The circus comes to town this weekend as we prepare to celebrate Tu B’Shevat (on January 16th) – the new year of trees. On Tu B’Shevat in ancient times, farmers brought the first fruits produced by their trees to the Temple as an offering to G-d. This offering was a way to thank G-d for the amazing gift of nature and Judaism captures the fact that Judaism demands that we have great respect for this gift.
Trees, of course, are not the only incredible aspect of nature. Nature includes all of the beautiful features and products of the earth: plants, landscape and animals. On Tu B’Shevat we pause to appreciate the miracle of nature – how all of God’s creations can work together and make this world a truly spectacular place.
At the same time, on Tu B’Shevat, we are reminded just how fragile this world is. This fragility is appreciated by Judaism and it is why our tradition demands that we have a responsibility to go out of our way to protect the environment and all living things. Related to the trees – our tradition includes special laws that protect trees from being destroyed and ensures that the fruit of the trees would not be picked until the trees were four years old. Tu B’Shevat was established as the official “birthday of the trees” and was used by farmers to determine a tree’s age and when its fruit was ready to be used.
Judaism’s many laws and teachings on the treatment of animals are also reminders of just how fragile nature can be and how we must take it upon ourselves to protect all of God’s creatures. The medieval scholar, Maimonides teaches us that:
If one encounters one’s friend on the road and sees that that person’s animal is suffering from its burden, whether the burden is appropriate for the animal or is excessive, it is a mitzvah to remove this burden. (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Rotzeah 13:1)
We are obligated to go out of our way to rescue an animal from harm.
As we prepare for Tu B’Shevat, which we will celebrate together next Friday evening at services, I urge us all to live the words of Judaism. This Sunday at 12:15PM, many of us will be brining our animals to the synagogue for our annual pet blessing. We know our animals are loved, but there are so many animals out there that are suffering. Help make a difference. Whether you have a pet or not, please drop off paper towels, bleach, cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes, towels, sheets, leashes, collars, crates, pet store gift cards or monetary donations at the synagogue Sunday morning. No food or toys please. All donations will be given to Paws 2 Care.
Also, before you rush off to the circus, please, do your homework. How are the animals treated by the circus? What are their living conditions? How are they trained to do the things that they do? I encourage you to check out this article which asks, “Are Circuses Kosher?”: . Remember, we are obligated to rescue an animal from harm!