Wednesday, January 27, 2010


11 Shvat, 5770

While doing some research on Tu b’Shvat, the New Year of Trees that’s coming up this Shabbat, I found an unbelievable teaching from the Talmud:

A tree that has lost its fruit due to illness, we paint it and place stones around it.
It’s obvious why we place stones around it - to strengthen the tree and weaken the sickness, but why paint it with paint? So that when people see it that will pray for love for the tree. This is like what it is taught about humans - that a person with leprosy must cry out, “unclean, unclean.” This person needs to make known her pain to the community, so that the community will pray for love for her.
Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Shabbat 67a

The hinge of this Torah is a crucial change in perspective. One could easily walk through this world understand the earth as massive, full of grandeur, forbidding and kind at the same time, but primarily as the cradle of human life, the only thing that we all truly own in common, and that which sustains us all.

But our activist Torah uses the tools of stones and paint to invert the equation. Marking leads to strengthening and praying; strengthening and praying changes the way we understand ourselves. We are not children, the beneficiaries of the parents. We are part of the parent itself.

My blessing this Tu b’Shvat is that we come to understand our true place in the scheme of the earth, and that this understanding alters the way we live.