Tu B’Shvat is known as the Jewish New Year of the trees. The holiday was originally connected to agricultural offerings brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, and this date determined when the crop year would begin and end. It was revitalized by the kabbalists of Tzfat in the 16th century, with the invention of the Tu B’Shvat seder, where we eat and bless symbolic foods and drink four cups of wine. The intention is to draw down divine shefa—abundance or spiritual sustenance—through the act of blessing and eating these foods. Tu B’Shvat was later revived again through the Zionist movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, connecting it to tree planting in the land of Israel. Today, Jewish environmentalists use Tu B’Shvat as a time to reflect on our connection to the earth and our obligations to protect it.
In that spirit, Hila Ratzabi, Director of Virtual Content & Programs for Ritualwell, shares a poem that you can bring to your Tu B’Shvat seder. It begins by literally inviting you to go outside and place your hands on the earth. You might want to try doing this as part of your Tu B’Shvat ritual – even if it’s cold in your region! The intention is to directly connect with the earth, with our hands, with our breath. We invite you to feel the divine presence in the earth itself, to make that connection, so we can nurture and protect the earth that gives us life, and also seek healing for ourselves and our society.
“How To Pray While The World Burns” was published in Hila’s 2022 poetry collection, There Are Still Woods, a radiant appraisal of life at the precipice of climate crisis and a haunting elegy for all we stand to lose. Through alternating lenses, from the speculative to the spiritual, from motherhood to science to mythology, Hila looks out at our wounded but vibrant planet and the animal experience of living on it.
How to Pray While the World Burns
by Hila Ratzabi
Go outside. Find a patch of grass, sand, dirt.
Sit, kneel, place a hand or just
A finger to the soft earth.
Feel it pulse back.
Open your palms and divine
The words creased between.
Rub the specks of dirt
Between your fingers,
See how they cling to skin,
How they listen in their soft-rough way.
The earth will hold you better
Than God can.
God could not stop the bullets
Or the sale of weapons.
God could not block the open
Our God is trapped
In the poisoned grass,
Where the blood of our brothers cries out,
Where the ants heave centuries on their backs.
Pray to the God who sharpened the tiger’s teeth,
Who stored the roar in its throat.
Pray to the God who gave you lungs and tongue
To sing and groan and hum.
I swear to you
When the leaf shivers in the wind
You have given it chills
From all its listening.
The earth hears your prayer.
There is nowhere for God to hide.
Get down on your knees and let
This precious earth soften for the weight of you.
You are held.
You are heard.
The wind pulls its blanket over your back,
Smooths the hair from your face,
Touches your cheek
With its cool, trembling hands.
6 p.m. CST Potluck Dinner
7 p.m. CST Shabbat Service at JRC
7:45 p.m. CST Poetry Reading