It is a rather interesting confluence that on occasion Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees, coincides with the celebration of the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King regularly reminded each of us that there are better selves that we can become. He exhorted us as would the prophets of the Bible to strive for the promise of a better world where all human beings coexist in mutual respect. Alas he was cut down in his prime by someone who disagreed, who let words of H turn to violence.
Tu Bishvat, which stands for the 15th day of the month of Shevat, is one of four new years in the Mishnah. On this date the trees would each become one year older, which was important for knowing when one could eat the fruit of a tree, for example. With the rise of the Kabbalists, especially in Safed, Tu Bishvat took on new meaning as a way to celebrate the beauty of nature and the glorious bounty that God has bestowed upon us. While this celebration took centuries to become popular, during the 1960’s, and especially with the conclusion of the Six-Day War, imported fruits from Israel became more readily available, and a celebration of nature grew in popularity. In the 21st Century, celebrations of Tu Bishvat can be found throughout the world, hagadot for a Tu Bishvat Seder are found on the Internet, and the mitzvah of planting a tree in Israel has become a more common act to commemorate this day, despite the fact that it is snowing in Pittsburgh as I compose this blog.
A respect for our fellow human beings, and a respect for this planet must go hand in hand. We cannot have one without the other. When you disrespect the planet, you disrespect the home of your fellow citizens. When you disrespect a fellow human being, you disrespect all human beings and the societies in which we live.
While we devote one day, Tu Bishvat, to reflecting upon nature and God’s blessings, we must not make this a once-a-year endeavor. Respect and gratitude for nature must be a daily component of our lives. The same must hold true for the day that we celebrate the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. One day to celebrate his life is insufficient to address his unfulfilled dreams. His words must resonate within us daily, pushing us to act in ways to achieve the day when, to paraphrase Dr. King, a person is not judged by his color, but by the content of his character. Much work remains in both spheres.