Torah Sparks: Tu BiShvat – celebrating the birthday of all trees
“Then the Eternal One said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.'” (Exodus 14:15-16).
God seems to be saying do not pray – just act. With all of the power that God demonstrates in this Torah portion (by splitting the sea), why does God need Moses? The answer seems to be that God requires human initiative. Judaism, as I understand it, is a religion of activism, not quietism. God does not right the wrongs of society but requires that we do it.
This coming Monday we “celebrate” Tu-BiShvat, the 15th day of the Month of Shvat. According to our tradition, Tu BiShvat is the birthday of all trees. But why?
Scholars believe that originally Tu BiSh’vat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. Each year, the Israelites were expected to bring one-tenth of their fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem, where they were offered to God and also helped sustain the priestly class and the poor. Since fruit from one year could not be used to tithe for another, the Rabbis had to determine when a crop year would begin and end. They chose the month of Shvat as the cut-off date, for this is when, in Israel, the sap begins to run and the trees start to awaken from their winter slumber, before beginning to bear fruit.
Although the celebration of Tu BiShvat seems to be more practical and down-to-earth, the theme most commonly ascribed to the holiday today is the environment. It is considered a festival of nature, full of wonder, joy, and thankfulness for God’s creation in anticipation of the renewal of the natural world. The holiday has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees and/or support an initiative to protect the environment.
Doing that, we recall the sacred obligation to care for God’s world, and the responsibility to share the fruits of God’s earth with all, what connects it to the idea of our Torah portion: Being God’s sh’lichim (representatives) that connect earth and heaven, and transform the world.
Shabbat Shalom and Tu BiShvat Sameach – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: reformjudaism.org)
Torah Reading for Shabbat Shirah – Parashat Beshalach
Exodus 13:17 – 17:16 (Reading Ex 14:15-15:11; Plaut p.436; Hertz p.268); Haftarah: Judges 5:1 – 5:31 (Plaut p.464; Hertz p.283)
The Torah Study with Rabbi Schell continues on Shabbat, 23 January at 08h45
“The Prayers of our Siddur”– class with Rabbi Schell continues on Thursday 4 February
Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.