Planting the First Seeds by Aviva Meshwork
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and 4 children.
One day a man named Honi was walking along the road when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
He then asked him, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?”
The man replied, “I found ready grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me, so I too plant these for my children.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)
People often read the story of Honi on the upcoming holiday of Tu B’Shvat, otherwise known as the New Year of the Trees (Yes- trees get their own New Year!) On Tu B'Shvat, trees become anew again because it is on this day that their sap (the life giving liquid that trees need in order to perform their many functions) begins to flow again within the tree. It is on this day that trees essentially come out of ‘hibernation.’
Honi’s story reminds me of the first time I took my first-born son for a walk in the wooded area near my home back in Toronto. It was during the fall season and he was about 5 months old. It was a beautiful crisp day and the leaves were beginning to change color and fall to the ground. As we began our walk into the mature woods, I looked down at my son in his stroller and was stunned when I saw the look on his sweet, innocent face. His bright blue eyes were open so wide and his gaze was directed upwards, for he was setting his sights on the sheer magnificence that he was seeing for the first time – a beautiful forest full of stunning trees.
The look of wonder was all over his face and it simply amazed me. It was such a gift to see my son marvel at something that I have come to take for granted. You see, like many of us, I had grown accustomed to seeing the sights of the natural world. Until then I hadn’t given trees much thought and I certainly never wondered about them in the same way my little baby boy was then. I hadn’t pondered too much about how they got there or who planted them in the first place. The thought had never crossed my mind to be honest. But it did on that day, when his sense of awe made me think about what he must have been thinking. For the first time, I was taking notice of the trees and couldn’t help but be thankful that someone had planted something that we were benefitting from tremendously.
Trees don’t just appear in our woods like fast food does on our plates. Rather, someone must plant a seed in fertile soil and together with the correct environmental conditions and a lot of time, the seed begins the process that will eventually lead to the growth of the tree. Anyone who has ever planted a seed knows that due to the time it takes for a tree to grow to its potential, the one who plants the seed and cares for its growth rarely fully benefits from its fullest promise.
So then why plant? What is the point in toiling in something if not for personal gain? What does all this mean to us? Well I think it means that we should recognize that someone else had the foresight to plant a tree or two or many for the sake of those that come after him. Had it not been for that foresight, there would be a lot less clean air, fruit, shade, wood and other things that trees give us, too numerous to mention here. It also means that just as trees are givers, and the planters were givers, we too must be givers and take an active, often pain staking role in the continuity of our world if we truly value the best interests of our future generations. It means we don’t just take, but we appreciate and in turn, we pay it forward.
Another story to illustrate this idea…
We made Aliyah to Israel just over two years ago to a community rich with schools, shuls, places to shop and eat and with plenty of parks to frequent, roads to drive on and facilities to house events and activities in, including numerous after school activities for children. Time and again I remark at how well developed this relatively new community is (less than 20 years old) given its youth. The other day I was walking in the mall with a friend when a woman she knew stopped to say hello to her. We got to talking and as it turned out, this lady and her family were one of the first families to move to the community that I now call home. She briefed us both about what it was like to be part of a fledgling community, and how hard she and others like her had to work in order to build it up. While she now benefits from the fruits of her labor, she and I both know that it is I (and my family) who benefit even more.
You see, I came to a ready-made community while she was one of the ones who made it that way. I have a multitude of schooling options for my children whereas she had to build them. Today, I have an array of places to shop for food, clothing, and household needs while 20 years ago she pretty much had just a corner store. Anything ‘major’ required a trip to a larger city. That is definitely not the case for me.
Essentially she planted the ‘seeds’ and ‘toiled the earth’ that grew into a suburb full of vibrancy and Jewish life. She, and the other pioneers like her, went through the arduous task of investing in the future of our community on behalf of the ones that would one day settle here. She planted the seeds and I am reaping the fruit. This is what it means to think of the ones that come after us- even if we never know who they are. This is what it means to be selfless.
The growth cycle of trees is symbolic of the endless cycle of giving and receiving that links generation to generation for all time. Something was created from nothing and that something was created by someone- for us to use well. While we may never have the chance to personally thank the ones whose hard work and foresight we ultimately gain from now, we can take a page from their book and have the best in mind and work hard for the ones that follow- just as was done for us.
Have a meaningful Tu B’Shvat!