Tu Bishvat: The New Year of Trees and Our Legacy

A terebinth of Mamre.
A terebinth of Mamre.

This weekend (Feb 11/12) we observe “Tu Bishvat”, the celebration of the beginning of spring in Israel and the so-called “New Year of Trees”. No doubt many of you have been told the origins of this observance as a youngster or perhaps this weekend at synagogue or on one of the many education on-line sites. The observance takes place on the 15th of Shevet, 6 weeks from Channukah. The planting of trees (important in the often arid climate of Israel) is a key component of this festival. Many congregations observe this now with special “seders” and tree planting ceremonies. It has also taken on a sense of raising awareness for the environment. All great issues and very important and teachable.
There is another aspect of this observance that speaks to our generation as well. Legacy! There is a famous story about Honi who came upon a man planting a Carob tree and Honi asked him if he expected to live to see that tree mature. The man replied to Honi “I have found grown carob trees in the world as my ancestors planted those for men, so I too plant these for my children.” (Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit) The rest of the story is a strange one! Honi falls asleep for 70 years, the time that man told him that it takes for that tree to mature. Honi awakes to find himself out of context, in a time where no one knew him.
No matter where he went, he was alone, he did not belong. One of the messages; we each have a time to live, to be , to exist. How we are remembered is determined by what we leave, or to paraphrase this story, by what we plant.
Please consider this story (it is much longer and you can actually Google it as there are several entries for Honi the Circle drawer). Why do so many Boomers now begin to shift in our thought process from accumulation of material things to the acquisition of spiritual truths. Why are an increasing number of congregations placing so much emphasis on developing legacy/spiritual auto-biography or Ethical Will programs? It is this dawning of a reality that hits many of us that we grow more concerned with what of us we shall leave to our children and grandchildren? What is us shall we leave to the world? Maybe, as we become more aware or our own fragility and mortality, we come to understand that our true legacy is not material, but spiritual. In all the funerals I have conducted, with rare exception, do children and grandchildren speak not of material issues, but a loved one’s smile, their caring, their presence, their example.
Like strong trees, if we create deep roots of caring, understanding, empathy and love; and model these values, we can leave behind an example of a life well lived as well as a life worth modeling. And that is a gift, a legacy that truly can bind us “from generation to generation.”
Rabbi Richard F Address

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