by Dr. David Sanders
When he was 9 years old, Felix Finkbeiner planted a crab apple tree in front of his school. It was the culmination of his presentation on climate change. Inspired by a woman in Africa who had the vision to plant millions of trees, Felix wondered if he could enlist children to plant trees around the world. His 9 year old imagination envisioned planting a million trees in as many countries as possible. Felix is now 22 years old. He runs Plant for the Planet which has moved beyond the initial million tree initiative. In a mere 13 years, children (and adults) have planted over 13 billion trees. Felix has set a new goal. A trillion trees.
A thirteen hundred year old Midrashic text has God instructing Adam to wander among the trees in the Garden of Eden and take heed. “See my works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world–for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.”
Trees have been on our planet some 400 million years. It was not until the early 1700’s when scientists in Europe discovered that trees produce the oxygen we breathe. Later that century a Dutch scientist put together the process of photosynthesis—how plants and trees use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water with a byproduct of oxygen. A century later an Irish scientist came to understand the effects of carbon on air temperature—what would later be called the “green house effect.”
Science illuminated for us what the ancients had a sense of—we need trees to survive.
This coming Monday is, in addition to celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, a day in the Jewish tradition to honor trees. The full moon of the Hebrew calendar month Shevat falls this coming Monday—it is called Tu-b’Shevat (Tu =15th) and is celebrated as the New Year for Trees. The Kabbalists created a festive Seder eating fruits and nuts to show gratitude for the gifts trees provide us.
So, this Monday be grateful for trees. You can commune with a tree in your neighborhood and express your gratitude. Be aware of how giving trees are and how every breath you take is the gift of a tree. If you are so inclined, plant a tree (yes, they will take root in the winter) or donate to plant a tree*.
Felix has a long way to go to reach 1 trillion trees. He may not have studied Kabbalah but he knows the Tree of Life. And he is choosing it.
Here is a link to Felix telling his story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ8_qw6sF3o
*And links to donate to plant a tree: