July 19, 2024
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Tu B’Shevat Inspiration

This past week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat. The Talmud in Rosh Hashanah makes note of the fact that there are several days throughout the Jewish calendar that are considered “New Years.” Tu B’Shevat is considered the new year for trees and vegetation. Hence the popular Hebrew song, “Tu B’Shevat higiah, chag la’ilanot,” meaning Tu B’Shevat has arrived, the holiday for the trees.

The exact date set in the Jewish calendar was a matter of dispute between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. While the school of Shammai picked the first of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the school of Hillel argued that the 15th of the month was more appropriate. They chose that time because it corresponded to the midpoint of winter, the exact turning point in the Jewish calendar. As of Tu B’Shevat the days were already getting longer. We could look at winter as something that was now going to be mostly behind us. We were now getting closer to springtime when the flowers would bloom and the vegetation would come to life. In short, while it may still have felt as if we were in the dead of winter, the school of Hillel was optimistically looking forward to the future of springtime, when the weather would perk up, color would return and life would literally be more rosy.

We may feel as though we are in the midst of a dark and long winter at this point in time. The pandemic is mutating as it claims more and more victims. We are witnessing unprecedented political unrest and wonder what lies ahead. The weather may be gray and bleak during these cold times. However, following the school of Hillel’s example, we too may need to look forward with an optimistic view. It may be bitterly cold and snowy on the outside, but in our hearts and minds we should consider that we have turned the corner; the dark days of winter will soon be mostly behind us and we can start to plan for new projects and activities that will inspire us for the coming year. On Tu B’Shevat we honor the vision, the process and the endless possibility for productive living.

R’ Yissocher Frand makes a related point regarding Tu B’Shevat. We may look outside at this time of year and gaze at the trees. They appear deader than door nails! Should we be celebrating the new year for trees when there is not a leaf to be seen? It would seem more appropriate to celebrate Tu B’Shevat in the springtime when the trees are in full bloom, perhaps in April or May.

The answer is that the trees may look dead. They may look like they will never see another green leaf in their existence. But right now the sap is beginning to run within them. The leaves and the beauty of the fruits that the trees will produce in the spring and summer are all being prepared right now, in the dead of winter.

The trees represent the idea that even when times look terribly bleak and it seems as if there is no future ahead, one should not give up. One should not give up on the trees when they look almost dead in the winter. Similarly, one should not give up on oneself when things may look dim and hopeless.

There are periods in a person’s life when the future looks bleak and things look miserable all around. “What will be?” we may ask ourselves. However, the salvation of the L-rd comes in the blink of an eye! The Almighty is already “running the sap,” so to speak, so that salvation may come. For this reason Tu B’Shevat is celebrated in the dead of winter.

There is a part of the davening right before Aleinu that most people skip. It is the “Kaveh el Hashem” short prayer. This paragraph comes from Tehillim (Psalm 27:14) and reads, “Place your hope in Hashem; strengthen your heart and He will give you courage. Simply place your hope in Hashem.” R’ Paysach Krohn once opined that more people should say that short prayer and take it to heart. It would surely help reaffirm their faith when the future seems a bit dim.

May this be a “shana tova” not just for the trees and flowers but for all of us as well.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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