Those Who Plant in Joy – Tu b’Shvat and the Social Justice Protests

A.The Israeli media has recently been occupied with the six-month anniversary of the past summer’s social justice protests, in which scores of young activists (me included) declared themselves the “New Israelis.” “We are the New Israelis,” we called from the stages and street marches, “and we have a dream – to live in this land, to build our homes here, to raise our children here, and to weave our life story out of it.” This is how we “New Israelis” feel – a new generation not locked into stereotypes, one that refuses to view current reality as predestined…a new generation that loves this country and intends to turn it into a place worth living in.

Truly, we couldn’t have declared on ourselves as New Israelis if there hadn’t first been “Old Israelis.” And the Old Israelis would not have been here if there hadn’t been Jews dreaming of and working toward the moment when we would live sovereign lives in the land of our ancestors.

This connection of past, present, and future is essential. In order for social-environmental change to be sustainable, it must relate to the drive for change that has always existed here. Relate to the “Old Israeliness” – otherwise known as Zionism. Relate to Judaism, which links us to this land over which we anguish. The drive to protest, to rebel, and to change is part of a long tradition of “tikkun olam.”

There is much to learn about sustainable social-environmental change from Tu b’Shvat, the New Year of the trees. Tu b’Shvat found its way into Jewish consciousness as a time marker for tithing from trees. In the 2,000 years of Jewish exile, up until our return to the Jewish homeland, Tu b’Shvat has undergone many permutations. It is a day of longing for the nature of the Land of Israel; a spiritual day of tasting the fruits of both the upper and lower worlds; a day of living Zionism through tree planting; and as a Jewish Earth Day. The persevering force of this holiday lies in the fact that every aspect of it is tied to the past and the future, always drawing upon the relation of nature to the Jewish people, the Jewish homeland, and the entire world.

B. “We go to plant, singing in heart and in hand, from the city and the village, from the valley from the mountain, on Tu b’Shvat, on Tu b’Shvat,” sing Israeli children passionately on this special holiday. There is something unique about the planting of Tu b’Shvat. When we plant wheat, we are caught in the grind of life and the work that repeats itself year after year; we “plant with tears.” In contrast, when we plant trees for future generations, we are full of song and joy. Perhaps this explains the sense of euphoria that accompanied the protests of this past summer.

C. “If you are busy planting a tree, and someone should say to you: behold, the Messiah is here, you should finish planting your tree, and then go to greet him”. (Avot d’Rabbi Natan)

In this day and age, with what type of “planting” should we be so busy that we are allowed to delay greeting the Messiah? The deepest significance of our planting is the decision to plant. Planting essentially represents consideration of future generations; what do we want to plant on their behalf? We can plant social action, promotion of just law, communal lifestyle, or anything else we believe in. Thus, though we may not speed up the coming of the Messiah, we will certainly provide him with a beautiful orchard in which to speak and share his wisdom.

Happy Tu b’Shvat!


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