The New Year for Trees

Seder - Kabbalah - DenverYou could wait for Friday April 20th. That is when Arbor Day is celebrated in Colorado this year. Arbor Day in the United States is a local custom and it varies greatly. In Jewish tradition the New Year for Trees was designated long ago as falling in the month of Shevat—our current month on the Hebrew calendar. At this time of year, in the “dead” of winter, trees are just beginning to come out of their hibernation and this is the basis for celebrating Tu B’Shevat (the 15th of Shevat) as the New Year for Trees.

We will celebrate Tu B’Shevat with our community partners this coming Tuesday evening February 7 as we sit down to a Seder established by the Kabbalists in Tzfat. The more well known Passover Seder was the model for the Kabbalaists and so we drink four cups of wine (or grape juice) on Tu B’Shevat evening as well. That is where the similarity ends. Instead of matzo and bitter herbs we eat tree products—fruits and nuts—symbols of the coming renewal of nature. Passover is a reflection on the past while Tu B’shevat looks to the future.

In Kabbalah we always look from the external symbol inwards—to our own ‘nature’ and those elements in us that are hibernating. Trees are dormant during the winter—animals hibernate for the same reason—to conserve energy.  So what is the parallel for us as humans? The most apt word for this might be retreat. For those who can afford the luxury of retreating to warmer climes they ‘winter retreat’ to the desert or other warmer destinations. How does one retreat internally, go dormant and be as silent as a tree in the winter?

That is one of the symbolic lessons of Tu B’Shevat and so we will be adding to our ritual this year at the Seder a meditation. If you retreat deep enough, into the silence of your own heart, you may even hear the trees whispering.

David Sanders

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