I have been kind of busy lately. Noteworthy that my last blog post was in October of 2010. Interesting that that post talked about the Jewish Fall Harvest Festival of Sukkot. Noteworthy because I want to add a little post about another Jewish Holiday that just passed called Tu B'shevat. Or the 15h of the month of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar. This year it was January 20. Both holidays center on nature. The Jewish calendar is full of holidays and cycles. And Judaism celebrates several "new years". There is Rosh Hashana - the birthday of the Universe. There is Pesach which is like the birth of life and freedom. Tu b'Shevat celebrates our relationship to trees and what they produce. It is a day to mark the aging of the trees we plant for fruit and nuts. The holiday calls us to bring forth fifteen different species and types of fruit from trees. On Sukkot, there are four species that are necessary to the celebration of that holiday. The Israeli rainy season begins with Sukkot and ends around Tu b'Shevat. Most importantly to me, it seems that a woodworker ought to pay respect to the source of his material!
Here is a brief explanation from Chabad.org:
"Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar is the day that marks the beginning of a “New Year for Trees.” This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
Legally, the “New Year for Trees” relates to the various tithes that are separated from produce grown in the Holy Land. (Tu B'Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for G-d, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B'Shevat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu B'Shevat.)"
For me, the awareness that I have learned in Judaism of a respect for Nature was a revelation. Sukkot is like Earth Day and Tu B'Shevat is like an arbor day. Yet these are not modern inventions, but date back thousands of years. The sabbatical year of letting the land rest (every 7 years) and the mandate to give a portion of one's produce to the needy are other aspects of Judaism's relationship to nature and to fellow people that have moved me.
For several years when my children were of pre-school age, I would visit their school on Tu B'Shevat and talk to the children about trees and what they produce. I would bring a can of cherries, a bottle of maple syrup and a bag of walnuts. Then I would show them maple, cherry, and walnut wood scraps from my shop. After the brief "lecture" I would turn them loose with a pile of wood scraps, some plywood squares and lots of glue. They had a blast.
For me, Tu B'Shevat is a reminder of intentionality. We can become better people if we think before we act. Thinking about the source of my raw material before I joint, plane, cut and glue it up reminds me not to take Nature for granted and to be thankful. Do you have any Holiday or ritual to do so?