At sunset this Sunday, January 20th, we will usher in Tu B’Shvat, one of the four new years on the Jewish calendar. Just like our secular calendar has multiple year cycles—think calendar year, fiscal year, school year—so too, our Jewish calendar has multiple year cycles: birth of the world, birth of the Jewish people, the first of Elul, and Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat, named for its calendrical date – the 15th of Shvat – celebrates the birthday of the trees. Just like our birthdays mark a year of growth for us, in a symbolic way, Tu B’Shvat serves the same purpose for trees, marking another year of their growth. Regardless of when during the year a particular tree was planted in ancient times, its first birthday was always tallied on its first Tu B’Shvat. In this way, Tu B’Shvat might be considered the day when a tree symbolically forms its next ring.
We have reached the cold months of winter when, like us, trees actually slow down for a period of internal hibernation. In cold winters, growth within a tree slows to a slogging crawl, before picking back up again when the temperatures rise. In fact, it is this ebb and flow of seasonal change, these spurts of heightened growth and rest that actually create the visible rings within trees. Thus, the ring within a tree that grows in a temperate zone, with little to no climate variation, can be almost indistinguishable. It’s only with the slowing and quickening of growth, the hibernation and reawakening, that we are able to see the markings of emergence.
So too with us. Whether in sync with the seasons, or corresponding to our own distinctive rhythms, we all experience ups and downs, ebbs and flows, great joys and unspeakable tragedies, moments of frustration and moments of breakthrough, times of rapid change and extended periods of bated anticipation. Our challenge, then, is to draw upon the wisdom of the trees, and remember when we are in the midst of our dizzying cycles, that our most remarkable and profound growth comes from the fluctuations that define our lives.
Of the Exodus story that we are reading these days in synagogues across the country, our rabbis ask: Why is that we had to go down to Egypt in the first place? If we were headed to the Promised Land anyways, what good did it do to suffer the hardships of mitzrayim/our narrow places along the way? One response: yeridah tzorech aliyah/descent for the sake of ascent. When a person falls away from God, the experience of distance from the Divine spurs that soul’s yearning to return. Falling down is precisely the first step of rising up. We contract in order to expand. We slow in order to grow. The same lesson that the trees teach us, we learn again here. For the full force of our personal, spiritual, and communal growth to take place, we are compelled to embrace the ever-changing nature of our lives. As we prepare for Tu B’Shvat this year, and set out for a meaningful 2019, may we each come to experience the variable cycles of our lives as the growth ring blessings that they truly are.
Here at Hazon, we have taken this message in stride. With new leadership and infinite possibilities for engagement, we have taken the last couple of months to turn a bit inwards, focusing on relationships, perspective, and strategy. Now, as the proverbial sap begins to rise again, we are putting into action the fruits of our reflection. In this newsletter, you will find updates on our Tu B’Shvat seder, celebrations of past Seal of Sustainability projects, congratulations to our newest cohort in the Seal of Sustainability, some exciting press of our higher welfare meat and eggs initiative, save the dates for an amazing new young adult Shabbat collaboration and the 4th Annual Hazon Michigan Food Festival, and a teaser to keep your eyes peeled for our newly reimagined CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, coming this spring. We hope that as we take steps into this new year, you will join us along the way.
In loving community,
Rabbi Nate, Wren, Marla, Brittany, Hannah, and Megan