Thoughts from the Rabbi…
The temperatures are sub-freezing here in York, and the trees are mere skeletons of their fuller selves. Yet January is a time of rebirth, renewal, and regeneration in other parts of the world. As we huddle close, enveloped in the cocoons we make from blankets of cloth to keep us warm from the blankets of snow, blossoms are starting to emerge on the trees throughout Israel.
Sadly, in early December, we learned of the devastating forest fire that consumed 5 million trees covering 12,500 acres in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa. While our traveling group did not see – first hand – the damage caused by this fire, its impact was felt heavily throughout the country. While we did not see the smoke, we did see the ashen faces of Israelis in mourning.
Not only did Israel suffer the loss of magnificent, lush green forest, they suffered – as well – the loss of 42 people who were sent into the fire to help transport prisoners out of a facility located within the burn-zone. Our hearts are torn from the tremendous loss of life – both of humanity and of nature.
On January 20 – the 15th of the Hebrew month, Shevat – known in Hebrew as Tu b’Shevat, we will observe one of the four Biblically-ordained New Year celebrations: The birthday of the trees.
Modern references suggest that it is on this date that the first blooms appear, and the flora throughout the Holy Land awakens from its wintery slumber. This is the time of year that religious school students the world over are directed by their teachers to plant saplings or seeds to symbolically connect with the new growth appearing throughout the State of Israel.
Yet there are 5 million trees that will yield no bud, and produce no fruit. The Jewish National Fund has stated that aside from work necessary to ensure that the region remains safe, they will not work this site for a full year, allowing the cycle of nature to take its course, and to let the winds, animals, and sunshine work the land without human interference. It is the hope of JNF that at this season next year, the land will have sufficiently turned, allowing for a complete renewal and a great rebirth of the Carmel Mountains.
When our group arrived in Israel, our first stop was a quick one. Without tremendous fanfare we descended from our bus in a quiet patch of hose-watered desert – and we planted trees where none had been before. One by one, these new saplings will take root, and the Country will continue to grow. Something really can come from nothing. Next year, 5 million saplings will need to be planted where established trees once stood. With our loving support for the Land of Israel, her forests and spirits will rise again.
Rabbi Jeffrey R. Astrachan