Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
Happy 2024! I love having two opportunities each year to begin again – first in the fall at Rosh Hashanah, then in the winter with New Year’s Day. Beginning again is a valuable spiritual practice, a reminder that we don’t have to be stuck in what was but rather can cultivate the promise of something new. I’ll take every new leaf I can turn over. And this month on the Jewish spiritual calendar gives us a reason to celebrate new leaves even if spring still feels distant.
At the full moon of the lunar month of Sh’vat we celebrate Tu BiShvat – a glorious example of our tradition’s rich capacity to reinterpret and re-imagine. Once upon a time Tu BiShvat was basically Biblical tax day, the official “birthday” of fruit trees in the Land of Israel for tithing purposes, since after a certain number of years of growth tree fruits were meant to be tithed to the Temple. Once the second Temple fell, the holiday was completely reimagined.
The mystics we call the first kabbalists dreamed up a mystical seder featuring tree fruits and nuts symbolizing an inner journey through body, heart, mind, and spirit. They’re accompanied by four cups of juice or wine, ranging in color from pale gold to deep red like the changing light and leaves of the seasons. These mystics teach that when we eat tree fruits with intention, we can direct our energy toward healing what’s broken in our relationship with the earth.
Tu BiShvat is said to be when the spiritual sap – what will nourish each tree in the spring and summer to come – begins to rise from roots to tip. (That always makes me think of sugaring season, literal sap rising in sugar maple trees – which sometimes coincides with Tu BiShvat here.) Tu BiShvat is the first step toward the coming spring. It’s the first of a sequence of full moon celebrations that will lead us to Purim and then to Passover.
Our community choir has been hard at work in recent months rehearsing music about Tu BiShvat, trees, and nature. Our Tu BiShvat Concert at 7pm on Sunday, January 21 will feature both Sefardic and Ashkenazi melodies, as well as contributions from individual musicians in our community. Join us as we celebrate the coming of spring with music to stir heart and soul. (Please RSVP so we know how many tree fruits and pastries to have on hand!)
And our Jewish Journeys celebration and learning community will celebrate Tu BiShvat with a seder at 5:30pm on Monday, January 22. We’ll journey through the four worlds and four seasons, give thanks for all that trees give us, taste the fruits of our land, and make art from nature. All are welcome for this multigenerational family program. Please RSVP for that celebration too, and stay tuned for updates on how dinner will work that evening.
I love Tu BiShvat because it reminds me that beneath winter’s ice and snow, the seeds of the coming spring are already planted, both literally and figuratively. The potential that will become leaves and harvests, blooms and fruits, is already waiting for the right moment to emerge and grow. Our potential is coiled within us, too. What emotional and spiritual harvest do we want to nourish as we begin this year’s journey toward spring?
Blessings to all,
— Rabbi Rachel