Tu BiShvat (Hebrew for the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) is the new year of the trees.
While my neighbors were putting their Christmas trees to the curb, in what seems like a ritual of replacement, I was preparing to plant for Tu BiShvat.
Tu BiShvat is a reminder that we spend our lives planting seeds. Time and effort are needed for our efforts to bear fruit. Wait patiently. One day, like the seed, we will be blessed.
By Joshua Weinberg
“And when you come into the Land, and have planted all manner of food bearing trees… (Lev. 19:23) The Holy one Blessed be he said to the people Israel: Even though you have found [the land] full of plenty, you shall not say: We shall sit and not plant, rather proceed with caution in your planting… For as you have entered and found the fruits of others’ labor, you so shall plant for your children. (Midrash Tanhuma)
If you’re like me, then you may remember that pivotal moment of Jewish education when you received your very own Jewish National Fund (JNF) certificate for a tree planted in Israel. Whether it was for a birth, birthday, bar/bat mitzvah, or in memory of a loved one, a tree was planted in Israel to mark the occasion. The message was clear: with every passing milestone we want to connect Jews to the Land of Israel and to the Zionist enterprise. All of us who were the fortunate recipients of such trees knew in the recesses of our mind that somewhere in that strip of land, in some forest, was our tree, our little piece of Israel. As the certificates read, the JNF wished us the following: “We wish you the fortune of seeing it grow with much pleasure and ease.”
The festival of Purim, with all of its frivolity, can also be understood as a lesson about the masks we wear. We all have them, those masks. Sometimes we hide behind them out of fear, sometimes out of habit and sometimes because it's just easier than revealing the painful truth.
It is life we want, no more and no less than that, our own life feeding on our own vital sources, in the fields and under the skies of our homeland, a life based on our own physical and mental labors; we want vital energy and spiritual richness from this living source.
We laughed so hard - at Cantor Doug Cotler's cleverly funny songs, at Rabbi Julia Weisz's ridiculously hysterical costumes, at my inappropriate yet Purimly-acceptable riffs on Megillat Esther, the story of Purim. We laughed out loud, belly laughed. And in between, we reflected on lessons of transcendent importance. We adults, we did.
Purim is almost here! It’s loud, it’s raucous, it’s festive, it’s colorful, and the food is great. It’s no wonder the rabbis of the Talmud saw Purim as such a high point in the calendar that they declared, “When Adar [the Hebrew month housing the holiday of Purim] enters, joy increases (Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 29a). On the 14th of Adar, Jews around the world celebrate Purim, which commemorates the salvation of the Jews of Shushan and the defeat of the evil schemer Haman (boo!).
It's February, and I take issue with T.S. Eliot. It is not April but February which is the cruelest month. Cold, dark, and brutish, with none of the celebratory feel of December and January, spring feels months away during February. Thankfully, February has our greatest secular holiday - the Super Bowl - and our most gleeful Jewish holiday, Purim.