According to the Jewish way of counting, every tree in the world has its birthday today! At this full moon, the tradition teaches, the sap starts rising. Even though spring won't manifest here in the mountains of western Massachusetts for a solid few months yet, the trees are beginning to draw the sustenance they'll need for the coming year.
Though the holiday's roots are in an ancient tax system (whereby the fruits of trees could not be tithed to the Temple until they'd reached a certain age), Jewish mystics brought it to flower in a whole new way. They saw God as a tree Whose divine abundance flows like sap into creation, enlightening and enlivening all things. (We have them to thank for the custom of the Tu BiShvat seder, a ritual meal that's chock-full of symbolism, fruits, and nuts.) In our day Tu BiShvat is also an environmental festival, a time to celebrate not only trees but our obligation to care for the earth in which we are all planted.
For my part, I'm meditating today on the lessons we can draw from trees. My friend David sent me this quote, which I quite like:
In the Bible, as well as in later Torah literature, the tree is not regarded merely as a plant that gives fruit or provides shade. The tree is a symbol of life, and also the symbol of the upright man. What impressed our sages was its endurance and tenacity. The tree weathers all storms and yet keeps on clinging to the soil. It suffers adversity, it is beaten by the winds and lashed by the rains, it is plucked bare in the autumn and snowed over in the winter. Yet it does not wither away. It retains its inner strength, and bursts forth into fresh blossom the moment the sun graces it again with its smile of spring.
For we know that it is in adversity that the tree collects its strength for renewed life. Throughout the winter, the tree is not lifeless, even though it may appear so. Beneath the crust of stem and branch, down below in the roots, hidden away in the soil, life goes on in undiminished intensity.
All the time, the tree is storing up new life energy and is replenishing its resources, to burst into full activity the moment Nature gives it the sign of spring's awakening: 'Gather strength through adversity, renew your life in times of suffering.'
That's what I was thinking about this morning as I breakfasted on an English muffin slathered with the etrog-ginger marmalade I made at the end of Sukkot. And I offer, again, a link to a Haggadah for Tu BiShvat [pdf] -- this is an amalgamation of two haggadot, one that I created and one that my rabbi created, and you're welcome to use it either as-is or as a jumping-off point for your own creative Tu BiShvat endeavors.
May we all know ourselves to be rooted, unshakeable; may we be able to find the sustenance we need to get through winter, on all levels; and may the light of the full moon bring us joy.