Eco Rabbi: Tu Bishvat and the Receiving of the Torah


Each week Orthodox Jews read one segment of the Five Books of Moses so that they can complete the entire Five Books within the course of a year. In last week’s Eco-Rabbi post we discussed water and life. In this week I will discuss man, trees and the receiving of the Bible (Torah) on Mount Sinai.

Today week we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees. According to tradition the trees are judged on this day. God decides which trees will continue to grow healthily and how much they each will produce. The day coincides with the beginning of the new season, when the first trees begin to bloom.

Interestingly, this week, in the parsha, segment of Bible read, we talk about the receiving of the Torah. Standing at the foot of Mount Sinai must have been an incredible experience! Moses was talking directly with God, just out of slavery. Miracles happening right before the Jewish people’s eyes!

Is there a connection between the receiving of the Torah and Tu Bishvat?

Our tradition is filled with trees and hold them in the highest regard. Back to the very beginning of the story, Adam and Eve were placed in Gan Eden with only one commandment. Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge (again a tree). Before they got a chance to eat from the Tree of Life they broke this commandment and were sent away from the garden.

But all is not lost. The book of Proverbs teaches us that the Torah is a “Tree of Life” to all who hold onto it. The Torah, that we describe the receiving of in this week’s parsha is our opportunity to eat from the Tree of Life that Adam and eve did not get.

So the Torah is the Tree of Life and, as we discussed last week, is also water of life.

Man is also described as a tree. In Deuteronomy (20:19) we are commanded not to cut down fruit trees during an offensive war because: “man is the fruit of the field.” We too are trees.

It is from that verse that we learn about the law that prohibits wasting, the prohibition of baal tashchit. This law is the source of what makes the environmental movement so important to the Jewish people.

If you are not allowed to waste, then naturally you should be careful to shut off lights when you are not using them, only use water when necessary. Even to make sure you drive responsibly and not waste gas.

All this comes out from the fact that we too are like trees. So there really is a strong connection between the giving of the Torah and Tu Bishvat.

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