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06/01/2022 05:48:39 PM


Looking back on some previous reflections on Tu Bishvat, I found this message, one that feels keenly relevant to this year:

We find ourselves, deep in winter, in the month of the Jewish New Year of the Trees, Tu Bishvat. 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. 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. 

These times, this week, could hardly feel any more “frozen” with the coldest days of winter yet, along with rafts of cancellations and new closures due to the explosive rates of infection from the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Announced on Rosh Hodesh Shvat, the beginning of month marking the new year of trees, a harbinger of rebirth that is to come in the greenery of spring.

So, Reb Yisrael, there are a lot of us mighty low on hope at the moment. We’re tired of it all, more than tired. Lethargic. Struggling. Anxious. Defeated. What’s that you say? Connect with a tree? Visit a tree? Visualize a tree? 

Approaching Tu Bishvat this year of our almost 2 years of a global pandemic, I recalled a mini-retreat from almost four years ago, an outdoor experience on the Appalachian Trail with a group of rabbinic colleagues. It integrated activities one might expect, like hiking and canoeing, with contemplative practices. One practice stuck with me. On a “silent hike,” we were guided to communicate with a tree, to ask and listen for its permission to touch or embrace it.

With messages like the title of Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, amid reports of scientific work that has been made accessible to the broader public of late, we are learning that this is not a matter of fantasy. The connections and possibilities from human-to-tree communication extend from what is being learned from tree-to-tree communication.

Hope must be the bridge between winter and spring, that leads us from the bleak inner and outer landscapes towards the awesomeness embedded in the natural world, there for us to cherish, nurture, be fed by, and protect. And once we make our way onto that bridge, we can join hands, reach out, make sure that anyone who needs and everyone who yearns can know that they too are like a tree – fruitful just as they are, where they are, in any season.

Rabbi Liz

Wed, 17 April 2024