In honor of the New Year of trees (Tu B'Shevat), Jewish Treats presents some thoughts on trees and nature as found in the Bible.
1) In the second chapter of Genesis, humankind is instructed to not only "work" the land, but to carefully "guard" it. "And G-d put the human being in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to protect it"(Genesis 2:15).
2) The Bible sets as a foremost priority caring for the land by properly seeding and planting it. "When you will come into the land, and you will plant any tree for food..." (Leviticus 19:23). Planting trees is regarded as the first step in building an ecologically sound environment.
3) The Bible insists that newly planted trees must be properly protected so they may thrive--"For three years [the fruit] shall be restricted to you, it shall not be eaten" (Leviticus 19:23). In Hebrew, this mitzvah is known as orlah.
4) Even in times of war, when human lives are at stake, the Bible forbids wanton ecological destruction. Jewish armies were strictly enjoined from destroying the fruit-bearing trees of cities under siege: "When you lay siege to a city for many days to wage war against it and to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them" (Deuteronomy 20:19). The rabbis warned that when a tree is cut down for no purpose its cry extends from one end of the world to another! (Me’am Loez)
For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit www.njop.org.