First planting, then messiah

Tu Bishvat reminds us the order of connecting to the land in order to connect to ourselves.

Light trails at Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Light trails at Einot Tzukim Nature Reserve
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
I love Tu Bishvat. I love to celebrate it within its Zionist context – planting trees in the State of Israel, feeling the dirt and enjoying it.
This year is a shmita or sabbatical year, when we let the land rest. Even though we cannot plant trees, I would like to raise some issues about the concept of planting.
It is written in Avot d’Rabbi Natan: “If you have a sapling in your hand and people tell you that the Messiah has come, plant the sapling and then go and greet him” (Version B, chapter 31). I genuinely enjoy this phrase because it conveys a touch of sanity, a link to the ground, a sense of order, and values that I identify with.
Still, some questions come to my mind about the implications of this statement.
First, is it still relevant to our modern day? How many people ever find themselves holding a sapling in their hands? Second, today, we are constantly looking to get excited. What will we do when Messiah comes? And last, we live in such a rapid pace, when Messiah comes even the plant will look immediately old, like an old phone when a new version comes out.
But the main question that arises from this phrase is the tension between our “chayei sha’ah” – material life, and “chayei olam” – eternal life. Which one is better? Which one is more important? According to the Babylonian Talmud, “Rabbi Yochanan says: God says, I will not attend to the heavenly Jerusalem until I attend earthly Jerusalem” (Ta’anit 5a). We normally believe that earthly Jerusalem, this world, is only a path leading to the heavenly world, the upper world. Tu Bishvat may come to change this order: first planting, then Messiah.
While some parts of the world are virtual and disconnected from the daily routine, mainly from planting, other parts are going into religious radicalization.
Aspiring only to a world of holiness can lead people astray. Religious radicalization glorifies “sanctity” at the expense of humanity, at the expense of nature and the repose of the physical universe. It can lead sometimes to instead of planting trees, cutting them down (and mostly the trees of others.) This line of thought ignores the soul or the nature.
Tu Bishvat, which occurs every year, is crucial for us as a society and individuals.
Beyond the universal meaning of this day is it deeply connected to Israel’s land.
As in ancient times, today, the connection to the land can influence and format the people. It was A.D. Gordon who taught us that if we know to connect to the land and work it, we might fulfill ourselves and may also learn how to connect with other people and become better people ourselves.
Actually, the role of connecting to the land is to increase our humanity, not to sanctify the land above the human being. In days that humanity is needed more than ever before, we all should connect more to the land. Tu Bishvat reminds us the order of connecting to the land in order to connect to ourselves.
So, when Messiah comes, for the sake of humanity, I will plant first.
The author is a conservative rabbi in Kibbutz Hannaton and serves as the executive director of the Hannaton Educational Center.