The road to the hospital, Hadassah Ein Kerem, is windy and lush with trees on each side. This cold, winter day was clear and sunny.
The middle of January in Israel is often like this as we await the springtime with its buds and renewal of life. We came around a bend, and my husband exclaimed, "Look, honey! There is the first blossom!"
It is only the middle of January! How can it be?
Indeed, he was correct, and the almond blossoms have begun to appear. This is the time of the year when we know that hope and springtime and new life is just around the bend. The first school semester is coming to an end and the spring semester is approaching. There is another chance.
In the kindergartens, school children will plant little saplings in milk cartons and carry them proudly home. They will need to be encouraged not to overwater them. All around the country, people will plant trees to celebrate new life and to commemorate, "The Anniversary of the Trees." On the radio and in schools, we will hear the refrain of the familiar song, "The almond trees are blossoming; the sun is shining! Birds on every rooftop proclaim the approach of Tu B’shvat, the holiday of the trees!"
What is this holiday that brings so much joy and hope? The official holiday occurs on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. "Tu" stands for the Hebrew letters "Tet" and "Vav," which together have the numerical value of six and nine adding up to fifteen. This year, in 2020, it comes on February 10.
It is one of the Four New Years celebrated on the Jewish calendar. In the sixteenth century, the Rabbi Yitzhak Luria instituted the Tu B’shvat Seder, and to this day it is celebrated by some secular and religious Jews. On the table are dried fruit and nuts, and various blessings are given to each to thank God for his bounty and provision. Tu B’shvat is the Israeli Arbor Day! Environmental awareness is promoted and celebrated around the country and on Kibbutzim it is celebrated as an agricultural holiday with hay rides given to kids and families.
Every year I teach the beloved poem, "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer and write the words on the board at school. In that timeless poem the tree is likened to a lady "wearing a nest of robins in her hair." She also drinks "from the earth’s sweet flowing breast." We also read the children’s book called The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, which speaks of a tree who loved a little boy and gave him everything she had to express that love.
What do trees symbolize for us, as humans? First, they are alive, so they are a creation of God. They, like us, need strong roots to survive. They, like us, come in all sorts of various shapes and sizes. They, like us, can provide shade and comfort to others from the storms of life. They, like us, need to grow strong and sturdy to withstand these same storms. They, like some of us, bear fruit for the nourishment of others. They, like us, stretch toward the sun and need water and air.
We are often likened to trees in the Bible. We are told that if we follow the commandments of God we will be "like a tree flourishing by the banks of a river, and what we do will prosper" (Psalm 1:3).
Once, I visited the Giant Sequoias in Northern California. As I stood amid their shade and majesty, as I beheld their strength and endurance, I was challenged to also behave like a tree. To grow, to reach for the sun while making sure my roots are deep and strong.
My husband noticed the first blossom. Others will follow. We are reminded of the faithfulness of God insofar as spring always follows winter. Whether there are storms and winds in our lives right now or not, we can rest assured that it will not always be this way. Whether our lives look bare and barren or not, we can rest assured that there will be buds, leaves, blossoms, and fruit again.
As long as we remain faithful and drink deeply of the nourishment provided by God, we are sure to grow strong and endure. It may be winter in your life right now. It may seem cold, lonely, and as if you will never feel good again. It may feel as though you are barren and will never bear fruit. This is simply not the case. It may take time, and it may not be instant, but there will be spring. There will be blossoms, and there will be fruit.
God will not leave us without comfort. He who has begun a good work (to conform us to the image of his Son) will be sure to complete it.
The cross was made from a tree. After agony came life, not just for the One Who suffered, but for others, as well.
For, see, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone! (Song of Solomon 2:11)
Keep looking up.
Tu B’shevat Sameach! Happy Tu B’shevat!