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January 27, 2011 10:28 am

Going Green? Plant a Little Seed.

avatar by Menucha Levy

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Am I the only one, or has the term “green” got you feeling blue as well? Are we truly a generation in agony; subjecting ourselves and our children to environmental damnation? For as long as I can remember, environmentalism has always been generally frowned upon by the union of the orthodox (“Money going the way of the whales? Feh!”). But far long before WALL-E programmed the masses with the guilty conscience of spoiling the planet, before a (rather fabricated) Truth became Inconvenient, and even much earlier than Willy was set free, we were given the secret to existential longevity: waste not.

Believe it or not, recycling is not quite as new-age as we’d all like to think. When the Torah is referred to as a “guide to life”, it is most definitely meant to be taken literally. We were given the key to being green – long ago and far away, atop a mountain amidst the Sinai desert; it was given in the form of a prohibitive commandment: Do not destroy. There it is, in all it’s glory – at the very crux of Jewish ethics – simplistic, minimalist, modern.

Did you know that once a seed is planted, it is continuously in a state of growth? Photo: J.J. Harrison.

In early Rabbinic Law (as mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud), the “do not destroy” principle applied to a myriad of things: the wasting of lamp oil, the tearing of clothing, the chopping of furniture for firewood, the killing of animals etc. Though, it should be noted that originally, this law was rooted as a Biblical commandment that was limited to times of war, and forbade only the cutting down of fruit trees. Fruit trees! Imagine that. The Israelite army forges though enemy-lines and into conquerable land, at which point they must remember to “watch out” for the fruit trees! The Lord is truly One of Kindness and Compassion (suddenly the save-the-whales-naysayers look like the ones in need of savior…!).

I don’t know if you’ve ever got to really thinking about the general concept of Tu B’Shvat, but the enormity of an agricultural holiday on the Jewish calendar has always got me contemplative. Celebrating the “new year” for the trees can seem a bit extraneous, even when viewed in reference to calculating the beginning/end of the tree’s life cycle for the purpose of the biblical tithes involving trees and fruit (which is, by the way, the practical reason for the marked holiday). As a child, this day was reminiscent of enjoying some dried fruit, and possibly potting some wintertime bulbs in little terra cotta planters at school; as a mother, this holiday conjures up strong emotions and intense resolutions. Somehow, when thinking about Tu B’Shvat, I wind up on the beaten path of man being likened to trees. As cliché as the whole “man; a tree in the field”-thing may sound, it still manages to take me to the awe-inspiring place of people; of birth, and growth.

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Did you know that once a seed is planted, it is continuously in a state of growth? Should that growth cease, the plant would promptly perish! Am I alone here in my fascination, or is this concept truly as enthralling as it seems to me? We all plant little seeds on earth, in one way or another; be it a humanitarian project, a new charitable fund, a novel form of education, a personal resolution, or even an actual child. Once begun – in order to sustain the life of those seeds – we must ensure that they are in a constant state of growth! There is no such thing as just existing, they must be growing! It sounds quite simple, really: atop a stable foundation, a healthy seed yields a healthy plant, which in turn, with care, irrigation, and sunshine, yields a healthy tree with firm roots; producing sweet fruit.

I think this holiday is a time to stop questioning the stability of our own foundation, the nicks and scratches we may have been subjected to as seedlings, the ill effects the elements have had on our branches etc. It’s a time to just plant! Get on with what is globally important – our contribution to future life on earth is being even more environmentally responsible than instituting a neighborhood compost center in your backyard. It’s time we think about what and how we are planting, what we are giving to the earth and how we will embark on making it a lasting, healthy, and fruitful contribution.

This can mean something entirely different to all of you respectively, and take it as you will. To me, this means trying – really working hard at – forgetting all the many ways I feel my Jewish education may have been tainted, my personal outlook on life may have been manipulated etc. and just focusing on infusing my children with the values, principles, and ideals that I believe to be true and integral to Jewish continuity.

God commanded us against destruction; and in doing so he taught us an ancient – albeit, everlasting – lesson in environmentalism. He also gave us a day to celebrate global growth, and instructed us to plant and cultivate this earth. On this holiday, you can reach out through the JNF and donate a tree to be planted on our Holy Land’s soil, or this year you can try a bit harder, and take a deeper look inside. Search for something dear to your heart, something you’d like to contribute; plant a perfect little seed… and watch it grow.

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