based on a midrash in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 23a
Retold by Saul Kaiserman, Director of Lifelong Learning
Tu b’Shevat is a day we call the Birthday of the Trees. Even though trees don’t get cake and presents, they still appreciate it when you take care of them – water them and clear off their roots. Think of all that trees so for us! They give us shade and help keep the air clean; they give us firewood when we’re cold and they provide delicious fruit – apples, cherries and peaches. And trees are beautiful!
Here is a story that is thousands of years old that tells us another reason why trees are important:
A long, long time ago
in the land of Israel lived
A very wise man named Honi the Circle Maker
Honi was famous in those days
Because Honi knew special prayers
that no one else knew
But…despite being so wise
Honi was also very impatient
and you know what, he was kind of selfish, too.
when it was the time of the rainy season
No rain fell.
The ground was too hard for planting
The crops began to dry out
All of the people began to worry.
What will we do? They cried!
So they went to Honi the Circle Maker and said,
Please, Mr. Circle-Maker,
Can you talk to God,
Ask God to make it rain?
Why should I? Honi asked.
The people answered
If there is no rain, how will we grow our food?
Ach, Said Honi
I have plenty of food in my cabinet
HONI! They said,
For once think about someone else
FINE! Said Honi
So Honi the circle maker
drew a big circle on the ground
with a piece of chalk
And Honi stood in the middle of the circle
And Honi said:
I will not move from this circle
until you make it rain
But nothing happened
So Honi said:
Maybe you didn’t hear me
It is I;
Honi the Circle Maker
These people need rain—
a rain of blessing
to soften the earth
and bring food to the hungry.
I know you, God, are just and compassionate
And I’m not moving from this circle
until you make it rain!
And then there was thunder and lightning
And rain fell from the skies
in a tremendous downpour
And all the people cheered
“Hurray for Honi the circle maker”
And they all ran off to tend to their crops
and to plant their vegetables.
And Honi said,
Ach, Look at me.
I’m soaking wet
And a big prayer like that really makes me hungry.
And he set off down the road
looking for something to eat
And Honi came upon an elderly woman
who was planting a tree
What kind of tree are you planting?
It is a carob tree, she said
Honi said to the gardener
How long will it take the tree to bear fruit?
Well, she said,
It will take 70 years.
70 YEARS! Cried Honi
I mean, not to be rude or anything,
But you’re not exactly a youngster
Are you certain you will live
another seventy years
to enjoy the fruit of this tree?
Said the woman.
However, when I was born into this world,
I found many beautiful carob trees
planted by those who came before me.
Just as my ancestors planted trees for me,
I am planting trees
for my children and grandchildren
so they will have carob to eat.
And for the rest of his days
Honi the Circle Maker learned that it is better to think of others
than to be selfish – so
He helped to plant carob trees
So all children and grandchildren
would have plenty to eat when they came into the world.
And if you go to the north of Israel
You can still see those carob trees today!
The way we show we are thankful
to those who came before us
Is to make things better
for those who will come after us!
Now let’s go hug a tree!