Galilee Diary: Such a winter's day

February 22, 2011Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein

(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

...and the Lord said to Himself: Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devising of man's mind are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being as I have done. So long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.
       -Genesis 8:21-22

We complained for weeks about the seemingly endless, dry summer that wouldn't end when it seemed like it should have. But finally, winter has come (as we knew it would). On my morning walk around Shorashim today the sky from here west to Haifa was filled with clouds piled up in layers of different shades and consistencies, with wisps reaching all the way down to the ground, and patches of blue sky scattered among them. As the sun came over the mountains to the east, a rainbow appeared among those clouds, seemingly rooted in the village of Sha'ab, as usual, and framing the view of Haifa. As the sun lit the side of Mount Gilon to the north, the slopes glowed with a film of bright green, finally colorizing the sepia-toned landscape we had been looking at for so many months. The air was moist and warm. For over half the year the air and the landscape around here are very hard. Today they felt soft. Here in the Galilee, winter is the best season.

The sound of bellowing cows echoed up across the valley. This is the season when the cowherds from Sha'ab and other villages lead their herds out among the olive groves in the valley bottoms, and up the slopes, to feast on the lush seasonal greenery. It is also the season when the cows tend to get too enthusiastic and wander into Shorashim, leaving deposits on the sidewalks, deep hoofprints in the soft mud of our gardens, and chewed-off trees and shrubs. Later this morning, driving at rush hour to the Acco train station along four-lane, divided, 60 mph Route 85, traffic was bumper to bumper in one stretch, as a cowherd was trying to lead a large herd along the shoulder, but the cows had apparently never learned the rule about walking single file along the side of a highway...

The full glory of the wild flower season is still a few weeks ahead of us - the slopes are just greening today, but soon will be bright yellow sparked with red. Meanwhile, the delicate cyclamens with their bowed heads are everywhere - in gardens, in open fields, along paths, even in urban cracks. They were voted Israel's "national flower" several years ago, which means I guess we really do aspire to a kinder, gentler society.

The children's song that is the anthem of Tu Bishvat goes: "The almond tree is blossoming/ A golden sun is shining/ Birds announce from every rooftop/ Tu Beshvat has arrived." Tu Beshvat was a whole month ago already, but I noticed this morning that the almond trees are just blossoming now. This is a sure sign that this is a leap year - as the lunar year shifts earlier in the solar cycle (by 11 days a year), the Jewish holidays keep getting "earlier," and every 2-3 years an extra month is added to re-synchronize the two cycles. This is such a year, and we are presently in the middle of that extra month, Adar I, inserted to push back Pesach - and subsequently, the whole rest of the year. Thus, next year, Tu Beshvat should just coincide with the blossoming of the almond trees.

God's observation (above) was apt: We have been pretty clever about making harmony between the moon and the sun; if only we could figure out how to make harmony with each other.

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