Tu b’Shevat is the holiday that lets us know better days are coming.
In the midst of winter, the ground is cold and hard in many places with leafless trees silhouetted against the often-gray skies. But leafless doesn’t mean lifeless- and deep in the winter earth, things are happening. Trees and plants are awakening, gathering nutrients, making ready for the spring that is soon to come.
Tu b’Shevat (sunset to sunset, January 27-28) is the first Jewish holiday that honors the environment and guides us to take care of the earth and all that grows from it. Also called the new year of trees, the holiday’s timing is based on the biblical land of Israel’s Mediterranean climate and agricultural calendar. This is when almond trees blossom and farmers plant seeds for spring crops. In ancient times, fruit trees were counted for taxation purposes and to ensure there were enough that survived since the last growing season.
The seven species found in Torah have come to be associated with Tu b’Shevat. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, the people were finally able to see the land of Israel. Moses sends out scouts to discover what awaits his people. When they return, Moses is able to tell them that:
“…the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”Deuteronomy 8:7-8
These are the seven species that sustained the ancient people of Israel and remain important crops for the country today. Given the timing of the blooming trees, almonds are considered the eighth species.
As I write this, I feel, as so many of us do, the weight and worry of this time of great upheaval and terrible divisions in our country. Our world is also under siege by a deadly virus. Too often these days it seems we are wandering in the wilderness, lost and afraid.
But beneath all of this, there is hope stirring, from changes in leadership to vaccines to communities and organizations coming together to help take care of people. Perhaps we can create our own seven species…qualities for this time to help us focus on what we need to find in abundance within ourselves and each other to sustain us through these dark days as we grow a new, better future. Qualities like gratitude, communication, understanding, patience, compassion, kindness and love. And for the special eighth component, willingness to look for and embrace these in qualities our lives.
I am not given to chasing windmills or Pollyanna dreams, but I do strive to live in hope. It’s a survival technique during long, dark winters, both physical and spiritual. Tu b’Shevat, which grounds us in the earth’s natural cycles, is a time to ready the world for new growth, the fulfillment of the promise that better days are coming.