The sun is shining on the trees as I write these words, but it’s a cold light. Winter is still upon us but the first taste of spring is in the air. As I write, it’s Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees, the time when the sap begins to rise inside the plants preparing for the spring and summer to come.
Originally a date for the tax year, to distinguish between trees of different ages, Tu Bishvat has taken on great significance in the modern age as an ecological festival, a time to connect and appreciate the trees around us that do so much to provide us with life.
We just finished 4 weeks of the Sunday Club, our Sunday Kids program which continues to grow in strength. We were learning all about trees, how many different parts of the synagogue are made from wood and paper, and finished with a Tu Bishvat seder. This 16th Century custom guides us through eating different kinds of fruit on a journey through the 4 seasons, corresponding to the 4 worlds of Lurianic Kabbalah (the mysticism that originated with Rabbi Yitzchak Luria in Tzfat in the 16th C.).
The realms are:
Asiyah – Action – Body
Yetzirah – Formation – Emotions
Beriah – Creation – Thoughts
Atzilut – Spirit – Soul
These 4 worlds are a way of thinking about all of reality, different aspects of everything there is. It’s a way of seeing the unity behind everything, each human body, the Jewish people, the world as a whole, the universe, and God.
For me this year, the 4 worlds are an important reminder that as a community we need to be doing many different kinds of activities for many kinds of people.
We’ve recently moved to weekly Shabbat morning services, and the regularity of meeting every week we hope will help everyone connect more deeply. At the same time we’ve restarted Friday night services followed by potluck meals, a chance to nourish both body and soul. We have many opportunities for learning in the community, whether you want to pick up new skills or study Talmud at a deep level. And we have more activities for kids and families than ever.
But there is always more to do.
We’ve recently started a Tzedakah team to look into ways in which we, as a Shul, can give back to the community. Just as trees take in light and water but give out oxygen, so too a synagogue that only takes and never gives is not complete. If you’d like to vote on which charity we’ll support this year, you can vote here: https://forms.gle/DKUjh5eQ8svCi35eA
Each of us also has a responsibility to care for our whole selves, just as the community tries to care for each of our members. We learn from the Torah that the human being is like a tree (Deut 20:19), and we too need nourishment, physical and spiritual, to blossom and grow. Water and sunlight is probably a good start, but we need to care for our bodies, our emotions, our intellect and our souls, finding the right ground to put down roots and draw in sustenance. Usually, we need help from other people, perhaps professional help from doctors, nurses and therapists, perhaps from loved ones and friends. Then we hope we will flourish like the cedars of Lebanon!
Happy Tu Bishvat!