Tree Lessons

On January 31st this year, the Jewish calendar comes around to the 15th day of the month of Shevat (Tu B’Shevat, meaning the 15th day of Shevat).

Long ago, this date was used to calculate when tithes of first fruits would be brought to the Temple.  After the destruction of the Second Temple around 70 CE (the Common Era, or in the Christian calendar, AD), this was no longer practiced; most Jews had been exiled from their homeland and there was no longer a central Temple. Judaism began to evolve in ways that allowed the Jewish people to survive in the Diaspora. However, in the Middle Ages, Jewish mystics revisited this date, and the customs they created have stayed with us and developed into the minor holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees.

In the middle of winter, we reach out toward spring on Tu B’Shevat as we think green- green trees and green as in taking care of our planet. At Knesseth Israel Synagogue, we have a Tu B’Shevat seder every year. We gather around the table and talk about the lessons that trees teach us, we eat tree fruit and tree nuts of various kinds, and we sing songs about trees. We thank God for the beautiful world He created and we pledge to do our part in taking care of it by our actions and by giving to organizations that support our environment.

So many lessons to learn from trees! Trees let go of leaves when they need to- so should we let go of emotional baggage. Trees are strong on the outside and dynamic on the inside- so can we learn to withstand life’s bad weather while never losing the vibrancy of the soul within. But most important, trees are interdependent in ways that are not visible to the eye. Humans see trees standing side by side in the forest, competing for sunlight and nutrients from the soil. But as University of British Columbia ecologist Suzanne Simard told CNN in 2017, research suggests that trees cooperate and share resources through underground fungi networks, behaving like one organism- an ecosystem.  Perhaps that is the most important lesson we can learn from trees, that even if it looks like we are separate individuals all competing, we need to acknowledge that on a deeper level, we are all part of one human ecosystem. Hurting part of that ecosystem hurts all of us. Caring for each other benefits all of us. We may look different, just as there are different kinds of trees, but we are all interconnected; we are all God’s children, all part of the human family. Let’s reach out in visible and invisible ways to keep our human ecosystem and our planetary ecosystem interconnected and cared-for. And the next time you are on a hike, hug a tree and say thank you.

Suzanne J Schermerhorn, CAS, is the Shlichat Tzibbur/Spiritual Leader at the Knesseth Israel Synagogue in Gloversville.

By Josh Bovee

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