Shabbat Shalom! How lovely it is to be here celebrating Tu B’Shevat, the birthday of the trees, together today. You may know that Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth of the month of Shevat was actually on Thursday. What you probably don’t know is that Thursday was also the anniversary of the publication of a book often considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written, and one of the earliest works of modern literature. I have never read The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha but have become fairly familiar with the stories through the theatrical adaptation, Man of La Mancha. The music from the play is great, and the song “The Impossible Dream,” is particularly beautiful – I’ll come back to that in a minute.
Tu B’Shevat is the birthday of the trees, a date that was set by the early rabbis of the Mishnah, based on Biblical passages. Traditionally, Tu B’Shevat was about the season of planting in the land of Israel, back when people all really depending on their local farms and the planting season was important to pay close attention to. Now, we treat Tu B’Shevat more like a Jewish Arbor Day and Earth Day combined. As Jews, and particularly as Reform Jews, Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a very important value for us to live by. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the environment is one of the most important parts of this world that needs repairing. Of course, we should also try to repair the world by feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, making peace where there is strife, but ultimately, if the environment gets destroyed, even the well-fed, warmly clothed, peaceful communities will be at risk. This is why even ancient Jewish law commanded Jews to respect and protect the environment in times of war, so that the violence would not disrupt nature! Tu B’Shevat is a great time to pause and reflect on our Jewish values and responsibility to the Earth that supports us.
Cleaning up the environment can seem really hard. Some things we take for granted will eventually have to completely change, like our fuel source. It is not up to any of you alone to discover a new source of clean energy, find the money to collect it in whatever way that new energy will be collected, or implement it as the new fuel for most of the world to replace our current oil dependence. However, it is up to all of you to do what you can to cut back on resources by trying to walk, bike, or take public transit when possible. To turn off the water while your brushing your teeth and try to fix leaks so as not to waste water. To turn off lights and heaters or air conditioners when you leave a room or your home. To reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. It may seem difficult, but it’s up to all of us together to “Dream the Impossible Dream… to right the unrightable wrong… to try when your arms are too weary, to reach that unreachable star.” For Don Quixote, his impossible dream was a manic quest for knighthood, pursuing chivalry and fighting windmills he thought were giants. For us, as Reform Jews, the impossible dream is a quest to perfect the world, to make our own Messianic Age. To take care of each other and the Earth we share. This Tu B’Shevat, plant something, recycle something, say something nice to someone you know, go for a walk or bike ride, show your appreciation for the Earth and the people you share it with. May you all live to see a greener Earth. L’Shana l’ilanot tova and Shabbat Shalom.