By Laura Seymour
Dear Parents and Children,
It is beginning to feel like winter (finally) and it is Tu B’Shevat — the Birthday of the Trees. Most of us have memories of collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year and we continue to plant especially on this “birthday.” There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by G-d to care for our earth. Tu B’Shevat is a very special time to remember this!
The Torah tells us how the world was created but then goes on to tell us how to protect and preserve the earth. A very important Jewish law is bal tashchit — do not destroy! The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste. Take time to talk with your children about the meanings of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. (These are taken from “Listen to the Trees — Jews and the Earth” by Molly Cone: a wonderful resource filled with quotations and stories.)
Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask, “What do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable!).
- Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b)
- It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodashim 4:12)
- When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19)
- Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of bal tashchit. (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
- The whole world of humans, animals, fish and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. (Tanna de-Bei Eliyahu Rabba 2)
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.