Today we celebrate the New Year of the Trees. What does this mean, exactly? I don’t know how things look where you are, but over here we just see dried out, sad looking trees. In fact, as I told you here, I wanted to put fresh figs on my Tu B’Shvat table (as it is customary to eat the seven species from The Land of Israel) and nothing! No figs in any of my fig trees. But, much more important than my figs, is the question, what does the New Year of the Trees have to do with my life?
The Torah says “Man is like a tree in the field.” (Devarim 20:19) Our Sages teach us about this verse, that if we want to know something about ourselves, we should observe a tree. Lets note some of the lessons we can learn from a tree…and since we’re at Jewish Latin Princess, let’s enhance the learning with some beautiful images of trees from Puerto Rico taken by my dear and talented father. ;-)
1- Roots- the tree’s anchor, that keep it grounded and provide the water and nutrients.
Unlike animals, a tree needs to be grounded to the floor in order to survive and grow. The tree is stationary, constantly taking the water and nutrients from the earth. Thus, the tree can grow taller and stronger than any member of the animal kingdom. Did you know there are trees that are thousand’s of years old?
In our lives, the roots represent our faith in G-d.
Faith in G-d is a skill that is developed and thus, requires work. Life presents many challenges and faith is what helps us face them and overcome them.
Today, on Tu B’Shvat, the tree is undergoing a totally internal process of renewal, the results of which will only be visible to us by the Spring. In the same way, when we are going through the “winter of life,” there’s an internal process that happens within us- the development and strengthening of our faith. And just like the tree, after the challenging winter, we will regrow. In fact, we will regrow much stronger. We will flourish.
Faith, just like the tree’s roots, constantly nourishes us and keeps us attached to our source of life. And with this attachment we can withstand all the winds that may come our ways.
Moreover, the roots are the less glamorous part of the tree. They are under the ground, almost invisible. Roots do not have the majesty of the trunk or the colorfulness of its leaves and flowers, nor the taste of its fruits. However, they are the most crucial part of the tree, for without them, it cannot survive.
Similarly, when compared to intellect, to emotions, or practical achievements, faith seems much less “glamorous”. It is very simple, indeed. Faith is a simple and pure commitment. Yet, at the same time, it is very deep. Faith is not evident to others and often not evident even to ourselves. But, it is the foundation of our tree.
2- The body of the tree is made up of its trunk, branches, and leaves. These represent the intelectual, emotional, and practical achievements of our lives.
One could have many achievements, much wisdom, depth of emotions, a vast array of experiences. But, if these are not grounded and vitalized by an even greater faith, the tree is destined to eventually collapse from its own weight. On the other hand, a person could have little knowledge, few achievements, and experiences, but if his/her roots are ample and deep, he/she will be healthy, with the capacity to face life, and with great potential to develo into a beautiful person.
3- Fruits- contain the seeds and the potential for reproduction. They represent our capacity to plant in others and influence their lives for good. We all know that a small thing like a smile can change a person’s day and in turn, change the day of those this person may encounter throughout the day.
Trees continue to give fruit, no matter if they’re hundreds of years old. In the same way, we can always keep giving. We may give in different ways, at different stages of our lives, but we can always influence others and keep giving forth fruit.
Having learned so much from a tree, let us use this day of Tu B’Shvat to meditate on the following:
Am I nourishing my roots and those of my loved ones so that they grow healthy and strong?
Are my roots well grounded, so that I can withstand all sorts of storms and challenges?
How are my seeds, what I offer to the world? Is it completely wholesome?
Do I know how to bend gently with the wind, accepting everything G-d sends, without breaking?
Am I sure that my fruits are sweet and that I’m helping others?Did I inspire others? Above all, did I make them smile? Happy Tu B’Shvat, my friends!
All pictures by Rafael Buxeda Díaz
Thank you to my dear and talented father for the beautiful photographs of trees from Puerto Rico. To see more of his work you can go here. If you have ever lived in Latin America and/or if you like photography, you will appreciate going through his portfolio. It is good! I promise! And mazal tov! My father recently published a beautiful photography book on Habana, Cuba, which has received marvelous reviews. You can see more about the book here.