Tu BShevat food for thought

In this age of ecological concerns, it is a surprise that more Jews do not embrace the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, which starts today at sunset. Although it is a minor holiday, its message of saving our environment becomes more critical as each year goes by.

Perhaps this is one reason why some Jews hold a seder every Tu B'Shevat. Actually, the Tu B'Shevat seder dates back to the 16th century when it was started by Jewish mystics or kabbalists. Today it is practiced at many synagogues, religious schools and JCCs.

At those seders, we eat special foods and recite appropriate prayers, along with biblical readings, stories, poetry, songs and discussions about nature and the environment.

At some Tu B'Shevat seders, four questions are recited, borrowing the tradition from the Passover seder.

One author has suggested that a good list of questions might include: What do I know about the place where I live? Where do things come from? How do I connect to the earth? What is my purpose as a human being?

The answers to those questions are not as obvious as they might seem. Most of us rarely think about the environmental aspects of the communities in which we live. How old are the trees around our house? What kind of trees are they? How can we nurture them?

We take for granted the products we use every day and seldom think about where they came from or how they were manufactured. Was the environment hurt by the production of goods we bring into our homes, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive?

We also rarely think of our connection to the earth. In fact, we look to the day we can better control our environment instead of seeking a way to live in harmony with it. Did God mean for us to control our world or simply to be part of it?

That leads to the question of what our purpose is as human beings. Our answers to this question should take into account the order of creation and what we think our role is within that order.

Yes, this is all a bit heady. This is food for thought. This is Tu B'Shevat. Go and enjoy it.