Into this moment of the year, Jewish tradition inserts the holiday of Tu B'shvat, a celebration of trees and of all of nature. How strange to celebrate nature when it is at its least productive! Our holiday may make slightly more sense when we recognize Tu B'shvat not only as an homage to the natural world but as a true celebration of transition. The Talmud notices that by the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, most of the rains in the land of Israel have fallen, the trees have begun to make use of this new rain, and their sap begins to rise. On second thought, our tradition is incredibly perceptive when it instructs us to mark this tiny transition. In turn, we remain conscious of how the smallest of actions have a great impact on our lives. Imagine a world in which the trees could not regenerate in this way! Our tradition offers us an important reminder: celebrate the smallest of life's changes in addition to the bolder ones. Every moment is precious!
This week in particular, I notice that our observance of Bar/Bat Mitzvah reflects a similar focus on transition. My own experience of parenting is that in general, our children's growth happens moment to moment, day to day, and is often imperceptible. Nonetheless, as our children reach a certain age, the vastness of their maturity catches us by surprise. The difference between the infant we entered into the covenant with a Brit Milah or Baby Naming and the thirteen year old who is on the precipice of young adulthood gives us pause. The process of growing up and developing independence from our parents is nothing short of awe inspiring.
The wisdom in stopping to celebrate these transitions lies in our ability (tendency, perhaps?) to overlook them otherwise. Jewish tradition asks us to pause every winter to mark the rebirth of nature even before we sense the enormity of that reality. It asks us to mark the growth of our young people even before we know who they will fully become. In them too the sap is rising. They are beginning to establish themselves as fully contributing members of our community. They are more like adults who make independent choices than children who passively follow the instructions of parents. And the message we try to send them is that they matter and we cherish them. How wise to celebrate this occasion so that we pause and notice the remarkable rising of the human spirit in every human being!
Tu B'shvat begins tonight! Consider the poem below for more reflection on how we are like the trees:
Like a Tree
By Kaila Shabat
Out of days of darkness
and profound despair,
I re-emerge to a wan sun,
to trees barren and bare.
Yet, deep within, sap is rising;
a new cycle of life beginning.
Limpid buds linger in the bough
for the sun's signal to unfurl
their foliage and confer
a plethora of flowers and fruit.
As at dawn, the first chirp
swells to a chorus of bird song,
so the players in the symphony
of the coming spring
enter the arena, one by one,
to enact Nature's pageant.
On this New Year of Trees,
man, too, like a tree in the field,
quickens with insight and renewal
emulating the awakening earth.