Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The coldest weather of the year is ahead of us, but the days have already started imperceptibly getting longer. Especially during years like this one, when the winter solstice falls during Chanukah, it can feel a little bit like the increasing light of our candles has called back the increasing light of the sun. We’re nowhere near done with the cold, but we are done with the darkening of the days. From here until the end of June, every day brings more light.

The next big event on our spiritual calendar is the New Year of the Trees, Tu BiShvat, which arrives at the full moon of deep winter — this year on the evening of February 5. Our mystics teach that at Tu BiShvat, the sap begins to rise to feed the coming summer’s leaves and blooms and fruit. Tu BiShvat invites us to believe that summer’s abundance is already on the way, even if we can’t yet see it or feel it. It reminds us that there is more going on than meets the eye.

This newsletter is coming out at the January / Tevet full moon. Among the Naudowessie (Dakota) tribe, the February full moon is called the Snow Moon. Some Algonquin peoples call it the Groundhog Moon. (I wonder whether that’s the origin of our story of Groundhog Day? I learned those names’ origin from the Farmer’s Almanac.) Among the Stockbridge-Munsee band of the Mahican tribe, it’s called the Deep Snow Moon (source: this list of Native moon names).

I like knowing the names that some other communities have given to the coming full moon. On our spiritual calendar, the full moon of Shvat is the first spiritual step toward the coming spring. Tu BiShvat, Purim, and Pesach are all full moon holidays. Each year we look inward to feel our own spiritual sap rising, we celebrate what’s topsy-turvy and what’s hidden, and we push through narrow straits toward freedom under the bright light of three consecutive full moons.

What in us lies dormant at this season of bitter cold that might begin stirring as we take these spiritual steps toward spring? What tiny seed can we nurture into vibrant growth, what ember burns from which our inmost light can be kindled? For me, these are the questions of this month leading up to Tu BiShvat. What do I want to grow this year — not in a garden bed or in terra-cotta pots on my deck when the weather warms, but in that invisible part of me that we call the soul?

One way to look inward is through writing. If that calls to you, I hope you’ll take part in my Spiritual Writing: Midrash and Making Meaning class this winter. We’ll look at stories in Torah, study some classical midrashic (storytelling) responses, and then write our own midrash about how we imagine a character felt or what was going on for them as the Torah story unfolded. As we write those characters into deeper and richer being, we’ll learn things about ourselves, too.

Here’s to winter introspection, to the beauty of moonlight on snow, and to savoring more light.

Blessings to all,

— Rabbi Rachel