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Tu Bishevat Analogies

2/4/2015

By Susan Tessel

Tu Bishevat, the Jewish New Year for the trees, is here.  Since Biblical times, the Jewish People have been compared, at different moments, to one of a variety of trees.  Such comparisons abound in the book of Psalms and may be found throughout Biblical literature.  The date palm, olive trees and even walnut trees all evidence characteristics which we, as a people, also exhibit.

There are olive trees in Israel that are 1,000 years old and still produce fruit. It is very difficult to destroy an olive tree. The roots of the olive tree go down deep into the soil, anchoring it and preventing erosion. If the branches are cut off, and only the stump remains, that stump will send forth new saplings to grow again. Tu-BShevat

The date palm is also an extraordinary tree.  Every part of the date palm can be used, and every part is needed. That means that no part of the date palm tree need be wasted. The dates are for eating; the lulav branches are for Sukkoth blessings and for thatched roofs, its fibers for ropes, its leaves for sieves and its resilient trunk for building. The date palm is able to bend with the wind without breaking.

Rabbi Tarfon compared the Jewish people to a pile of walnuts in a most singular fashion:  he observed that if even a single walnut is removed or falls, every walnut in the pile is shaken. When a single Jew is in trouble, every Jew is shaken and affected (Avot de Rabbi Natan chapter 18).  Likewise, when a single species is endangered the entire ecosystem is shaken and affected.

What do you think about this analogy?

I have used these analogies successfully in a variety of settings, asking both young and old to select an analogy describing the Jewish People that resonates most.  I have also added the following questions for a gallery walk and follow-up discussion.

The Jewish people have a special relationship with olives and dates – just as olive oil brings light into the world, so do the people of Israel bring light into the world –Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah (1:2).

What are some ways we bring light onto the world? How are you like an olive tree?  How are the Jewish people like the olive tree?

Give an example when you felt like a date palm.  Which do you feel like more –a palm tree or an olive tree – and why?

I ended the discuss with the following bracha:

May we be like a date palm, buffeted by the winds of challenge and change, so that we bend but do not break.   May we know when to accept what cannot be changed and let it go with the wind, and know when to stand firm.

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