Eric M. Leiderman
Community builder • Rabbi • Artist • Husband • Dad

Tu Bishvat: Planting Our Legacy

Acacia tree in Makhtesh Gadol, Negev Desert, Israel (Mark A. Wilson)

Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, is a joyous celebration deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. Beyond being a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature, this holiday underscores the Jewish value of planting trees, emphasizing the mitzvah of cultivating the land. It also serves to connect the act of planting to the remembrance of departed loved ones.

The Babylonian Talmud, in Taanit 23a, recounts a poignant story involving Ḥoni, a righteous man known for his ability to pray for rain. Walking along the road, he encounters a man planting a carob tree. Questioning the lengthy time it takes for the tree to bear fruit, Ḥoni challenges the man, asking if he expects to benefit from the tree given the uncertainty of his lifespan. In response, the man eloquently expresses the timeless Jewish value of continuity: “Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants.”

This narrative echoes the sentiment found in Leviticus Rabbah (Ch. 25), which directs those in the Land of Israel to prioritize planting. The biblical verse, “When you come into the land, you shall plant trees for food” (Leviticus 19:23), underscores the importance of sustainable practices and stewardship of the earth. The connection between planting and the future is further emphasized, urging individuals to take a long-term view and invest in the well-being of future generations.

Planting trees in Israel is not merely a symbolic gesture but a mitzvah deeply embedded in Jewish tradition. Jews in Israel and around the world observe Tu Bishvat by engaging in tree-planting initiatives, reflecting a commitment to the land and its prosperity. This practice is rooted in religious texts and is a testament to Israel’s dedication to environmental sustainability.

Israel, a pioneer in water and agricultural technology, has demonstrated a commitment to green technology and ecological responsibility. The country’s advancements in farming practices, including water-efficient technologies, align with Jewish stewardship and responsible resource management values. Tu Bishvat serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness between Jewish values and Israel’s innovative approach to environmental conservation.

In a powerful demonstration of the fusion between tradition and contemporary issues, this year Tu Bishvat has become a platform for honoring the memory of those who were taken from us on October 7. The planting of 200 eucalyptus trees at the site of the Nova music festival massacre exemplifies the resilience and hope embedded in this tradition. Additionally, a campaign to plant 12,000 fruit trees in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, a community devastated by the Hamas atrocities, showcases a commitment to healing and renewal. 

Tu Bishvat, with its roots in Jewish teachings and traditions, transcends a mere celebration of nature. It becomes a poignant reminder of the intergenerational bond, the responsibility to safeguard the environment, and the resilience to overcome adversity. As trees take root and grow, so does the connection between Jewish values, the Land of Israel, and the promise of a vibrant and sustainable future.

About the Author
Rabbi Eric Leiderman (he/they) is an award-winning community builder and Jewish educator with over a dozen years of expertise working with youth and emerging adults. He is the Midwest Regional Director of IsraelLINK, President & co-founder of Masorti on Campus, and serves on several boards of directors of national Jewish nonprofits. Eric grew up in the New York Metropolitan Area and has spent significant time in several North American Jewish communities and in Israel. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois, with his family.
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