In the Talmud, we read a lovely little story: "One day as [a man named] Honi was walking along he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him "how many years will it take until it will bear fruit?" The man replied "not for seventy years". Honi asked him, "do you really believe you'll live another seventy years?" The man answered, "I found this world provided with carob trees, and as my ancestors planted them for me, so I too plant them for my descendants."

This story is often evoked this time of year, particularly because of the holiday of Tu biShvat. Jewish tradition has many funny hoildays, but one of the most curious is Tu biShvat. Usually falling in February or March, Tu biShvat is an apt time to consider what it means to value wilderness and tress.

In ancient times, Tu biShvat was simply the new year for the purpose of calculating agricultural taxes– it was 'the birthday of the trees.' Just like the fiscal year and civil year start at different times– ancient agricultural tithes were calculated from the 15th (Tu) of the month of Sh'vat. Yet, in our modern world, this rather mundane aspect of the civic calendar has been transformed into an ecological focus point.

In the spirit of the season, Tu biShvat has become a time to plant trees in contemporary Jewish life. Trees are unequalled symbols in our tradition, and as wilderness disappears, it is more important than ever that we actively work to plant trees for the future. We call the Torah a 'tree of life' and we continually evoke the importance and significance of trees– so much so that we still celebrate their birthday, even if the question of taxes is quite irrelevant. 

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