Rabbenu Bahya, a medieval Jewish philosopher, once wrote:
“The commentators explain that the life of man and his food is [from] a tree of the field...and it is not the way of a wise and understanding nation to needlessly destroy something so worthy, and therefore you should not cut down a tree of the field, rather you should protect it from destruction and damage, and take benefit from it.”
— RABBENU BAHYA
While that was written many years ago, it’s more relevant now than ever - as we see and experience deforestation of the Amazon jungle being at the highest rate in more than a decade; the forest fires in Australia affecting the ecosystems and research is ongoing to determine consequences of it for years to come - it’s heartbreaking. But let’s not focus on the negative. Instead, let’s explore the benefits Rabbenu Bahya is speaking of - the benefit of protecting the Earth’s trees.
Trees filter the air we breathe by absorbing harmful carbon and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.
Trees filter the water we drink, too. Their intricate root systems act like filters; removing pollutants and slowing down the water’s absorption into the ground. This process prevents harmful waterside erosion and reduces the risk of over-saturation and flooding.
Trees provide animals shelter from the weather and from predators. They also provide us humans shelter on a sunny day, helping protect our skin from the ever-increasing harshness of the sun. Even dead trees provide shelter and provide food for insects.
Trees are the key ingredients in 25% of all medicines. In addition, adults with 30% or more of their neighborhood covered in some form of tree canopy had 31% lower odds of developing psychological distress. The same amount of tree cover was linked to 33% lower odds of developing fair to poor general health.
Trees provide habitat to over 80% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity. A single tree can be home to hundreds of species of plants, mammals, birds, insects, and fungi. Depending on the kind of food and shelter they need, different forest animals require different types of habitats. Without trees, forest creatures would have nowhere to all home.
Trees provide jobs to over 1.6 billion people. From arborists to loggers to researchers, the job opportunities provided by the forestry industry are endless.
Trees help cool the planet by sucking in and storing harmful greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, into their trunks, branches, and leaves, and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere.
The Jewish holiday Tu B’shvat (the 15th of Shvat) is just around the corner! Scholars say the holiday was originally an agricultural festival, corresponding to the beginning of spring in Israel, and evolved to what it is today: a day that marks the beginning of a New Year of the Trees.
Throughout, many traditions arose to celebrate this holiday. Among them you will find planting trees, donating money to organizations that plant trees, and the Tu B’shvat seder which is a festive ceremony, often accompanied by a meal featuring other Earth-grown gifts, like fruits and nuts.
These traditions go back generations. The appreciation of trees and the environment is rooted in the Jewish way of life. In Judaism wisdom, there is a belief that all physical forms – including human beings – have within them a spark of the Divine Presence, just like fruits or nuts, that hide within them seeds of new life and potential growth. On Tu B’shvat, we eat certain fruits associated with the land of Israel as a symbolic (and delicious) way of releasing these divine sparks.
Whether you are a religious person, a spiritual person, Jew, Christian, Muslim, or none of the above, it’s time to connect your divine spirit with the trees and mother earth. Protect, preserve, and plant our future!
The appreciation of the land has been rooted in me since I was a little girl.
My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. And even after seeing all the horrors they kept their love for life and nature. Their house was always filled with nature - plants, flowers, trees. The avocado I ate as a kid is now a fruity avocado tree in their backyard.
I try to pass this along to my children, hopefully I succeeded. We only have one planet and we should love, cherish, and appreciate it.