A Lesson from Trees (Tu B’Shevat 2014/5774)

The story goes that Honi the circle-maker was walking along the way when he came upon an old man planting a carob tree.  Honi asked the man: “How long until that tree gives fruit?” “Seventy years”, replied the man.  “Why bother?” asked Honi, “You won’t live long enough to enjoy it.” “That’s alright,” the old man said, “just as I enjoyed the carob that my grandparents planted for me, my grandchildren will enjoy this one”.

The holiday of Tu B’shevat is not a major moment on the Jewish calendar.  At its origin, the day was used to count the first three years of a tree’s life to know when one was allowed by the Torah to harvest and consume its fruits.  After years of exile from our ancestral homeland and our people’s ongoing separation from agriculture, the day has taken on special new meanings.  But one teaching has always remained constant: patience.

Whether it is a luxurious meal at a fancy restaurant, home delivery of clothes and accessories, a promotion at our jobs, or the newest form of entertainment, the unprecedented prosperity and technological advances of our time have made ours a culture of instant gratification  Our societal attention span, our capacity to work at achieving our goals for extended periods of time is the shortest that it has ever been.  We don’t wait for things anymore.

The story of Honi the circle-maker teaches us that it takes patience to plant trees and see them yield their fruit, and similarly, one must be patient in order to achieve a lasting impression upon the world, even if only to benefit the generations that follow.  It takes patience to get an education.  It takes patience to service a mortgage.  It takes patience to stick with an exercise regimen and see results.  It takes patience to raise children to become productive citizens.

On this Tu B’Shevat, I pray that we may find the patience to see our live’s endeavors to their fullest conclusion.  May we be patient with our fellow human beings.  May we be granted peace and stability, so that we may—like the trees we celebrate—be content in our being, with roots anchored deep into the strong fertile earth of Torah and community.

Tu B’shevat Sameach!


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