Featured in local papers on Thursday, January 24, 2002. Copyright 2002 by Yosef Y. Polter

Tu B'Shvat - A Holiday for Trees and Humans

This Monday, January 28, will mark the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat.  Though not a major holiday, Tu B'Shvat celebrates the new year for trees.  The Bible (in Deuteronomy 20:19) says, "for man is like the tree of the field".

What can we learn from this comparison? Note, for example, that the tiniest blemish in a sapling results in a major deformation in the full-grown tree.  On the other hand, with the proper cultivation and conditions the tree will grow straight and tall.  Herein lies a fundamental lesson in education: the importance of getting children off to a good and emotionally healthy start.  The formative years set the stage for the child's future behavior as a human being.  While there are no guarantees in life, and ultimately each individual has free choice, we certainly can stack the cards in the child's favor by being role models for them, and educating them in, a moral, ethical, and just path.

In many towns here in Eastern Massachusetts, academic education is rightfully given a very high priority.  However, do we ever take the time to evaluate the amount of education a child receives at home?  While academic education prepares one for making  a living, the education one receives from the home environment can prepare one for making a life.

Nothing, not even the best school, can substitute for the indispensable nourishment of a healthy home environment.  Life and success shouldn't be measured by the job we have, but rather by the person we are.  True happiness and satisfaction stem from a sense of purpose and meaning, being part of a greater cause than only ourselves, and living by upright, moral and ethical values.  These character traits can only be taught and instilled in the sanctuary of the home. 

To be sure, parenting involves sacrifice;  there are no shortcuts.  We must recognize that our children will be affected by our actions or inaction, for the good or for the bad.  If we want our children to be decent and honorable people, ultimately bringing joy to our lives as well, we must invest time and energy to create an environment imbued with timeless values where our children will experience first-hand the virtues of honesty, integrity, love, patience, kindness, etc.

The stories we hear and see on the news today are of alarming proportions.  We don't need to just accept these realities.  Taking a lesson from trees that grow straight and tall in the right climate, we can turn the tide by giving our children what they really need most: time, love, an attentive ear, discipline, restraint, a harmonious home, and positive role models.  This inevitably leads to safe neighborhoods and schools; caring communities; and, as a result, a more stable and peaceful world.

Rabbi Yosef Polter is the director of the Chabad Jewish Center located at 148 Great Road in Acton.  For information on prayer services, classes, and other programs please call: (978)929-2513 or 758-8994.  Also visit: www.chabadofacton.com