mother Earth.” (“Adamah” – Ehud Manor)
(The late Israeli singer, Ofra Haza, sings this song at a celebration of Israel’s 49th anniversary : Click here to listen )