Why do we celebrate Tu BiSh’vat (New Year of the Trees) in the middle of the winter – a time when nothing is growing and the world around us descends into a deep, frost-bitten slumber?
Chazal explain that the reason is hinted to in the Hebrew word for winter: choref. Choref can also mean “youth,” “the time for the sowing of seeds,” “strength,” and “prosperity.” We celebrate Tu BiSh’vat at the point when most of the winter rainfall of the new year is over (in the land of Israel) and the ground has become saturated. This causes the sap to rise from the roots – the first step in the future growth of leaves, flowers, and eventually, fruit.
From the outside, it looks like nothing has changed; everything appears to be the same as it was the day before. But beneath the rough, lifeless bark, hidden from sight, there is a stirring… a silent awakening… a new life beginning to emerge that will eventually, with Hashem’s help, blossom and bear fruit. This concept can be demonstrated in our relationship with Hashem, our relationship with those around us, and our relationship with ourselves.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that in this world it is completely impossible for us to know where we are holding in our avodas Hashem, and not knowing where one stands is one of the main tests in life. We could have a small awakening or yearning to come closer to Hashem that suddenly comes and just as suddenly goes. It seems like nothing has changed; but because of that single moment of yearning, a gate is opened in the upper worlds. Hashem responds with a wellspring of strength, clarity, and longing to break through all the blocks, fears, doubts, and confusions that prevent us from reaching our spiritual potential.
Similarly, in our relationship with those around us, we don’t always know what the impact of our actions is in this world. You could try to help someone who is going through some difficulty in life. You reach out, but it seems like nothing has changed on the other person’s end. Sometimes, beneath the surface, you’ve actually planted the seeds that will take root and blossom at some later point. Sometimes this happens the other way around, and we are the ones later affected.
Lastly, in our relationship with ourselves, sometimes we can see, hear, or experience something along the way that makes an unexpected impact or becomes “useful” later on. Sometimes, many years can go by between the experience and the moment when everything suddenly falls into place and it all makes sense. And, when that “click” happens, we are left with a bigger picture – a greater understanding of ourselves, of Hashem, and how He runs the world.
Tu BiSh’vat is about having bitachon and emunah. It’s about believing that what we see on the surface is not always an indication of what’s happening beneath it, outside of our field of vision. It’s about believing that though we make choices in life, we’re not really in control of the outcome. What seems hopeless, lost, or lifeless actually contains seeds of life. [The above was previously published on www.shiratmiriam.com.]