Benjamin Laniado

Tu Bishvat: Renewing Our Relationship with Nature

“Human being is a tree in the fields.”(Deut. 10:19). I´ve come across this phrase multiple times, but I never understood its implications until I found myself surrounded on all sides by lush vegetation deep in the Amazon jungle.

My guide told me that the reason vegetation grew so densely was simple: trees and plants seek two elements, light and water. The roots intertwine with each other in their search for the nutrients, going deep into the river in a downward dive. At the same time, trunks produce branches which break through the darkness, extending above the treetops, towards the sun.

When I heard this explanation, the meaning for the biblical simile emerged: The light of the sun was the spiritual wealth that gives meaning to our life; the water, the necessity to be grounded in nature, from which we draw the basic nutrients to survive.

Thousands of years ago, we humans lived in constant contact with nature. Although we didn’t comprehend – in a scientific sense— the cycles, the stations and the phenomenon around us, we were aware of the thin line between a balanced and an unbalanced ecosystem.

Not only did we comprehend this: we worshiped it.

Urbanization, technological and industrial development, the massive exploitation of our farming grounds. In order to satisfy the needs of millions of humans, we have created irreparable damage to our surroundings. Are we aware of this? Have we calculated the long-term effects and costs/benefits of our present actions?

In the jungle, my guide explained that diversity is the key to survival. A single tree or plant cannot survive in the long term: underneath the surface level, the roots intertwine, exchanging nutrients that allow them to flourish and grow.

In a similar vein, the Bible tells us about the importance of human diversity, of exchange and cultural syncretism, of dialogue: The Oak will continue to be an Oak; the Ficus a Ficus; and the same thing happens with the Kapok and the Pine. But in the end these trees, like the trees in the jungle, feed of each other—it is through this collaboration that they manage to survive.

Tu Bishvat, the festival of trees, is an urgent call to renew our connection to nature. This day we recognize and acknowledge all the resources that, since prehistoric times, Mother Earth has given us in order to thrive. The celebration is an opportunity to reflect on our absolute dependency on nature, and to reinforce our awareness of our great capacity for destruction.

A human being is a mixture of body and soul, material and immaterial, transient and eternal — if any of these elements are not taken care of, we dry up and die.  The frenetic race towards progress, and our hunger to conquer and exploit spaces, have tipped the balance of this, our only home.

A human being is a tree in the fields”. (Deut. 10:19). The message is clear: we must consider mother nature as part of ourselves; for to know, observe, fear and respect nature is to know, observe, fear and respect ourselves.

It´s not too late to mend what was lost: only with firm roots can we grow towards the sun.

About the Author
Benjamin is the Secretary-General of CADENA: a global Jewish humanitarian relief agency based in Mexico City. He's the winner of the 2020 "Changing the World" Award, awarded by President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.