I am captivated by the image of the mycorrhizal network: a system of microscopic pipes produced by fungi which connect individual trees and plants together through soil. These networks enable trees to share nutrients with each other – water, carbon, nitrogen, and so forth – creating a greater system out of what might seem like separate plants. They effectively allow trees to communicate with each other and support one another.
Today is Tu Bishvat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the trees, corresponding this year with the observed birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. On this day in particular, we might recall that as human beings we are all connected together, something like the system created by mycorrhizal networks. And those who seek to divide us by emphasizing our differences – racial, ethnic, religious, etc. – work against the unity of purpose that our ecosystem suggests.
In the wake of the synagogue hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, which took place during a Shabbat morning service and for ten hours (!) after, we in the Jewish community are once again on edge. Particularly here in Pittsburgh, where the trauma of 10/27/2018 still ripples through our community, it is very easy for us to bring up the anxiety created on that horrible Shabbat; the pain and grief that we still feel are never far from the surface.
And then I remember that, just as Dr. King envisioned, we have to continue to work toward the day when we all truly see ourselves like trees in the forest – each of us a little different, but deeply connected to one another in ways that are often unseen. We have to lean into that future time, when we shall join hands and sing together, in whatever language or melody we have, somewhat like the interconnected trees.
I am grateful to the Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe, for protecting the hostages and enabling them to emerge unscathed. I am anxiously hopeful that no congregation of any kind should ever face this kind of terrorism. And I am beholden to the trees, and to Dr. King, for giving us a glimpse of a humanity that could be.
Rabbi Seth Adelson