Treen Planting
(iStock)

Hazon encourages you to incorporate nature connection into your Tu b’Shevat celebration.

According to Jewish tradition, if one is studying Torah while walking on the road and interrupts their learning and says, “What a beautiful tree!” scripture considers that person liable for death.

Wait. Really?! How could this be? How could a moment of nature appreciation be seen as a distraction so sinister that it warrants the death penalty?

In the words of Rabbi Marc Soloway, “Rav Kook … and others, teach that the key word in this text is “mafsik,” breaking off, separating. That is to say: If we understand the appreciation of a tree as an interruption from our studies, meaning, something separate from Torah, a break in our religious sensibility or intellectual curiosity, we might as well be dead. Spirituality is inherently an integration of body and soul, the earth and the heavens.”

In other words, a moment of nature appreciation isn’t an interruption of our wonder, but the source of it. Stopping to smell the flowers is not a break from Torah; it is Torah. And it’s through remembering this truth and acting fervently on it that our life, and perhaps life itself, remains vibrant, flourishing and intact.

From sundown on Jan. 27 through sundown on Jan. 28, Jews all over the world will celebrate the holiday of Tu b’Shevat, affectionately known as the New Year for the Trees. While historically this day signaled when to tithe trees’ fruits, and in the temperate Middle East it marks the season when sap begins to rise in the trees, what might it mean for us, in cold and snowy Michigan? Perhaps this holiday’s enduring message can be found in the lesson learned from the story above.

Generations alive today face a climate crisis that is unprecedented in human history. The task before us is grand and the urgency is great. But according to our tradition, the very best way we can respond is by reconnecting with the natural world and reinvesting in the deeper understanding that we are all — humans and the natural world — part of a single, precious and miraculous Divine whole.

With that in mind, your friends at Hazon encourage you to incorporate nature connection into your Tu b’Shevat celebration. Take a walk outside. Examine that interesting tree branch. Taste fruits or nuts from local trees. Try a fruit you’ve never eaten before. Feel what bark feels like on your palm.

And then, from Jan. 27-31, join us at the Big Bold Jewish Climate Festival (www.jewishclimatefest.org). This five-day virtual festival, put on by a team that includes Hazon, will feature more than 120 world-class programs, from spiritually uplifting Tu b’Shevat seders, to top-notch sustainability programming, expert climate education and meaningful calls to action.

Gather together with thousands of participants from across Metro Detroit and the globe, who care about Judaism and the Earth, and believe the time has come to put climate change as a central moral issue of our community. Tu b’Shevat sameach and see you there!

Rabbi Nate DeGroot is the Hazon Detroit associate director and spiritual & program director.