By Mordechai Schmutter

This is just a reminder that April 22 is Earth Day. Because, apparently, whoever came up with Earth Day held like Rav Yehoshua that the world was created in Nissan.

But not on the first of Nissan.

But anyway, what I’m saying is that you should plan appropriately, just in case you or anyone you know lives on Earth.

And yes, I know — the last thing we need right now, between Pesach and Shavuos, is another holiday. Especially during sefirah. Can I listen to music? That’s all I want to know.

But the holiday is not a huge deal. It’s not like there have been decorations in the stores since Presidents Day. I think it’s more like a goyish Tu B’Shevat. They basically just eat dry fruit, and they totally forget the holiday exists until their kids come home with a project about it.

So I looked into it, and it turns out that Earth Day was formed to promote awareness of things like pollution, deforestation, extinction, and so on, and it’s been successful to the point that we all know what those things are, but not all of us have heard of Earth Day.

“But how on earth did it start?” you ask.

Obviously.

The first Earth Day took place in 1970 (meaning that the earth is almost 50 years old!), and it consisted of various get-togethers in major cities where speakers talked about how, at the current rate, thanks to things such as major cities, the world wouldn’t be habitable anymore in 20 years’ time, and we’d have to find a new place to hold Earth Day. The second Earth Day, as far as I can tell, was in 1990, when everyone looked around and realized that the world hadn’t been destroyed yet. They then decided that they would hold it again ten years later, to see how things were going.

And they’ve been doing it annually ever since. What started with just a few thousand people in 1970 has grown into billions of people observing Earth Day every year, which is very disappointing to the Earth Day founders, because one of the things they were upset about was overpopulation. And it’s actually observed in 192 countries, which is nice, because there’s no point in having a day named after a planet if only one country is observing it.

As for the date, the original founders chose April 22 because it didn’t conflict with any other holidays, such as Pesach, except when it does. And also it was the birthday of Vladimir Lenin. Many Americans actually pointed this out back then, saying that this whole “Earth Day” thing was a communist trick to, quote, “make American children live in an environment that is good for the Russians.” Because we wouldn’t want to live in an environment that is good for the Russians. Especially if it means things like “snow between Purim and Pesach.” I mean, I need to clean the car for Pesach. Where am I supposed to put my vacuum cleaner down, exactly? Should I just put it on the snow and have it gradually melt through?

Not that this whole environmental concept was anything new to us. Jews are already pretty green. Look at some of the tips that environmental experts keep giving:

  • Try not to use your car for one whole day every week. We already do that.
  • Don’t eat anything if you don’t know where it comes from. We already do that.
  • Respect trees. We already do that. We’re making Birkas HaIlanos on them just this week.

In case you live in Brooklyn, I should explain that Birkas HaIlanos is a berachah that we make on fruit trees once a year to celebrate the fact that Hashem keeps renewing them. It’s like Modeh Ani. (Note that there is no berachah on vegetable plants.) And we even make this berachah on weird fruits that you always thought were vegetables, such as avocados, beans, cucumbers, cloves, and olives, all of which are technically fruits, but if you put them in a fruit salad, you would be asked not to bring anything to the Lag B’Omer potluck anymore.

Not that I’m such an expert. Left to my own devices, I would generally forget Birkas HaIlanos. To be honest, over the course of Pesach, I forget everything. I even forget what I used to do with my time before spending every fiber of my being getting ready for Pesach. When’s Tax Day, by the way?

So, chances are, I’m not going to remember Birkas HaIlanos. I can barely remember Sefirah, and that’s every night. And I don’t really see the trees on a regular basis, because I mostly work in the house. But my wife, who takes a lot of walks because I mostly work in the house, comes home and says, “Did you make Birkas HaIlanos?” like I’ve ever once remembered it without her saying so.

It also doesn’t help that I never actually learned about Birkas HaIlanos in yeshiva. I think every rebbe just assumed that another rebbe taught it.

My wife is also the one who remembers to bake a key into the challah every year. (The reason we bake a key into the challah is that if you bake a key into the matzah, it will melt. And you won’t be able to drive home from the matzah bakery.)

It’s not like I never go outside. But when I do, I’m usually more focused on getting to where I’m going so I can get back. The thing is that the halachah says you’re really supposed to make the berachah the first time you see the trees flowering. So is that the first time you see it, or the first time you notice it? Because I can look at my watch three times in one minute and still have no idea what time it is. So it doesn’t even help me that everyone in town who has a fruit tree puts a massive sign on it with the berachah. It won’t register.

So my wife comes home and asks, “Have you made Birkas HaIlanos yet?” even though she knows I haven’t, and I go, “No. Is it too late?” Because I don’t know. And she goes, “I don’t think so. The sign’s still up.” Because the assumption is that people who have fruit trees don’t leave up signs for a month after it’s too late to say the berachah. Even the ones who still have their sukkahs up.

So then I go out and walk 15 minutes to the one fruit tree in town that I know of, because I’m not going to specifically drive there and hurt the environment to make a berachah on a tree.

And then last year, after I’ve been doing this about ten years, my wife pointed out that there’s actually another tree like two blocks from my house in the opposite direction, in front of the Beis Chabad. I’d never noticed it, because my eyes always just go to the menorah and how many bulbs are burnt out, even though it’s Nissan. Point is, the menorah’s still out, so just because their tree sign is still up doesn’t mean I can still say the berachah.

But here’s my thought: Maybe Hashem had the general public make Earth Day as a reminder that we should say a berachah on the trees. And he made Tax Day as a reminder that Earth Day is coming up. Think about it: What if there was no Earth Day? Then there wouldn’t be awareness of environmental problems, people would pollute more, there’d be more global warming, the winters would be shorter, and we could start saying the berachah on Tu B’Shevat. And then we’d all remember to do it — when our kids came home from school with a bag of dried fruit featuring that same prune that the yeshiva keeps giving out every year.

So Earth Day is a pretty big deal, and it’s surprising that we only give it one day per year. Though I guess that’s pretty normal. This is also a culture that assigns one day to mothers, fathers, and groundhogs. Also, it’s not like any of the other planets have days. Though maybe they do. I haven’t lived through a whole Neptunian year yet. But, for example, it’s not like there’s a Sun Day! Well, actually, there is a Sunday. It’s once every 28 years.

In fact, last time it was on an erev Pesach. I remember because I woke my kids up early and said, “Get out of bed! We have to make a berachah on the sun!” And my then five year old asked, “How are we going to get there?”

So I shouldn’t complain about the 15-minute walk.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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