Thought for Shabbat – January 18, 2019
In ancient times, Jews celebrated four different New Years. There was of course the first day of Tishrei, which we observe as Rosh Hashanah. But there was also the first day of the month of Nissan, which in the Torah is designated as the first month of the year and was the beginning of Israel’s redemption from Egypt. There was the first day of Elul, which is the beginning of the year for the tithing of cattle. And then there was the fifteenth day of Shevat, Tu BiShvat, the New Year for trees which we celebrate this year beginning the evening of January 20.
In ancient times, Tu BiShevat was the date that helped farmers determine their obligation to bring produce to the Temple as part of a first fruit offering. In modern times, it has become a holiday in which we plant trees in Israel and elsewhere, reminding ourselves of our connection to Israel, the earth and even its ecology.
The Kabbalists of five hundred years ago instituted a practice of a Tu BiShvat seder, obviously modeled on the Passover seder. However, instead of the theme of redemption from slavery, the theme was a connection to the land and its fruit. Of course, in both seders we continue to express our gratitude and confirm our connection to God, the ultimate source of redemption and the gifts of the land.
As part of the Tu BiShvat seder, which has enjoyed a bit of a revival in recent years as a spiritual practice, there are also four cups of wine. In this seder though, each cup is different from the other and has a different meaning. There is first the cup of white wine which symbolizes winter. Then there is a cup of white wine with a bit of red for the coming of spring, followed by red with a bit of white to celebrate the spring. Lastly, there is a cup of all red wine to celebrate spring and summer, when trees and fruit are at their height. So not only do we celebrate the trees themselves, but the seasons of the year.
We can walk or drive around every day and see trees. But those trees are also a symbol for something unseen: the passage of time. Sometimes, because we don’t see the passage of time, we do not notice it. But a growing or grown tree reminds us of the time it took for that tree to grow. It reminds us of the gift of time.
Too often, we experience the passage of time only in retrospect. It can be at a graduation, at a wedding, finding a grey hair on our head, or at a funeral. We ask ourselves, where did the time go? And when we look back, we can cry and regret not having taken full advantage of the time given to us. Or instead, we can smile and remember all the special moments we shared, all those moments given to us by God. It is a choice we make every day. It is up to us to choose wisely.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
Word/Phrase of the Week – Derech Eretz – Literally translated, it means “the way of the land”. However, it refers to the respect we are required to show to all people by our tradition in even the most minor of matters and situation. This respect shows itself in the way we talk, act or even dress.
On this Martin Luther King weekend, please make an effort to be part of a meaningful service on Friday night, Shabbat morning or Sunday morning.