Tu B’Shvat celebrates nature’s yearly cycle of planting for future harvesting. The harvested crop does not really die; it gives its life to the living beings who were designed by nature and God to be nourished by plant food.
Since the Torah is called a Tree of Life, I have also seen trees as a bridge connecting earth and heaven, rooted in tradition while reaching up to draw the energy nourishment to grow and evolve from a supernal source.
So humans have a special responsibility to protect trees as a double blessing; for ourselves and for our descendants. That is why the Torah (Deuteronomy 20:19/20 ) commands us: “When you besiege a city… you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down… Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees may you destroy and cut down….”
Even in war times Jews may not choose to use short term advantage at the expense of long term benefits. If that is true for war how much the more so just for short term economic benefits.
Jews must also plant trees, thus planning ahead, for future generations. As the Torah (Leviticus 19:23) stipulates: “When you come to the Land, you shall plant fruit trees.” i.e. don’t just live off the efforts of others, build for the next generation.
Deborah, the Prophet and Judge held court under a palm tree named after her. (Judges 4:4-5) Deborah was the best known female prophet since the time of Miriam (Exodus 15:20), two or three generations previously.
Deborah had inherited from her mother some of the wooden tent pegs that secured Miriam’s tent, which was always erected close to Miriam’s well, that according to the Midrash followed the Jewish People in its travels in the Sinai wilderness.
This connection between Miriam the prophet and Deborah the prophet is why the story of Deborah’s leadership is the haftarah to the Torah portion Be-shallach, where the Torah states that Miriam was a prophet.
Deborah started the liberation of northern Israel from Canaanite domination when she called the tribes of Israel to battle; and summoned Barak to lead them. The revolt was finished off when the tent dwelling, convert to Judaism, Jael the Kenite, killed the Canaanite general Sisera with a wooden tent peg (Judges 4:18-22) that had first belonged to Prophet Miriam, and which Jael had received from Prophet Deborah on the twentieth anniversary of Jael’s conversion to Judaism.
Like trees, human-beings are capable of withstanding many adversities with deep roots (religious values and traditions) and a solid, healthy trunk (a close community). At the same time they need to have flexible leaves and branches (to change and reform).
Then one summer I began to notice dead trees. I spent several weeks on the Colorado plateau: Zion, Bryce, Canyon De Chelly and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The area is arid and many of the dead trees remain standing for generations. The beauty of dead trees suddenly struck me. How could death be so beautiful?
The Torah declares that we have a choice between good and evil, between being a blessing or a curse, between life and death. (Deuteronomy 30:15,19) We are then commanded to choose life. So how can there be any intrinsic value in death?
Trees are not people and long dead trees do not reflect a severed relationship. Yet perhaps we can learn something from the beauty of dead trees. I share these thoughts.
Some people long dead
I love more than many people now alive;
Because they were so very lovable.
It is true that “Love is as strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8:6)
Love isn’t stronger because no matter how much you love someone
You can’t prevent a loved one’s death.
But death isn’t stronger than love
Because even within death love exists
In the heart of the lover.
God gives opportunities
but not forever.
God takes opportunities away after a while.
So don’t hesitate or delay or curse the darkness
while remaining mired in hopelessness,
because God gives;
and God takes away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
But why bless the LORD when God takes away?
Because if the opportunities were always there,
we would wait until the time was right and never make the leap,
and another year would waste away.
So God gives and God takes away.