The 15th of Shevat (runs from sunset on January 16 to sunset on January 17) is the beginning of the year for the trees. In addition, every year I feel compelled to celebrate this date honoring the forests of all biomes in the world and, in particular, the marine algae that is the largest of the moving forests on this planet, which should be called Water instead of Earth, as a five-year old boy called Theo concluded. Theo is right! The oceans are the real lungs of the world and algae is responsible for most of the oxygen we breathe, and together with rivers, lakes and ponds, account for more than 75% of the planetary essence.
Tu BiShvat is another opportunity to delve deeply into ourselves in search of answers to the questions: What are we leaving as a legacy to repair the world? Which human beings do we want to leave as an example of an evolving species for future generations?
Hermann Hesse, the German writer naturalized Swiss in 1923, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Goethe Prize in 1946, right in the rubble of the Second World War and the holocaust that we will never forget, summed up well our individual responsibility for collective perpetuity. I could have chosen one of so many Jewish personalities from our rich literary world, but only Herman let the beauty and resilience that saves us from our loneliest winters bloom in his well-drawn lines. “For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. In addition, I revere them even more when they are alone. In its highest branches, the world whispers. Its roots rest in infinity. However, they do not get lost there. They fight with all the strength of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is more sacred, nothing is more exemplary than a tree, beautiful and strong.”
While reading this excerpt from Hess, I remembered Clarisse Niskier interpreting the play Alma Imoral (Immoral Soul), based on the book by Rabbi Nilton Bonder. “He, who does not make use of his full potential in life, somehow diminishes the potential of all humans.” The tree relates very well to our ability to surprise ourselves with the seeds that will still germinate and bear fruit.
In the Talmud, it is written that “when a life is saved, all humanity is saved”. At this time of Tu BiShvat, I take the opportunity to add to this iconic sentence. When a tree is saved, every forest of the earth and the seas is saved.
Jacqueline Moreno is a journalist, simultaneous interpreter and volunteer communicator for the Union of Reform Judaism (UJR). She hugs trees every day of her life.