Tu Bishvat Quotations
When I was about six, my family moved into a house with two apple trees in the back yard. When the fruit became ripe, we had a bumper crop. We baked apple pies and made applesauce, and we still had lots of apples to share with friends.
During one apple delivery, a neighbor explained to me that the family who used to live in our house had planted two apple trees because each tree helps the other to grow. With the help of insects and birds who transport material from tree to tree, the apple trees enriched one another.
The story made an impression on me. I understood that the woman wasn’t just telling me a story about plants with trunks. She was thanking me, supporting my sense of community, and conveying what it takes – for apples or humans – to bear fruit. Sharing apples feels so good to both giver and receiver because that way of connecting is in perfect harmony with the process of how the apples came into being in the first place. They didn’t grow alone; they grew with the help of sun and rain and birds and insects and apple trees with vital differences and crucial similarities to themselves. They grew in a world designed by God to give us fecundity and abundance when we fully engage and support the interconnected Oneness of everything and everyone in God’s world.
The following are quotations about Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. I hope you enjoy them.
-- Rabbi Debra Orenstein
Quotations from Pri Etz Hadar: Prayerful Intentions For Eating Fruit
The Kabbalists believed that by eating fruit on Tu Bishvat with full intention and proper blessings, they could increase the flow from Heaven to Earth and thus harvest more physical abundance while bearing more spiritual fruit. A pamphlet called Pri Etz Hadar (translated “fruit of the goodly tree” or “the most majestic fruit,” a phrase taken from Lev. 23:40), outlined the original Tu Bishvat seder, including readings and instructions for intention, meditation, and blessings.The following quotations are taken from Pri Etz Hadar.
"Through the power of the blessings and contemplation of the mystery of the fruit's divine roots, an effect will be produced in their structure and character above [so that the fruit becomes a kind of medicine, full of whatever the eater needs for his or her own personal tikkun [repair and healing] as well as for their work toward tikkun olam[repair of the world]. In order to effect this tikkun, it is fitting for us to eat all kinds of fruit on this very day and to bless them with this intention. For a mitzvah is best when performed at the proper time…
"May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, that through the sacred power of our blessing and eating fruit, while reflecting on the secret of their supernal roots upon which they depend, that shefa [favor, blessing and bounty] be bestowed upon them. May the angels appointed over them also be filled by the powerful shefa of their glory, may it return and cause them to grow a second time, from the beginning of the year until its end, for bounty and blessing, for good life and peace.
“Fulfill for us Your promise through Malachi, Your prophet, 'I will banish the devourer from among you and he will not destroy the fruit of the earth, and the vine of your field will not miscarry, says Adonai of Hosts.' Look down from your sacred dwelling place in heaven and bless us this year with bounty and blessing…
“May shefa, favor, and compassion be bestowed upon us, to pardon the iniquities and misdeeds that we have committed, causing the rains of beneficence to be withheld, so that all the sources of shefa were harmed…
“May all evil be removed…And may everything return to its original might and not be rejected…Then the trees of the forest will rejoice” and the tree of the field lift its branches and bear fruit daily…May it occur swiftly, in our days, Amen…. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart find favor before You, YHVH, my rock and my redeemer. May the favor of Adonai our God, be upon us.…”
Quotations on Trees and Nature
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught, “if you have a sapling in your hand, and someone says to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go to greet the Messiah.” – Avot d’Rabi Natan 31b
[The modern-day rabbi, Rami Shapiro, adds [to the statement of ben Zakkai]: Redemption is in the very act of planting. We can greet the Messiah in each seedling we plant, in each sapling we water, in each tree we prune and harvest, in each face we meet. If you need to stop the planting to greet the messiah, you are already lost. Tu Bishvat is a call to return not just to Nature, but to our own nature. It is a reminder to plant ourselves firmly in the Place (Makom, the All-Present One) that is every place, and to awaken to the fundamental unity of God, woman, man, and Nature. We are Nature’s way of tending, and of doing what needs to be done — Trees, Earth, and Torah
“When you enter the land and plant…” Even if you find the land full of good things, do not say "we will sit and not plant;" rather be industrious in your plantings. – Tanchuma Kedoshim 19:23
Honi Hama’agal was journeying on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, “How long does this tree take to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.” [Honi] asked further, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man answered,” I found [full grown] carob trees in the world; as my ancestors planted these for me, so I too plant for my children. Honi sat down to have a meal, and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation closed around him, hiding him from sight, and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke, he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, “Are you the man who planted the tree?” The man answered,”I am his grandson.” –Talmud Ta’anit 23a
Ah, for people like us, followed
addresses and dossiers and limping causes
it takes a crazy despairing faith…
to plant pine and
fir and beech
for somebody else’s grandchildren,
if there are any.
– Marge Piercy
Immediately after creating the first human, the Holy One, blessed be God, took Adam and led him around the trees of the Garden of Eden, saying to him, “Look at My works, how beautiful and commendable they are! For your sake I created them all. Take care that you do not spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there is no one to come after you and repair it." – Kohelet Rabbah 7:20
Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone;
may it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grass — among all growing things and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom nature and I belong.
May I express there everything in my heart,
and may all the foliage of the field —
all grasses, trees, and plants —
awake at my coming,
to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer
so that my prayer and speech are made whole and vital
through the life and spirit of all growing things,
which are made as one by their transcendent Source.
May I then pour out the words of my heart
before your Presence like water, God,
and lift up my hands to You in worship,
on my behalf, and that of my children!
– Prayer of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
Once when Rav Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, a young student walking with him plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act. Turning to his companion, he said gently, "Believe me when I tell you, I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to." He explained further, "Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation." For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures.
– Wisdom of the Jewish Mystics
Human beings have indeed become primarily tool-making animals, and the world is now a gigantic tool box for the satisfaction of their needs....It is when nature is sensed as mystery and grandeur that it calls upon us to look beyond it.
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by forcing an ax against them; for you may eat of them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a human that it should be besieged by you? Only the trees which you know are not trees for food, may you destroy and cut down to build siege works against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.
– Deuteronomy 20:19-20
The text of Deuteronomy 20 is a sacred warning to human beings not to misuse the position which God has given us as masters of the world and its matter by capricious, passionate or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction. Only for wise use has God laid the world at our feet.
– Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
If not for the trees, human life could not exist.
– Midrash Sifre on Deut. 20:19
[Torah wisdom] is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy.
– Proverbs 3:18
Rabbi Akiba said: A man is forbidden to taste anything before saying a blessing over it. …Our Rabbis have taught: It is forbidden to a man to enjoy anything of this world without a benediction, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a benediction, he commits sacrilege.
What is his remedy? One should consult a wise person. What will the wise person do? One has already committed the offence! Said Raba: What it means is that one should consult a wise person beforehand, so that the Sage should teach one blessings and one should not commit sacrilege.
Rav Judah said in the name of Samuel: To enjoy anything of this world without a benediction is like making personal use of things consecrated to heaven, since it says: The earth is Adonai’s and the fullness thereof [Ps. 24:1].
R. Levi contrasted two texts. It is written, ‘The earth is Adonai’s and the fullness thereof’, and it is also written, “The heavens are the heavens of Adonai, but the earth God has given to the descendants of Adam [Ps. 115:16]. There is no contradiction: in the one case it is before a blessing has been said; in the other case, after.
–Talmud Berachot 35a