Opinions & Commentary

Be grateful for the Earth during Tu B’Shevat

By Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman

Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman is a special education teacher at a public high school in Massachusetts and an independent Jewish educator. Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman is a special education teacher at a public high school in Massachusetts and an independent Jewish educator. In the midst of the cold weather, Tu B’Shevat is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the natural world. One way to do this is through a Tu B’Shevat seder, in which participants recognize, eat and appreciate different types of fruit. Tu B’Shevat is also an apropos time to reflect on Judaism’s teachings about sustaining, properly utilizing and enjoying the natural world.

According to a midrash, God instructed Adam: “See my works, how fine and excellent they are! All that I created, I created for you. Reflect on this, and do not corrupt or desolate my world; for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) This is a very powerful statement. God is telling us that we are responsible for preserving His creations.

Additionally, God informed us: “Even those creatures that you deem superfluous in this world such as flies, fleas and gnats, even they were included in Creation, and God’s purpose is carried out through everything – even a snake, a scorpion, a gnat or a frog.” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 10:7)

To help ensure the earth’s preservation, God gave the Jewish people many mitzvot (commandments) that pertain to nature and the environment. One of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah is not to destroy fruit trees in an offensive war (Deut. 20:19). The name of this mitzvah is Baal Tash’hit, which means, “don’t destroy.” However, the rabbis in the Talmud taught that, in fact, all forms of wasting/destroying are a violation of the mitzvah of Baal Tash’hit, and gave several examples, such as the breaking vessels in anger and causing a lamp to unnecessarily burn more oil. In other words, the mitzvot of Baal Tash’hit teaches us to conserve resources.

Another mitzvah is Shmita, not working the land during the seventh year, which teaches us about ecological sustainability; as well as to maintain green belts around cities (Numbers 35:4), the prohibition against grafting diverse seeds and cross breeding animals (Leviticus 19:19), and Shabbat, which is a weekly rest for humans, animals and the natural world. Rabbinic texts are also full of numerous laws pertaining to waste disposal and pollution, as well as the directive that if a person takes water from a well but does not use it all, he or she should not throw it out but find some productive use for it.

God wants us not just to preserve the natural world, but to also appreciate and enjoy it. Therefore, Jewish law requires a blessing to be said upon seeing wonders such as lightening, rainbows, shooting stars, the ocean and so on, as well over food, fragrant trees and flowers. It is a Jewish tradition to say 100 blessings per day, which means 100 times per day we are supposed to pause, appreciate and enjoy the natural world.

This Tu B’Shevat, let’s identify at least one thing in the natural world for which we are thankful and verbally thank God for it.


DEDHAM – Corey Roberts’ third grade class helps...

Copyright 2008-2017 The Jewish Advocate, All Rights Reserved