10 Feb Tu B’Shvat greeting from Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog
Although we are in the throes of winter, at the height of the rainy season (which has been a particular blessing this year in the State of Israel), Jewish tradition instructs us to set aside time to celebrate Tu B’Shvat – the 15th day of the month of Shvat, also known as the Festival of Trees.
Jewish sages throughout the ages have expressed the glory of this day, as did the founders of the Zionist movement and those Jews who first settled the Land of Israel en masse. The scholar Abraham Yaari wrote: “Today, with the beginnings of the return to Zion, the holiday has transformed from a day to eat fruit to a day to plant fruit trees, and thus the fortunes of the day are ever greater.”
Each year my awe about the uniqueness of this holiday is renewed. Unlike other Jewish holidays, the Festival of Trees does not commemorate historical milestones in the story of the Jewish people. It is, simply and profoundly, a time to consider the trees. Once a year, the Jewish people and the people of Israel stop their fast-paced schedules, turn a spotlight onto nature, and celebrate the blossoming orchards and the flowering of the fields. In my heart I feel this is a perfect time to internalize and spread the message of how much we rely on the nature, the tremendous benefits of vegetation for humanity, and our duty to preserve and nurture the environment.
As you know, as the Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, I oversee activity in Jewish and Zionist communities all over the world. As part of The Jewish Agency’s long-standing mission to strengthen the bonds between Jews across the globe, I am in a position both to share the spirit of the Land of Israel and its residents, and to hear the concerns of our fellow Jews. Environmental issues, and the relationship between humankind and nature, have increasingly become urgent matters for dialogue. I have encountered deep pain about the ways that our nature is being crushed under the advance of industrialization and technology, both in Israel and all over the planet. Many good people have expressed frustration about the widespread indifference to the forest fires in Australia. I heard their sorrow, and I share it.
Their message and mine for Tu B’Shvat 2020 was best expressed by our ancient Sages, in the book of Kohelet Rabbah: “When the Holy One created Adam, the first man, He showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: See how beautiful and wondrous they are! And everything I have created – I have created for you. Mind that you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you spoil it, no one will fix it for you.”
Isaac (Bougie) Herzog