by Rabbi Yoav Ende
In his essay, “Tidings of Spring in Deepest Winter”, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote the following:
“The heart and mind of the Jew needs clear thoughts of spring, filled with its light. spring, with its promise of liveliness and blossoming… In the days of winter at its height, we celebrate the birthday of renewed flowering and growth! And it is you, the Jew, who must reflect deeply upon the meaning of this day, in order to reap from it an elevation of the soul, in order that the deepest recesses of your heart will be filled with sparks of joy and gladness… What do we usually think? When spring arrives, resplendent with its dazzling buds and flowers – that is the time to joyously celebrate the coming of spring, and give thanks for nature’s bounties which God has so graciously blessed…but ancient Jewish tradition speaks otherwise; it instructs us to gaze upon the bare trees, during the height of snowy winter, and whispers to us its precious and profound secret: Behold, these trees are already celebrating the day of their renewal, in the following spring…”
And so, precisely in the height of the chill of Winter, we are called upon to see the buds of spring…!
In the land of Israel, the season of winter is short, but the significance of the period of “winter” in our lives – both individually and as a society – may well be one of the most important messages of Tu B’Shvat.
Tu B’Shvat comes to tell us to look at those tiny buds – which foretell the arrival of spring – to notice and appreciate the signs of life which testify to the hidden potential to blossom and bear fruit. Tu B’Shvat tells us to focus on the quarter glass of water, rather than the three quarters which remain empty or perhaps frozen, during those periods in our lives, or in our society or state, which seem fruitless.
There are those in Israel who obsess about the lack of planning and strategic vision, and about the external dangers that we face. They cast doubt upon the very possibility of change for the better. When they reflect upon our society, they continue to focus on the “glass which is half-empty”. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are those for whom our societal realities hardly affect their lives at all. They live in a dreamworld which they and others like them have created.
Tu B’Shvat challenges us to change our perspective, to ensure that we refrain from succumbing to a life of “perpetual winter”, a life devoid of hope.
Aristotle, perhaps the greatest of philosophers, wrote of the power-soul of plants that gives them the strength to grow upward, against the forces of nature.
Take a walk in nature. See the beautiful, delicate anemone flowers overcome gravitational limitations.
On what basis should we conclude that we can’t effect meaningful change in the world around us?
Let’s try to learn from the flowering buds we see around us, let’s “aim high” and strive to better ourselves, and to work for meaningful societal change, in order to bring hope to our country.
A Happy Tu B’Shvat to all… may it fill us with hope and revitalization!
Rabbi Yoav Ende