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Tu BiShvat, Inauguration, and the Winter Trees
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Tu BiShvat, Inauguration, and the Winter Trees

Walking outside last Shabbat afternoon as the sun got lower and the air regained its chill, I saw a beloved kindergarten teacher colleague looking up at the branches of a tree: “Pussy willows!” she greeted me, with a mix of discovery and nostalgia, knowing I’d share the sentiment. “Remember these? They’re so soft and fuzzy…” I resisted the urge to reach for a branch and brush the soft buds against my cold cheek. This kind of willow tree starts to flower when it is still winter, and so it coats its new buds with a soft, silvery fur to keep warm.  I responded, “Tu BiShvat is coming! I should bring the kindergartners out to observe the trees soon!“ My friend thought more realistically, “Well, maybe in a couple weeks…”  I found myself glad that we’d have a bit more time.

Recently, perhaps more than other years, I’ve been appreciating the beauty of winter trees; their elegance, patience, resilience and sense of hope.

There is a story in the Talmud about our hopeful and patient relationship with trees:

Honi Ha-Me’agel, the Circle Maker, was walking along the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” The man replied, “Seventy years.”

Honi asked the man, “And do you think you will live another seventy years to eat the fruit of this tree?!”

The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my parents and grandparents. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”

Recently, perhaps more than other years, I’ve been appreciating the beauty of winter trees; their elegance, patience, resilience and sense of hope.

The tree is a metaphor for all of the things we plant and nurture in our lives that take patience, hard work, faith and time—the things we do now because we believe they will bring goodness for our children and their children and their future world. When you’ve put a seed under the ground, you can’t see it anymore, but you know that in time it will grow and bear fruit.

The winter tree branches keep this patient, quiet secret too. They are so bare and starkly different from their spring full of blossoms, their summer of lush green, their fall of warm colors; yet, despite their dark stillness, we have the secure knowledge every winter that new buds will sprout in their time. 

My memories of Tu BiShvat as a child are vivid with winter tree branches. Our teachers taught us that even though it’s still winter here (in northeast America), in Israel hashkedia porachat—the almond tree—always first—is starting to blossom. I remember collecting twigs in the cold schoolyard and then gluing cotton balls onto them—our version of almond blossoms; I remember carrying the project home, the glue still wet, holding it carefully with my thick winter mittens and trying not to glue my wooly thumbs to the cotton. As a special treat our principal gave us “bokser”— hard, dry, dark carob pods (charuv), from Israel.  Carob fruit from the tree in the Honi Ha-Me’agel story!  I have since read that the carob pods became customary on Tu BiShvat because it could survive the trip from Israel to Eastern Europe; but perhaps it also symbolizes the fruit that comes after the longest wait.

The winter tree branches keep this patient, quiet secret too. They are so bare and starkly different from their spring full of blossoms, their summer of lush green, their fall of warm colors; yet, despite their dark stillness, we have the secure knowledge every winter that new buds will sprout in their time.

Now as a grown up, I am still celebrating Tu BiShvat among the winter trees: the kindergartners and I put on our coats and go outside to observe their bare branches; but, when we look closely, we see tiny, still-closed buds where new baby leaves and blossoms are going to grow. We predict with anticipation: what is going to happen? Will anything grow? I pretend I don’t know—even though I’ve observed these same trees every year of my life. I’m reminded of Adam HaRishon, the first Man, at the first sunset in the Garden of Eden: when he saw the sun go down, he was terrified—he thought the sun was gone forever! But of course, we experienced humans know without a doubt that even though it gets dark each night, the sun rises again each morning. Just like Miriam and the righteous women in Egypt, as they escaped the darkness of slavery in the middle of the night, made sure to bring their musical instruments—because they knew without a doubt there would soon again be light and celebration. Just like my teacher friend gently guides her young students on their first day of kindergarten, knowing without a doubt how grown-up they will be at the end of the year.

Tu BiShvat here is the winter right before the spring; our trees are still bare branches against the winter sky but we know they will soon blossom and come to life again. And while we will take joy in those trees when they are flowering with pink and white glory—on Tu Bishvat we recognize the moment in time before they begin growing anew. The new year for the trees begins in this moment, while it is still winter, and we know that the promise of new hope, new life, new beautify, is coming. We just have to be patient.  

The new year for the trees begins in this moment, while it is still winter, and we know that the promise of new hope, new life, new beautify, is coming. We just have to be patient.

And yet, there are things which demand immediacy. Honi the Circle Maker gets his name from another episode in the Talmud: One year, the winter rains failed to come to the Land of Israel, so Honi drew a circle in the dust and stepped inside it.  He told God that he would not leave that circle until it rained. When a light drizzle began, Honi demanded, “This isn’t enough!” So God sent a downpour. So Honi said, “This is too much!” and insisted the right kind of rain.  God finally sent the proper amount of rain, ending the drought. Honi understood that the rain could not wait another moment–the people couldn’t wait 70 years for rain! Honi was good at immediate demands. But he needed help to understand that some things require patient planting and nurturing, and the faith that if we work hard and don’t give up, what we nurture today will fill the world for our children.

There are times we need to draw a circle and refuse to budge until things change. But there are times we need to start the planting and be patient and hopeful, knowing good will come. Trees take patience.  Teaching children takes patience. Vaccines take patience. Social justice takes patience. Democracy takes patience. And all if these demand the moment today when we say we have to start now… so that our children עלמא בחרובא אשכחתיה, will find carob trees in the world.

 

 

Lisi Levisohn is a developmental neuropsychologist who also enjoys teaching Torah-Inspired science, Children’s Tefillah, Girls Running & Chesed and the Matan Bat Mitzvah program in her community, Silver Spring, MD.

Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.

If you’re interested in writing for JOFA’s blog contact dani@jofa.org. For more about JOFA like us on Facebook or visit our website.

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