Ti Bishvat, the 15 day of the Hebrew month of Shevet, begins Sunday night the 20th. (by the way lunar eclipse for parts of USA) and we celebrate the New Year of the Trees. As many of you may have experienced, this celebration has taken on new meaning in recent years as a glimpse into he Jewish views on ecology and the role of the environment. Of course the main symbol, as JNF reminds us, is the image of the tree.
I was thinking about this and how it could relate to we Boomers and our own life stage. Immediately I went to that very famous Midrash of Honi. In his recently published “The Land of Truth: Talmud Tales and Timeless Teachings”, Jeffrey Rubenstein of N.Y.U unpacks the story of Honi and the carob tree. Seeing a person planting a tree Honi asks why, as the tree will not bear fruit for 70 years. The person responds that he is just doing what his ancestors did, in essence, securing a legacy. The story continues having Honi fall asleep and waking some 70 years later, and experiencing the pain of having outlived his generation. Honi’s story speaks to issues of legacy and care for future generations and also the idea that we exist in our time and, it seems, the importance of being “of” and “in” that time. At the end, Honi, becomes a stranger in the world. He is alone. In the Talmud story, the sage Rava remarks “Either companionship or death”.
That story brings us again to the outbreak of loneliness and isolation that seems to be on the rise. A recent full page discussion of this issue appeared in the January 11 edition of “The Week”. The articles detailed the impact of loneliness of all generations and the toll it can take on life span. This challenge of maintaining, keeping and creating social relationships is becoming a societal challenge. And so again we look at the tree. Why? The roots of the tree spread far and wide and provide security. Social interaction provides, in many cases, the roots of society. We need people and, as so many studies are now showing, we live longer and better when involved within a community. When we establish our roots within a community we gain from that interaction and shared concern. That is why, despite all the changes now afoot, synagogues still remain the key institution within the Jewish world.
Enjoy the celebration and cherish the community that you are in, your family and that circle of friends.
Rabbi Richard F Address