Trees of Life
This month, the festival of Tu B’Shevat – the 15th of the month of Shevat – falls on January 31st. Tu B’Shevat’s roots (pardon the pun) are found in the Mishnah as one of four new years: trees, cattle, kings, and calendar… The New Year for Trees was established for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. Tu B’Shevat has come to be associated with sensitivity to and appreciation of the natural environment.
Kohelet Rabbah (midrashic commentary on Ecclesiates) teaches: “When God created the first man God took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him, ‘See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world–for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.’” Not only does this midrash teach us the importance of trees to our world, but also the importance of our responsibility to care for and protect our natural world by foregoing the destructive exploitation of natural resources for immediate, short-term benefit, in favor of preserving the productive capacity of resources–to allow the sustained utilization of their fruits. This important ecological principle is known today as sustainability.
The fruit of trees are not only seen as sustainers of life, but the wood of trees has also been used for life cycle events; specifically, as the four poles that are used to hold up the chuppah – the canopy under which the bride and groom stand during their wedding ceremony. There is a reference to the chuppah/wedding canopy in the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57a: “It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches”. Why cedar and pine? Cedar is seen as a symbol of healing and protection, and the pine tree is symbolic of creativity, life, and longevity. A perfect combination of blessings for the bride and groom.
And, of course, our Torah is seen as “a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, for all its supporters are happy… and its ways lead to peace…” (Proverbs 3:17-18)
Our “Trees of Life” – sustenance, pre-chuppah, and Torah – will come together on Saturday, January 27th at 11:00 a.m. as our daughter, Abby, and her beloved fiancé, David Wald, will be called to the Torah for an Aliyah. They will recite the blessings before and after the Torah reading, and will then receive a blessing and be showered with sweet blessings by the congregation. After the service, we will gather downstairs in Ratner Hall for a festive Kiddush luncheon. Harry and I hope you can join us and our family as we celebrate this simcha – joyous event. [RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org]
May we all be blessed with sustenance and joy,
Rabbi Enid C. Lader