This weekend, we will read Parsha Beshalach, in which God finally leads the Israelites out of Egypt. There is danger awaiting us on this new journey, not only the Philistines and other people, but from the unforgiving desert wilderness. In Beshalach, we come up against nature again and again - our escape route is blocked by the Red Sea, scarce water is undrinkably bitter, then there is no water at all, and the ground is barren with no food to sustain us on our long trek.
In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
"Monotheism in teaching that God is the Creator, that nature and man are both fellow-creatures of God, redeemed man from exclusive allegiance to nature. The earth is our sister, not our mother." -Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not AloneIf the earth is our sister, she certainly acts like it in this parsha. Sometimes we don't get along with our siblings; we refuse to share our toys and withhold things from them. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder from our parents to play nicely, call our siblings more often, and look out for one another. In Beshalach, nature (with some prompting from God) takes care of us. The sea parts safely, bitter water becomes sweet, food appears on the ground like dew, and water flows freely from a rock.
On Tu B'Shevat, how can we return the favor? Aside from taking a moment to appreciate our surroundings and enjoying this unseasonably warm weather, here are some other ways to celebrate the holiday:
- Clean up your neighborhood - Next time you see a discarded food wrapper on the sidewalk, pick it up and throw it away. Or call your local Parks Department to volunteer to clean up a neighborhood park.
- Plant a tree in Israel - You can donate online to the Jewish National Fund to plant a tree in honor of a special occasion or in memory of a loved one.
- Recycle - If you don't recycle at home or at work, look into recycling centers near you or talk to your coworkers about instituting a recycling program in your office. When I lived in an apartment complex that didn't recycle, I drove my cans, bottles, and paper to a recycling center 20 minutes away.
- Composting - Try composting at home; the EPA has a handy guide to get your started. You can do it in your backyard or, if you're like me and don't have any outdoor space of your own, try a smaller composting container inside. I have a friend who has an indoor compost - it's a super-cute ceramic jar on her kitchen counter and it doesn't smell or anything.
However you celebrate, chag sameach; have a happy Tu B'Shevat!