By Rabbi Lawrence Malinger
On Tuesday evening, January 30th, we will celebrate the 15th day of the month of Shevat, otherwise known as Tu B’Shevat, the new year of the trees. This is a good time to focus on the natural world. Appreciating the natural world can help us deepen our relationship with God, through a shared faith and gratitude for all of our blessings.
We learn in the rabbinic literature that the first order of the Mishnah is Zeraim (Seeds), which deals with agricultural laws. There is a belief that when one is close to the land, that person understands very clearly how much we depend on it. The farmer knows how much one needs the rain and the sun, how much one relies on God for the blessing of our natural resources.
Farmers know that they can do their best, but without God’s blessings of the natural resources needed, there’s no guarantee of their success. Today, many tend to downplay our relationship with the earth and our dependence on the blessing of our natural resources. But the farmer knows that’s not the case. Their dependence on the land deepens their relationship with faith of God’s presence.
At URJ Camp Harlam this past summer, we studied this idea in connection to gratitude and the prayers we offer around our time of eating food. We understand that it is our obligation to appreciate the environment, which includes not only our expression of faith, but also our expression of gratitude. We have learned that we need to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives, including the process of how we get the very food that we express thanks for, both before and after we eat our meals. At camp, we conclude each and every meal with the Birkat HaMazon, the prayer of gratitude for the food we have just consume.
Our campers added some additional lines to this prayer. Here are two examples:
Praise God for providing seeds. Thank the farmers for planting, growing, and harvesting the wheat. Thanks to the people who turn wheat into flour. Show gratitude to the chefs for making and cooking the dough. Thank everyone in the making of our bread. – Eitan
We praise You God for providing us food and we thank all the people who helped it get to our table. We are thankful for the good nutrition it provides. We also appreciate the farmers, millers, shippers, chefs, and everyone else. We praise Adonai for bringing us food and ask for God to bring peace and love to all. – Sasha
Tu B’Shevat is the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves to reaffirm our faith in the divine presence, which enables our food to grow and to gather together to share our gratitude for the many wonderful blessings we have in our lives. This year on Tu B’Shevat, let’s take a few moments to appreciate our connections to the physical world, appreciate God’s marvelous creation, and protect the natural resources that have been granted to us. Let’s always be grateful for the many blessings.
Rabbi Laurence Malinger is the rabbi of Temple Shalom of Aberdeen, NJ and has served on faculty at URJ Camp Harlam for more than 17 summers.