Voices from the field

Planting Ideas on Tu B'shvat

By Shalom Orzach

As educators, we strive to plant ideas and nourish learners. The Festival of Tu B’shvat, the New Year for Trees, offers much more than an opportunity to plant trees and eat fruit. By likening Tu B’shvat to Rosh Hashanah, the start of a “New Year,” the Rabbis intimate a profoundly important idea: The act of planting is an act of faith that embodies hope, prayer, humility, and compassion.

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There is a curious episode where Abraham plants an eshel (אשל). Because this word had never been previously encountered, commentators debate its meaning. Some suggest it is an inn, conjuring Abraham and Sarah’s famed hospitality, whilst others argue it is a tamarisk tree. Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein (1860-1941) quotes the Midrash that suggests a striking interpretation: eshel (אשל) is actually a derivative of sha’al (שאל, “ask” or “question”). Abraham planted an idea, an experience, and an opportunity to ask.

The intended meaning is open to interpretation. It is the beauty of these interpretations and the commentaries that abound that provide an opportunity to reflect and grow. Planting, like education, recognizes and believes in the potential; it envisions the future and actively engages in bringing it about. This year, I will strive to plant and cultivate meaningful dialogue, gaining new perspectives.

What will you plant this Tu B’shvat?

>> Resources for Tu B'shvat from The iCenter

>> Tu B'shvat in the Schools from JNF

>> Tu B'shvat Resources from Lookstein Center