February 1, 2024

The Timeless Legacy of Volunteering

Benjamin Mann Chief Planning Officer

As we celebrated Tu B’Shevat last week, we were reminded of the profound symbolism behind this day dedicated to trees and planting. Tu B’Shevat not only marks the agricultural laws regarding fruit trees but also signifies the spiritual bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. It’s a time to reflect on the power of planting seeds, a theme beautifully encapsulated in a beloved story from the Babylonian Talmud. 

In Tractate Taanit 23a, we encounter the tale of Honi, a sage from the first century BCE. Honi encounters a man planting a carob tree and engages in a conversation about the tree’s future. Astonishingly, the planter reveals that the tree won’t bear fruit for 70 years. Honi questions the man’s motivation, wondering why he would invest in something he may never benefit from personally. 

The planter’s response holds a timeless truth: he sees himself as part of a continuum of care and contribution. Just as his ancestors planted for him, he plants for future generations. His act of volunteering is not driven by immediate personal gain but by the fulfillment derived from knowing he’s part of something greater than himself. 

Volunteering, like planting a tree, often involves sowing seeds whose fruits we may never see. It’s a commitment to a vision beyond our lifetimes, guided by the Jewish value expressed by Rabbi Tarfun: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” 

The story of the carob tree parallels the challenges we face in our communities today. We confront issues like antisemitism, financial insecurity, and inclusivity, knowing that their resolution may extend far beyond our own lives. Yet, it is precisely these long-term challenges that inspire us to give of ourselves, driven by the belief that our actions contribute to a brighter future. 

Federation is committed to fostering volunteer experiences that connect individuals to networks of caring people and meaningful causes and empowering volunteers to tackle long-term challenges, knowing that their efforts, though not immediately evident, sow the seeds of progress for generations to come. 

Like the planter of the tree, with the dedication of engaged volunteers, we can leave behind a world enriched for our children and grandchildren. In the wake of Tu B’Shevat, may we renew our commitment to planting seeds of kindness, compassion, and lasting change through the power of volunteering. 

Federation is currently offering a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, including an Israel Volunteer Mission (March 3-7, register by Feb. 7), Mitzvah Mania programs for teens, Mitzvah of the Moment for adults, and much more. Learn more here