As Tu Bishvat is coming, this is a collection of short texts followed by guiding questions in order to discuss what trees can teach us about ourselves, humans, grassroots communities, sustainable leadership, God, Torah and learning. Hag sameah!
Tu Bishvat is also called the new year of trees in Jewish tradition.
- How much do you feel that your personal calendar is impacted by natural cycles?
It's actually only one in four new years throughout the 12 months-cycle.
- Do you connect with the idea of multiple renewal opportunities?
- What other new years would you add?
כי האדם עץ השדה. הֲרֵי כִּי מְשַׁמֵּשׁ בִּלְשׁוֹן דִּלְמָא
כי האדם עץ השדה FOR IS THE TREE OF THE FIELD A MAN [THAT IT SHOULD BE BESIEGED BY THEE]? — כי has here the meaning of “possibly”, “perhaps”
1. Humans and the human condition
This biblical text and its comment see something in humans, humanity and/or human nature that is akin to a tree.
- Both are born, live, grow, die
- Both need external resources to nurture their internal resources
- What are other concrete similarities you can think of?
- What would your community/society look like if humans behaved more like trees?
For know! each and every shepherd has his own special melody, according to the grasses and specific location where he is grazing. This is because each and every animal has a specific grass which it needs to eat. He also does not always pasture in the same place. Thus, his melody is dictated by the grasses and place he pastures. For each and every grass has a song which it sings. This is the concept of Perek Shirah. And from the grass’s song, the shepherd’s melody is created.
2. Grassroots communities
This hassidic text (and subsequent song) is one of the ways I like best to understand the notion of grassroots.
- Both are a combination of collective and radical uniqueness
- The individual needs to be nurtured to maintain collective sanity
- Each unique member (grass/individual) has specific needs
- What other similarities do you see between community and community building and grass?
וְלָמָּה הֶרְאָה לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמשֶׁה בָּעִנְיָן הַזֶּה, לְפִי שֶׁהָיָה מְחַשֵּׁב בְּלִבּוֹ וְאוֹמֵר, שֶׁמָּא יִהְיוּ הַמִּצְרִיִּים מְכַלִּין אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְפִיכָךְ הֶרְאָהוּ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֵשׁ בּוֹעֶרֶת וְאֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל, אָמַר לוֹ כְּשֵׁם שֶׁהַסְּנֶה בּוֹעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְאֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל, כָּךְ הַמִּצְרִיִּים אֵינָן יְכוֹלִין לְכַלּוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל.
And why did the Holy One, Blessed be He reveal Himself to Moses in this way? Because he [Moses] thought in his heart, saying, Maybe the Egyptians will destroy Israel. Therefore the Holy One, Blessed be He revealed Himself in a thorn-bush that was burning but not consumed. He said to him, just as the thorn-bush is burning but is not consumed, so too the Egyptians will not be able to destroy Israel.
This rabbinic commentary derives from the story of the burning bush a lesson on sustainability, hope and/or leadership. Some trees can burn without being consumed.
- As a leader, how do you know when you're switching from burning to consuming?
ד"א למה מתוך הסנה ר' אלעזר בן ערך אומר מפני מה נגלה הקב"ה משמי מרום והיה מדבר עם משה מתוך הסנה לפי שיכול המקום שידבר מראש הרים ומראש הגבעות מגבהי עולם ומארזי לבנון אלא השפיל עצמו ודבר מתוך הסנה ועליו אמר שלמה (משלי כ"ט כ"ג) ושפל רוח יתמוך כבוד: אי אתה מוצא מן האילנות שפל מן הסנה וכן הוא אומר (תהלים קל"ח ו') כי רם ד' ושפל יראה.
R. Eliezer ben Arakh said: Why did the Holy One Blessed be He reveal Himself from on high and speak to Moses from out of the bush? Surely he should have spoken to him from the mountain peaks and the lofty places of the world and from the cedars of Lebanon? But he lowered himself and spoke from out of the bush. Of Him, Solomon said "He that is of a lowly spirit shall attain to honor" (Prov. 29, 23). You can find nothing more humble among the trees than the bush. It is likewise said: "For though the Lord be high, yet regards he the lowly" (Psalms 138, 6).
Of all trees, this text identifies God to a bush.
- What are the features of a bush-like God?
5. Torah & Learning
This text identifies Torah - and by extension learning - to a tree.
- This invites people to tend to it
- This reflects dynamism and change
- What else does that teach us about the Torah?
At Moishe House, we've created the Jewish Learning Tree to reflect those ideas of growth, rootedness, diversity, versatility, dynamism, connectedness, etc.
- Can you think of a Jewish Learning program you'd love to build/join with the help of this Tree?