One of my favorite pleasures about working at Beth Israel is turning into the drive and seeing the conifer tree planted at the top of the drive. That tree was planted by the students and teachers in our Religious School one snowy Sunday to celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shvat (the 15th of Shvat). In Israel tens of thousands of Israelis go into the hills and forests of Israel to plant a tree. For us in the U.S. Tu B’Shvat falls in the winter. It’s winter in Israel at that time too, but it’s usually rainy as opposed to snowy. Rainy is a good time to plant trees. What do you think the weather is like in Europe, both Western and Eastern at that time of the year? Snowy and cold for sure. Doesn’t it seem counter intuitive to plant trees at that time? Of course it does.
My favorite TV show is Supernatural and never more so than when its subject matter is the doings of God and the heavenly hosts. In one episode Metatron, who in the Talmud is depicted as God’s scribe and chamberlain, after a long search (10 seasons) to find God, does so. After a complex discussion about the creation of the universe and humanity Metatron asks God “why did you desert humanity? Why did you go into exile? God answers “they disappointed me.” Metatron launches into a staunch defense of humanity; “it’s true that they violate your laws, but they sing dance, rejoice, love and praise you and above all,” Metatron concludes, “they never give up.”
Humans never give up and if what Mark Twain is quoted as saying about Jews is true (“Jews are like other people, only more so”) what’s true for humanity in general is true for us in particular. We never have given up. Persecution, followed by disaster followed by exile, followed by persecution followed by disaster ad infinitum have not shaken Jewish devotion and loyalty to God.
Planting a tree in the middle of winter is a perfect symbolic act for Jewish people. Tu B’shvat is not just the holiday for trees. Tu B’Shvat is the holiday that expresses our hope for the future.
Let us pray that the hope which flourishes in the worst of times will bring us to a future of growth, fertility and continued belief in God.