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The Awe in the New Year of the Trees

02/05/2020 10:18:41 AM


In anticipation of our annual Tu B'shevat seder taking place on Sunday, February 9, we are reprinting a Words of the Spirit column written in January 2016.

What is the most awesome, inspiring, jaw-dropping moment of all? This may be as close to a universal accord as one can find. Surely the answer must be: the birth moment.
The moment a baby comes into the world; the first tender slips of a bud; the emergence of infant mammals; the transformation of the chrysalis. To be present for such moments can inspire those who witness them to transcendent heights.

But it’s unsustainable, impractical, and well-nigh impossible to live in those moments full time. We go about our lives, our work, our relationships, our activities, knowing that once in a while – if we are lucky and are paying close attention – we can observe such sacred beginnings.

We find ourselves, deep in winter, in the month of the Jewish New Year of the Trees, Tu B'shevat. At this time of the year the trees seem to the eye to be life-less. Where do we find a connection to this observance? In what sense can we engage that transcendent awe-power in the full grip of frozen times? 

A Hassidic teacher, Rabbi Yisrael of Chortkov, says: 

"When a person is down on her fortune and has lost all hope, she should ponder a tree in winter. Its leaves have fallen, its moisture has dried up, it is almost a dead stump in the ground. Then, suddenly, it begins to revive and to draw moisture from the earth. Slowly, it blossoms, then brings forth fruits. A Person should learn from this not to despair, but to take hope and have courage, for she too is like a tree."

If the lack of awe is despair, then hope must be the bridge between winter and spring, between lifelessness and revival, between the droopy patches of missed opportunity and the spring-y moments of bounding adventure.

Awe always is - in the universe, and in our very near surroundings. To seek it is to connect to the everyday blessings of humans, trees, and all that lives. 

May the spring season that is to come be met by the spring within, one that recognizes the perpetual blessings of sky and tree, life and change, growth and hope.

-Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton

Wed, August 5 2020 15 Av 5780