In Wintry times, nurture life!

The new Congress convened this week. If you are worried over its impact on continuation of mass disemployment, on massive home foreclosures, on making Muslims and Hispanics into pariahs, on the newly enacted health-care system, on the swollen military budget and the possibility of bringing home our young men and women from the endless, self-destructive war in Afghanistan, and most ominous of all, on the Earth itself -- take a deep breath.

Breathe in the Breath of Life, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh. We breathe in what the trees breathe out; the trees breathe in what we breathe out.

The time has come to plant new life in active joy, to feed the roots of change.

This is a dark and wintry time in our society. It is also the dark and wintry time in the Northern Hemisphere of Mother Earth. Yet it is exactly at this time every year, the Jewish mystics reminded us, that trees not only renew their life but call on us to renew our lives – our energy and our commitment to their rebirth — and indeed the rebirth of all God’s abundance.

The mystics celebrated this moment — Tu B’Shvat, the full moon of midwinter, falling this year on January 19-20, by creating a joyful Seder of wine, nuts, and fruit — which not only give new life to the next generation but even when we eat them do not require the death of any living being. They are the foods of Eden and the Song of Songs.

The mystics chose exactly the time of tithing – taxing -- fruit to celebrate God’s fruitfulness. They knew that unless abundance is shared, it withers. Yet today, the dominant voices of American politics and media sneer at taxes and at the shared abundance — the “common wealth” -- that taxes make possible.

And we live in a moment when those same dominant voices sneer at those who are trying to protect and heal the earth. Indeed, one of the most dangerous and destructive actions being announced by members of the new House and Senate is an attempt to cripple the EPA’s ability to protect us all from the emissions of CO2 that are already scorching our Earth and damaging our lives.

What can we do?

1. Start by learning more about Tu B’Shvat, about the danger the climate crisis is creating for our planet, and about what we can do to heal the Earth.

For a spiritual history of Tu B’Shvat from ancient Temple times to our own generation, click here.

For a deeply moving modern version of struggle between a spiritual community that treats trees and all abundance and life-forms as sacred, versus a military-corporate force that is willing to destroy people, trees and all life for the sake of wealth and power, see the film “Avatar” (now out on DVD). If possible, gather the people who will be at your Tu B'Shvat Seder to see "Avatar" with you a few days earlier. (It's too long to integrate into the Seder itself.)

For a clear and concise summary of the role of EPA in addressing the climate crisis, click here.

2. Celebrate the Seder either on the evening of January 19 or possibly on Sunday, January 23, as an act of emotional and spiritual connection. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, and those of secular ethical communities can join in the celebration and action. For one beautiful and powerful way of doing the Seder that you can adapt for your own use, click here.

Perhaps have a discussion at the Seder about "Avatar." How did you feel about the ex-Marine "Sully" and other Earthians "changing sides" and joining with the Na'vi to resist the Crusher invaders? Were they traitors or heroes? How did you feel about the Na'vi using violence to oppose the Crushers? Do you think nonviolent resistance would have been better? Were you surprised that Pandora's trees, animals, and birds fought the invaders? Did the story remind you at all of the biblical Exodus, when Pharaoh's arrogance brought locusts, frogs, and hailstorms to rise up in the "Plagues"?

3. Take action at the Seder itself. Several Senators at the behest of Big Coal have already boasted they will be trying to cripple EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to limit CO2 emissions for the sake of our endangered planet. Set aside 15 minutes during the Tu B'Shvat Seder to ask all the participants to write in their own words a letter to their Senators and local newspapers supporting EPA, for the sake of our health and our planet. Collect the letters to copy them for the writers and send them to the Senators and newspapers.

For more information, Shalom Center members and readers can buy from the Jewish Publication Society the unique anthology Trees, Earth, and Torah. It gathers Biblical, Rabbinic, Kabbalistic, Zionist, and Eco-Jewish lore about trees and Tu B"Shvat. It includes several model versions of a Tu B'Shvat ceremonial meal. I co-edited the anthology with Ari Elon and Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman.

You can get the book at 20% discount by clicking here
and entering the code word "shalom" (without quote marks) at check-out.

For more than a dozen essays and rituals for Tu B'Shvat from our Website, click here.

Let us learn together, celebrate together, act together to rescue and heal our Earth from the Crushers in our own society.


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