The holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “New Year of the trees,” is approaching once again. According to Jewish custom it is an auspicious time to eat extra fruit, especially the special fruits of the Land of Israel and praise God for giving us a land flowing with milk and honey. Many people have adopted the custom of doing a Tu B’Shvat Seder, where up to thirty different fruits are eaten, and four cups of wine consumed in an order similar to the Seder of Pesach.
As part of the Seder many people have included the Jewish view of the environment and ecology; a time to speak of not only our love of the Land of Israel but our obligation and commitment to protect and guard the beautiful world God has given us. There is an incredible body of Jewish texts that spans literally thousands of years that not only promote a concern for the environment, but also legislate that concern into practical law.
An important idea I suggest worth adding to whatever way we choose to celebrate Tu B’Shvat this year regards the growing warning to what is commonly referred to as global warming. Many people have begun to reject this term and instead are using the more realistic and alarming term “climate chaos.” Whereas a few years ago people and governments could still claim that there was not enough evidence that global warming is even a reality, this is no longer the case. Hundreds of scientific reports have already measured the disastrous effects of rising temperatures around the globe; from melting snow caps and glaciers to major changes in the temperatures of the oceans and seas. The last decade has seen a significant increase in violent and unpredictable storms around the planet as a growing momentum of chaotic climate changes intensify around the globe. As this article is being written New York and New England are enduring yet another monster snow storm.
But this may just the beginning. If individuals, communities and governments everywhere do not make an immediate and radical paradigm shift, what we are seeing may just be the proverbial tip of the iceberg of catastrophic changes that will affect every single person on the planet in not too distant a future.
In the Torah portion of Noah, God tells him of an impending world-wide flood that will destroy humanity. Instead of pleading with God to save his generation or undertaking a major campaign to inform his peers, he instead dutifully begins work on the ark that will save him and his family and a small remnant of animals.
On one hand we all owe Noah thanks for being righteous enough for God to save at least his family, as all humanity traces their lineage back to the family of Noah; yet on the other hand the sages point out his glaring flaw of not doing enough to save his generation. When asked by the people what he was constructing he answered truthfully: “I am constructing an ark for God intends to wipe out the world with a flood.” Of course everyone was technically warned, but no one took him serious and he did nothing to change the decree or get people to change their ways in order to annul the decree.
We are now all in the same situation as Noah and his generation, as no one can really claim they were not warned, and no one can claim there was nothing we could do. We are not talking of a minor problem but a situation that literally threatens to turn the world we know upside down with horrific results that will change life on this planet forever.