Tu B’Shvat connects us to the beautiful world outside – Jewish Community Voice

Posted By on January 28, 2021

Nature is not cancelled. Trees are still growing. Roots are still spreading. Flowers will bloom in a few weeks time. At this very moment, the inner workings of the world outside are as vast, colorful and magnificent as ever.

It goes without saying that the global pandemic has temporarily halted so much of our lives and changed countless aspects of our existence. We dont go to school like we used to, pray like we used to, see friends like we used to. We dont share meals or birthdays or milestones like we once did. Our mourning rites have changed. We have new ways of meeting, new ways of seeing doctors, and new ways of helping each other. The very thought of sitting in a synagogue sanctuary, brimming with people of all ages, suddenly feels as foreign as ever.

We could focus these days on all that is suspended. That would be easy to do. I too miss so many aspects of life right now. I love seeing live music, which I currently cannot do. I love running in local road races, which I currently cannot do. I love taking our kids to movies and shows, which I currently cannot do. And, of course, I so miss teaching my Talmud class in person, and celebrating big, festive bnei mitzvah every Shabbat morning. I miss Shabbat oneg and joining together on our most sacred occasions.

At times, it has been hard to hold on to hope and positivity for sure. I imagine I am not alone in this regard.

The sages of our tradition had a way of anticipating what we would feel in every generation. They knew that this is precisely the time of year when we would be most tempted to slip into a place of gloominess. Tu BShvat, when we celebrate the birthday of the trees, reminds us that the natural world endures every harsh winter, every cataclysmic weather event, every would-be disaster, and manages to persevere, often coming back stronger and more vibrant. Indeed, on Tu BShvat we are celebrating not just the trees, but the fact that the sun continues to rise, earth continues to spin, birds continue to fly, leaves continue to grow, new life continues to rush forth, and against all odds.

The Tu BShvat seder places in our very hands precisely those fruits that grow in the harshest of climates, like the date, which somehow thrives in the unrelenting heat of the desert. Or the carob, which takes years upon years to finally bear any fruit. The oft-told Talmudic story of the carob tree taking a full 70 years to bloom reinforces its remarkable endurance. In another famous Talmudic story, the carob tree leaps from its spot so as not to become caught up in rabbinic debate, a testament to its power and surprising ability.

Tu BShvat also serves to connect us as well not just to the land writ large, but to our beloved Homeland specifically, the State of Israel. Like the natural world, Israel is a place that manages to live on in spite of the cynics and those who would have long ago predicted her demise. The very existence of a modern-day Israel reminds us that our story is one of courage and survival, both as a people and as individuals. Fortitude is very much in our DNA.

While so many are tethered to their screens these days, I would implore you to remember the beautiful world outside. Get out there if you can. Breathe the cold air. Feel the quiet. Allow yourself to be present on our enormous and miraculous planet. Give yourself the gift of feeling connected to the great grandeur of life, all life. In so doing, you can also take a break from the news and social media, both of which often deaden the soul and only stir up anger.

I pray that this Tu BShvat connects all of us to something larger and eternal and reminds our kids especially of those terms we Jews have long held so dear: Patience, appreciation, perseverance, and compassion.

May the coming months bring us back to life in full bloom. May we join together under a bright yellow sun, in peace and health, and God willing soon.

The Religion column that appears in each issue of the Voice is presented in cooperation with the Tri-County Board of Jewish Clergy.

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Tu B'Shvat connects us to the beautiful world outside - Jewish Community Voice

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