This past I week I attended a Tu B’Shevat environmental sedar/symposium led by my friend, Rabbi Charlie Buckholtz, at The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Charlie suggested that more than anything else our treatment toward the environment stems from a certain attitude towards nature and the world. Specifically, he shared with us the Biblical story of the stubborn and rebellious son:
“If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. 20 “And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear,” (Deut.).
The text is amazing in how much more severe the punishment is than the crime. The crime is that the son is drunkard and glutton –two actions that under any other circumstances would never end in the death penalty. The rabbis of the Talmud pick up the absurdity of the case and dismiss it as mere legal fiction that never happened. But perhaps it might be suggested that the reason such a son is punished is not just because he knows no boundaries and because he is unthankful for what he has, but because this behavior is coupled with a character trait of stubbornness pointing to the fact that the child has no intention or ability to change his ways.
In some sense, Americans are guilty of being rebellious and stubborn sons to Mother Earth. We have become gluttonous and drunk in our need to take, consume, and control. We are never satisfied with what we have and are unthankful to the world that has provided us with so much. We not only take, we take too much. However, more than anything else, our conspicuous consumption comes with a stubbornness that will not bend. The use of the metaphor of gluttony is more than apt for an obese America. We are unable to even imagine holding back and being thankful for what we have.
Tu B’Shevat is about giving thanks and being cognizant that everything we have comes from Mother Earth. In the same way that on Yom Kippur we reflect on our selves, Tu B’Shevat is there for us to reflect on our relationship to the life-sustaining force of Earth.