Tonight is the full moon of the month of Shvat, which means that it's Tu BiShvat -- the new year of the trees. (I realize that here at WCJA you'll be celebrating Tu BiShvat next weekend. You get a week-long holiday! But tonight is the full moon -- on some secular calendars it's called the Full Snow Moon.)
Tu BiShvat is the first step toward springtime. I say that with awareness that the world around us does not look much like springtime right now. In Williamstown, mid-February means snow and ice, not soft spring breezes and almond blossoms. For me, that makes Tu BiShvat all the more meaningful, because Tu BiShvat becomes a holiday about hiddenness.
The Jewish mystics have a lot to say about what's hidden and what's revealed, נסתר and נגלה. The world we live in is a world of surfaces, and everything conceals deeper meaning and hidden sparks. On the surface, Tu BiShvat might seem to be about establishing an age for trees so that their fruits can be tithed. That's how the holiday originated, back in Talmudic times. But deep down -- say the mystics -- it's really about the spiritual sap of the universe beginning to rise for the spring to come.
It seems appropriate that this holiday remind us to pay attention to what's unseen. The outside world may be covered with snow, but deep down under the snow the roots of the trees are soaking up the water that will feed the sap that will support next summer's verdant greenery -- at least, that's what Jewish tradition teaches. Our work is to trust in the spring that we can't yet see.
Torah says that human beings are like trees of the field, and we too have hidden undercurrents that aren't always visible to the naked eye. As we move through this midwinter full moon, what is rising in you? What hopes are you nurturing, deep down in your most secret heart? What yearnings are enlivening you, even if you haven't spoken them aloud?
What gifts might you be able to bring to the world by the end of this semester? When the trees have leafed out, all chartreuse and fluttering in the spring breeze -- when the lilac bushes in front of the President's house bloom and scent the spring air -- what new ideas or artwork or music or activism or relationships might you bring into being?
That's what Tu BiShvat is about for me: the sap of our hopes, the sap of our dreams, the sap that will fuel our work in the world. Imagine your feet planted in the earth like roots. Reach deep down into the earth and draw up the sustenance you need. With every beat of your heart, you can draw up more hope, and more of the energy you'll need in order to create.
On the outside, the world looks like winter -- but in the heart of every tree, the first stirrings of spring are rising. This full-moon midwinter Shabbes, celebrate what's rising in you.
This is the d'varling -- the short-and-sweet teaching -- that I offered at the Williams College Jewish Association tonight at Kabbalat Shabbat services.