On the front page of this morning's Boston Globe, a tale of two trees.
The first photo showed a tree in the Boston Garden on Tuesday, covered in snow in a lovely wintry scene.
The second photo showed the same tree in the Boston Garden the very next day. It looked like we had gone backward in time to autumn, as if the day before had never happened.
This past Shabbat we observed Tu B'shvat, the trees' birthday. Every year at the full moon of the winter month of Shvat, we think about, eat fruit from, and celebrate trees. The date goes back to the time of the rabbis, when this day was designated for counting the age of all trees for the purpose of bringing tithes. In other words, Tu B'shvat started as tax day for the trees.
From this prosaic beginning, entrenched in an agricultural economy, our holiday has blossomed into a myriad of celebrations. In Israel, the early Zionists enshrined Tu B'shvat as a tree-planting holiday. For 20th century Americans, Tu B'shvat became a day to think about the environment. And for the mystics of Tsfat in the 16th century, it was a day of bringing divinity closer to us by eating fruits of different categories.
During our mystically-based seder this past Shabbat, one verse jumped out: "A person is like a tree of the field" (based on Deuteronomy 20:19). Are we truly like the trees? What can we learn from the life of a tree?
Those photos in today's paper gave me one answer. One day we appear dead and without any hope. The next day we spring back to life.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once said:
Today is Rosh Hashanah for all the trees. It's a secret Rosh Hashanah. You know, you look at a tree from the outside (at this time of year), nobody knows the tree's at the end. Just God and the tree know. You see, friends, we all have little New Years between us and God. Nobody knows I'm at the end. Nobody will ever know how broken I am. Just me and God. And at that moment, God can give me a New Year.
Like the trees, we feel the wind blow about us, we suffer droughts and storms. Like the trees, we change over the seasons. Sometimes we appear to be dormant, quiet, and unadorned while, deep inside, we are growing, learning, reflecting. Suddenly, new buds sprout and we return, refreshed and renewed.
Like the trees we not only endure, we thrive.
Enjoy the trees and take care to protect them, and all of God's creation, every day of the year.