Thousands of years ago, rabbis created an annual holiday to honor trees: Tu B’Shevat, which was celebrated last month. The rabbis knew what we lose when we sacrifice trees, long before the we began to pay the price of industrialization. The cedars of Lebanon, the pines of Rome, the rich forests of Greece – all were brought down for purposes now forgotten, and the nations that fell them soon enough fell themselves. As documented in the book Collapse, by Jared Diamond, civilizations that have allowed their forests to be destroyed have gone on to perish. It’s fairly simple, a well-known cycle in history. When trees and forests are cut down, the land turns barren. Disastrous flash floods, erosion of top soil, desertification, drought and famine follow. The rabbis knew this.
Tu B’Shevat celebrates the trees, the care and protection they offer, as well as what they can give in return for our care, the tangible and tasty fruits of our mutual efforts. They are our finest ecological producers, our planet’s life support system. They produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide, but just as important, if less discussed, is the role they play in moderating climate, soaking up downpours, filtering pollution out of water and out of the air, cooling us and shading us and protecting us from the heat and radiation of the sun.