Tu B’Shvat And The Lorax
by Maayan Lev
Tu B’Shevat, the New Year Of The Trees, is approaching (February 5-6). It functions much like a Jewish Arbor Day. There are many ways to mark this day. You can plant trees. You can have a Tu B’shevat seder (as we will be doing February 3). You can also take a hike, or find some other way to appreciate the natural beauty around us. As a Hebrew school teacher, I lament that we don’t usually have time on the school’s calendar to take the kids off-site on Tu B’Shevat to do some form of outdoor activity. And there isn’t much room for us to plant trees on the property, for as Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.” (Joni Mitchell also wrote “The Circle Game,” which is quite fitting, as you’ll see.)
For the younger children at the school, we often read a story. And from what I have seen, the most commonly read book on this day has been The Lorax, written by Dr. Seuss in 1971.
The tale is fairly well-known, and was even made into a movie in 2012. It tells the story of the Lorax, an environmental justice warrior, who fought in vain to save his local trees from deforestation at the hands of the Once-ler. Though all seems lost, the book gives a glimmer of hope at the end, though making it very clear that these issues do not get solved overnight.
We Jews have a similar legend, though ours is much shorter. It can be found in Kohelet Rabbah, which offers a midrash based on Ecclesiastes 7:13, which states:
רְאֵה אֶת־מַעֲשֵׂה הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי מִי יוּכַל לְתַקֵּן אֵת אֲשֶׁר עִוְּתוֹ
“See G!d’s creation! For who can straighten (or “repair”) what [HaShem] has twisted?”
According to Kohelet Rabbah, after G!d created the world, HaShem took Adam (the first human) aside, and showed him all the trees in the Garden of Eden. G!d said to him, “See how beautiful My creations are….Everything I created, I created for you! Make sure you do not ruin and destroy My world, for if you destroy it, there will be no one to repair it after you.”
This sounds very much like The Lorax. The Lorax tried to warn the Once-ler, but he did not listen. And soon, there was no one left to help. The Lorax had left, as had all the people and animals. Only the Once-ler himself was left, and he was not willing to do the significant work required to begin to undo the damage he had caused. It was much more convenient for him to entrust the work to someone else, and he ends up meeting a boy whom he convinces to begin planting trees.
This ending too, has a Jewish parallel. In the Talmud, we get the story of Choni the Circlemaker. Choni encounters a much older man who is planting a carob tree, and asks him why he is planting a tree when he knows he will not live to see it bloom? The man responds, “My ancestors planted for me, and I will plant for my descendants.”
In The Lorax, the Once-ler didn’t seem to believe that the joy of his descendants provided sufficient motivation for him to plant trees, but the child did. I like to think that the child may have been either the one Choni saw planting the tree, or one of his descendants.
And so this Tu B’Shvat, I leave you with the same words that the Once-ler left to the child. These words put a much more hopeful spin on the midrash from Kohelet Rabbah, which told us that once we wreck the world, nothing will get better. Despite all the terrible things we’ve done to this planet, we Jews believe that our hope is never lost.
And so, together we must “grow a forest” for our descendants, and “protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”
 Mitchell, Joni. “Big Yellow Taxi.” Reprise Records, A&M Studios, Los Angeles, California, 1970.
 Seuss, Dr. The Lorax. Random House, 1971.
 BT, Ta’anit 23a.