The Carmel mountain (Photo: Lev Tsimbler/iStock)
The Humanity of Trees
BY RABBI SHALOM HAMMER
The Talmud (Shabbat 67) offers two suggestions regarding how one should react after finding an infected tree in danger of dying. First, one should hang weights from the tree’s branches. Farmers have explained to me that when weights are placed on its branches, the tree concentrates and directs its energies exclusively towards its roots, enabling it to revive itself and heal.
The Talmud continues and explains that one should also mark the tree with red paint, “so that passers-by will notice the sickly tree and pray for its well-being”.
This suggestion is difficult to understand. While no one would question the significance of trees in general, are there not more important causes to pray for than the health of a random individual tree? World peace, security in the Land of Israel, and the good health of mankind – there are so many more important issues to pray for than trees!
Although praying for a sickly tree seems strange, the Talmud is conveying an important message. By sensitizing us to show concern for all G-d’s creations – even a tree! – the Rabbis are demonstrating the type of sensitivity we must show to all who surround us. If we are expected to pray for the health of a tree, how much more so must we pray and focus upon the health of our fellow man and the development of our society! The sickly tree painted red is meant to be a reminder, a means of awakening mankind to be more compassionate and sensitive to one another.
In a similar vein, the Torah commands: “When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an ax against them, for from it you will eat, and you shall not cut it down” (Devarim 20:19).
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the premise of this mitzvah. During wartime, soldiers often exhibit aggressive and even barbaric tendencies. By taking care not to destroy any fruit trees, the soldiers are reminded of their own humanity. They remember that these trees provide humanity with sustenance and the means for survival. Once again, preservation of the fruit trees remind the soldiers that even in a time of war, man’s purpose is not to attack and destroy, but to advance life and perpetuate civilization by being more thoughtful and caring towards their fellow man.
Tu BiShvat is not so much a celebration of the “new year for trees,” as much as a time to reflect on the lessons we learn from trees. There is no better way to celebrate the day than with acts of kindness for our surroundings, our environment, and, most important of all, our fellow man.
Rabbi Shalom Hammer is an IDF educator and Founder and Director of Makom Meshutaf educational programming, under the auspices of World Mizrachi. He has authored five books. www.rabbihammer.com