Tu Bishvat always struck me as a Jewish nursery school-friendly holiday. “It’s the birthday of the trees,” my little kids have told me, showing me their dot paintings of trees, stenciled leaves, et cetera et cetera. I mean, great—I have nothing against trees. I like trees. Happy birthday, trees. (I recycle all artwork.) (Just kidding!) (Am I?)
The Mishnah actually says Tu Bishvat is more of the New Year for the trees. I live in the cold Northeastern United States, where the trees are still very much on winter break, but in Israel, the earliest of the blooming trees are starting their newest cycle of life.
Of course, this holiday is ripe (get it?) for analogy and metaphor: We take root in fertile soil of education, we become fruitful, etc. But let’s focus on the actual trees for a second. Tu Bishvat is a holiday which reminds us of the beauty of the natural world—and our responsibility to be the Lorax who speaks for the trees.
If you don’t know who the Lorax is, I’m not entirely sure what you’re doing on a parenting website, but sure, I’ll explain. The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss’s best-known characters, who figures in a story of what happens to the world if all the trees are chopped down (spoiler alert: nothing good). “I am the Lorax! I speak for the trees!” the Lorax says as he implores the Once-ler not to chop down the trees for his own profit. The Once-ler doesn’t listen and the world is destroyed. But—there is always a but!—there is a small stone reading, “Unless.” Why? Because, the Once-ler tells a young boy, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Contrary to what many seem to think, we aren’t the Earth’s owners—we are only here a comparatively short time before we will become earth itself. (Maybe that’s not such a toddler-friendly idea?) We aren’t just tenants here, though, either—as people, it is our responsibility to appreciate nature and to take care of it for future generations. We were put in the Garden of Eden, the Torah tells us, to serve it and to guard it.
The Earth is precious. We are its guardians.
And we need to be the Lorax and speak for the trees.
The world needs more trees. Now, some people (like me!) might argue, more than ever—when there are those who want to obliterate the Environmental Protection Agency entirely, when faith in our future is daily undercut by those who want to spread hate and anger. Now, more than ever, it is time to plant trees.
It is time to put roots of belief in the future into the soil, and to tend to those roots with love and care so that the future will bear delicious and beautiful fruit.
Now is the time to begin a new year of dedication to the earth and to each other.
Celebrate the new year of the trees by planting new trees—in honor of your children and in honor of Tu Bishvat! To learn about planting a tree in Israel, check out www.jnf.org.