Virtual Talmud

Rabbi Grossman and Rabbi Stern make several excellent and practical suggestions for cutting down pollution and lowering demand for non-renewable sources of energy. In addition to these important measures, I also encourage us to strive to cultivate a relationship of respect and wonder with the natural world so we can come to regard it as something worth enjoying and protecting, and not just as yet an additional area in our lives to feel guilty about.

The medieval kabbalists created an elaborate seder for Tu B’Shevat modeled on the more familiar Passover seder, which included the eating of various fruits and nuts and the drinking of four cups of wine. They did this because they saw the natural world and its cycles as a tangible manifestation of God’s power and goodness; as we come to know and appreciate the divine within the natural world, we can come to better know and appreciate the divine within ourselves.

So this Tu B’Shevat, by all means follow the excellent ecological advice of Rabbi Grossman and Rabbi Stern. But also hold a Tu B’Shevat seder–many excellent examples are online (including one here from COEJL). Do activities designed to appreciate the beauty of nature: Go for a bike ride, garden, take a hike, look at Ansel Adams photographs, or even watch a nature video on the Discovery channel–anything to reconnect with the power and splendor of the natural world. Cultivate an awareness of the wonder that lurks just behind the everyday and that leads us to a relationship with nature based on appreciation, not exploitation.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel observed in his masterpiece “God in Search of Man”: “Human beings have indeed become primarily tool-making animals, and the world is now a gigantic tool box for the satisfaction of their needs… It is when nature is sensed as mystery and grandeur that it calls upon us to look beyond it.”

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