Legacy: From Yesterday to Today and for Tomorrow

Rabbi's Message - January 11, 2022

Rabbi Tina Sobo

The proximity of Tu Bishvat (the 15th of Shevat, essentially what has become “Jewish Earth Day”) and the national recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. is fairly common based on the inner workings of both calendars.   That said, these two days are very different from one another.  Most would connect the two holidays based on their shared theme of tikkun olam (repairing the world).  Dr. King' s vision and leadership were staples in the Civil Rights Movement to advance equality and justice in our world.  Tu Bishvat, the Birthday of the Trees, is born out of a Jewish legal need to know how old a tree is.  This information tells us what tithes are necessary and if it is permissible to eat its fruit.  The holiday has grown to be a day about paying attention to our dependence on the earth and mindfulness of using its bounty; thus its ecological and environmental themes tie in with issues of climate change and sustainability quite nicely.

I’d like to focus on a different connection: legacy.  Dr. King had a dream, a vision, that we would be seen as peers and not judged by the color of our skin.  He sought to leave his mark on this world to create, without violence, enough pressure to cause systemic change.  We inherited this legacy, and strive to march it at least a few steps forward towards fruition to bring equality, to bring equity, to all in our days.  On Tu Bishvat, we tell the story of Honi the Circle Maker (from Taanit 23a) who questions the purpose of a man planting a carob tree (known to not reliably bear fruit for many years), when he himself won’t benefit from the tree.  The lesson of the story is that the seeds we plant today are what we leave for the next generation, just as the past generations planted for us.

As we enter this weekend into “Shabbat Tzedek” – Justice Shabbat - may we reflect on the legacies of those who came before us and benefits they provide today.  Let us also think about the legacy of the actions we engage in today and how they impact the next generation.  May this world be a little bit better because we were in it.