Tu Bishvat & #TorahForTheResistance: Taking Our Trees With Us
Above: “Lo Alecha” papercut by Aaron Hodge Greenberg, used with permission.
[pullquote align=left] #TorahForTheResistance is a campaign by young rabbinical and religious students about Jewish resistance to Trump through the lens of faith, Judaism, and spirituality.
[/pullquote]This Shabbos the Israelites will make their journey through a split sea and join the rest of us in the wilderness. The barren wasteland that will provide the setting for the rest of the Torah is not unlike the political landscape in which we find ourselves. Our emotional experiences, too, seem to overlap with b’nei Yisrael – the people will feel lost (check), they will be bitter (check) and they will long to return, even to the imperfect and dysfunctional place from which they emerged (check). Every year we are asked to imagine ourselves in the place of our mythic ancestors, some years it comes more easily than others
Simultaneous to our cycle through the Torah is our journey through the year-cycle and its holidays. In a day, we will celebrate Tu Bishvat and the miraculousness of the tree-world that delights and sustains us. This experience, as well, is shaded by the historical moment in which we are living. Our relationship to the natural world and our obligation to its resources are called into question by the rise of a man who understands little of climate science. Trump’s first weeks in office have evidenced his willingness to move forward projects that will threaten the planet by removing tar sands oil and threaten the water of indigenous people by seeking to reverse the policy decisions of the Army Corps of Engineers. So, when the time comes for us to sit in our Tu Bishvat seders and connect our spiritual and environmental sensibilities- we might find ourselves reaching for the bottle beyond the fourth glass of wine.
[pullquote align=right] Trump’s first weeks in office have evidenced his willingness to move forward projects that will threaten the planet.
[/pullquote]Yet, we might find greater comfort and greater strength if, instead, we turn to a great midrashic story of tree-planting in times of distress. We learn it in Parashat Terumah, the Torah portion that instructs us in the building of the mishkan, our portable holy space. The story is rooted in the fact that the Israelites are commanded to construct their sanctuary of acacia wood. Lest there be any confusion about where the children of Israel would procure acacia wood in the middle of the wilderness, Rashi tells an explanatory story. It seems that when Jacob came down to Mitzrayim (the land of narrowness) he had the holy forethought to know that someday they would be commanded to build a mishkan. So, he brought with him acacia trees and instructed his children that when they came up from Egypt that they should bring the acacias with them. Jacob brings his resources with him into the land of bondage, he plants them and waters them and teaches the generations that will follow how to care for them.
[pullquote align=left] Our relationship to the natural world and our obligation to its resources are called into question by the rise of a man who understands little of climate science.
[/pullquote]In times like these, when we are focused on resistance to and disruption of a despotic regime, it is hard to maintain a hope that we will once again have the opportunity to build the structures and the communities in which Holiness can reside. Yet this year as we celebrate Tu Bishvat we would be wise to remember that, like Jacob, we all have the capacity to bring our resources with us into the place of narrowness; to care for them and grow them. No longer acacia trees, our resources now might look like organizing experience, expendable income, ability to teach, art-making and song-singing. Liberation may be some time off, but in the meantime, let’s cultivate that holy-forethought and deep hope that a time for building will return. Let’s continue planting and may the Holy One of Blessing give us the faith that the fruits of our labor will soon be savored. As the Psalms teach, “that which is sowed in tears, in gladness it will be reaped.”