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Tu B'Shevat and the fruits of our labor

01/23/2019 11:25:13 AM

Jan23

Rabbi Laura J. Abrasley

On Monday, we celebrated Tu B’Shevat, a minor holiday in Jewish tradition celebrating the new year for trees. Drawn from our agrarian roots, Tu B’Shevat first appears in the Mishnah, a post-biblical collection of Jewish legal material. For our agrarian ancestors, this holiday marked the beginning of a new agricultural year.
Fast forward to modern times. Most of us do not consider ourselves farmers anymore in spite of our best efforts to grow fruits and vegetables in our backyards. What then to do with a holiday that celebrates farming and the reminder to begin again the preparation of the land for spring planting and renewal? Especially those of us who winter in snowy New England where the bleakness of this past weekend’s ice and frigid temperatures seem to block out all hope for an early spring.
Luckily, we are inheritors of a tradition that continues to evolve. We can take our cue for how to recognize and celebrate this holiday from either the Kabbalists of the Middle Ages or the contemporary revival of eco-Judaism, which emerged from the Jewish renewal movement of the 20th century.
The Kabbalists lifted up Tu B’Shevat as a joyous new year holiday that deserved a feast. They created a seder, similar to Passover’s communal meal, but one that recognized the fruits and trees native to Israel as a way for participants to connect with Judaism’s origins.
Eco-Judaism encourages a similar reconnection to the earth and nature, but expands these ideas to our responsibility for a healthy and sustainable environment. I am particularly passionate about eco-Judaism, especially the Jewish food movement that emphasizes some of Judaism’s core teachings in order to help us think critically about the food we eat, the land our food comes from and the ways our food choices affect the health of both our communities and the planet.
No matter what, here in the middle of winter, Judaism reminds us to use this holiday of Tu B’Shevat as an opportunity for our tradition to help us expand our view. Yes, it is cold and snowy outside; the earth appears unyielding. But it’s not too late to celebrate the earth and all its abundance. Winter will turn to spring sooner than we expect. Now is the time to plant seeds, and before we know it, the fruits of our labor will nourish both our bodies and our souls

Wed, June 19 2019 16 Sivan 5779