One of the people with whom I work in spiritual direction lives somewhere considerably colder than where I live, and they mentioned recently that it was 40 degrees below zero there. Massachusetts gets a lot colder than south Texas (where I was born and reared), but 40 below is not a temperature I've ever experienced.
Hearing that number made me think about the seasonality of Jewish holidays anew. Of course our festival calendar is rooted in the seasons, and it was created by people who had no idea the southern hemisphere existed -- which poses challenges, e.g. working with Pesach's spring imagery when that season is actually autumn where you are.
And I've noted before that Tu BiShvat in particular can be a strange holiday to celebrate in New England. In Israel the almond trees may be blooming -- in south Texas where I grew up things are blooming -- but here in Massachusetts the world is almost always covered with a thick layer of snow at this season.
But that disjunction between the climate where the festival originated, and the Diaspora climate where I live now, is even more extreme for those who live in less temperate climes even than this. What can it mean to celebrate the sap rising when 40 below is the place where Fahrenheit and Centigrade match?
I think the answer has to do with understanding the rising sap, the coming spring, as a spiritual opportunity rather than something one can feel in the softness of the air or the scent of trees in bloom. It's spiritual sap that's rising. Tu BiShvat comes in deep winter to tug our hearts and souls inexorably toward what's coming next.
When we affirm the sap rising in us at this season, we're not talking about literal trees -- though once we get through this cold snap and start having warmer days I expect to see people tapping sugar maples! We're talking about a sense of nourishment, a sense of hope for the growth and the blooms that will come, a sense of possibility.
Even here where it's 7 below, our spiritual sap is rising. Even in subpolar climes, our spiritual sap can be rising. Where do we feel growth, where do we feel hope, where do we feel the pull toward liberation? What do you hope will grow in you as we enter the spiritual runway toward Pesach, toward freedom, toward becoming anew?
Image: the tree outside my window, seen through frost flowers.