Monday, January 12, 2004

Out through my frosty windows and across the snow-covered lawns, I can look around the corner to the coming thaw and beyond even to the first stirrings of springtime. Tu b'Shvat is coming -- the breakup of winter and the first nudge of new growth that emerges with the renewal of warmth and longer days. The Mishnah calls Tu b'Shvat the "new year of the trees -- rosh ha-shanah le-illanot". With the full moon of the month of Shvat, deep in the earth, where we never go and cannot see, the tips of the roots begin to surge with a new energy that rised through the trunks and out the branches. Tiny new buds swell to become blossoms and soon bring fruit with all their succulent colours, fragrances and flavours. And then, fruit yields new seeds which fall back to the earth, dormant and waiting through the next winter to sprout forth once again.

When we were agricultural people in our own land in ancient times, Tu b'Shvat began the annual cycle of reckoning tithes from the orchards. In medieval kabbalistic circles, it began to be celebrated with a kabbalistic seder of fruits of four different types, each embodying an energy and a characteristic of our own lives. A century ago, Tu b'Shvat became the "Jewish Arbor Day" when Jews made a point of planting trees in Eretz Yisrael and then in our own times the "Jewish Earth Day" when we deepen our awareness of our connectedness to the earth, the trees and all the magnificent interdependent systems of this natural world.

Ahavat Olam will celebrate our first Tu b'Shvat seder together this year. We have such a bountifully rich tradition to draw on, to adopt and to adapt -- I can't wait to see what our planning group comes up with!