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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


January 26, 2018  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Jewish roots

By RABBI DANIELLE UPBIN Cong Beth Shalom, Clearwater

In memory of Hannah Weiss, z”l, whose commitment to environmental sustainability and health inspires us to make a difference in this world

While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

~Taanit 23a

This powerful text prompts us to ask ourselves: What kind of planet do we want to leave for our children? How do our choices today impact our future, long-term health and resilience of the planet? These questions are often debated in the public domain, but one may be surprised to learn of the profound and authentic contributions of Jewish thought to these matters. Over the centuries, our tradition has eloquently and creatively urged its adherents to be environmentalists - to be mindful of consumption and unnecessary waste, to support sustainable agriculture, to provide for the needy, and to exhibit gratitude for what we have.

Consider another evocative text: Shimon bar Yochai taught that “if you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone says that the Messiah has drawn near, first plant the sapling, and then go and greet the Messiah.” ~Avot d’Rebbe Natan 31b

Planting a tree demonstrates our commitment to a healthy planet. Even when our long awaited spiritual redemption is at hand, we don’t forgo our personal responsibility as partners with God. We are the dreamers, but we are also the planters. The seeds we sew will inevitably become the fruits of the next generation. Spiritual freedom is dependent on our informed choices and responsibility for one other.

Our tradition is keenly aware that our encounters with the natural world stir in us a sense of peace, wonder, and wellbeing - simple gifts bestowed upon those who are willing to accept them. Consider this gentle passage from a mystical tradition:

“Every blade of grass sings poetry to God without ulterior motives or alien thoughts – without consideration of reward. How good and lovely it is, then, when one is able to hear this song of the grasses…” – Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav.

Calling to us through a busy, loud, and over-connected society, Jewish thought invites us to do something counter-cultural like take a “tech-break” and stroll outside. We are invited to turn off the constant chatter and “tune-in” to the symphony of the natural world. Imagine getting so externally and internally quiet, as to actually hear the song of a blade of grass!

There is no better gift to ourselves, to one another, and to future generations, then owning our role as the true stewards of the earth that we were created to be. As the Torah states: “The Eternal One placed the human being in the Garden of Eden, to till and to tend it” (Genesis 2:15). By making some small changes to our consumption, consumerism and waste habits, we may just be able to hear that song of the grasses from our abodes!

These are just a few of the many Jewish ideas that speak to the timely subject of “conscious living” on the planet. As we celebrate the “New Year of the Trees” this month on Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, may we inspired to go back to our Jewish roots to plant a tree or even an entire orchard for the benefit of future generations.

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board. The views expressed in the column are those of the rabbi and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jewish Press or the Board of Rabbis.

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