Tu B’Shvat: 5 Lessons from the Tree

6228405054_47881e8d11_b1) Remember your roots. They don’t call ‘em family trees for nothing. Every one of us is like a leaf that extends from a twig that extends from a larger and yet larger branch until we get to the trunk and, finally, the roots. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are the products of the experiences and achievements and aspirations of our ancestors, all the way back to our forefathers and foremothers. Our roots keep us standing. They are our source of strength and support. When we want to know who we are, we go back to our roots. After all, that’s the only way to know to where we’re going.

2) Change must be revolutionary and stable. After a seed is planted in the ground, in order for it to begin to germinate, it must first completely degenerate. So too, if we truly desire to grow, we must first take a deep look inside ourselves with a willingness to eradicate our ego–our stubbornness and preconceived notions that hold us back from becoming who we want to be. Only then are we able to achieve true growth. But this revolutionary change must be stable. Stable change is best achieved underground, in those quiet moments of reflection, away from the lights and fanfare and incessant demands from the world around us. And only stable change can last.

3) Sometimes it’s what’s under the surface that counts. We usually extol a tree for it’s awesome trunk, it’s lush leaves, it’s resilient branches, it’s delicious fruit. These are analogous to one’s intellect, emotions, and actions, all of which lend vibrancy and character and to one’s personalty. The roots, however, symbolize our faith, our deeply rooted commitment to G-d. Faith is not as flashy and sophisticated as intellect and emotions. It’s simple and unassuming.  And like roots, it’s true extent is hidden from others, and even from ourselves. But without roots that are at least proportional to the size of the tree, a little wind will make the entire tree will collapse. So too, only with faith, that simple conviction and commitment to G-d, can one’s intellectual and emotional connection to G-d remain grounded and endure the wind and turmoil of life.

4) Defy gravity. One of the miraculous things about trees is that they are one of the only physical existences which defy the force of gravity. Everything else goes down. A tree goes up. And so does a Jew. Our natural state is to always be reaching upwards, striving to connect with something beyond ourselves. Our task in this world is to tap into the G-dliness within us. To defy the inclinations and desires dragging us down into a world of superficial pleasures and instead strive to reunite with something higher.

5) Recognize potential… and actualize it. It seems strange that we celebrate Tu B’Shevat by eating fruit; Tu B’Shvat is the day that the sap begins to flow through the tree, which means that the fruits haven’t even grown yet! So in fact, we are celebrating the potential of the fruit to come into existence – a process which requires a considerable amount of energy and time. But just as the potential for the entire fruit exists in a tiny seed, each person carries a reservoir of potential. Moreover, every day of one’s life has a potential and purpose, and G-d grants each person the ability necessary to actualize it. Whenever we see something in the world, be it a fruit, another person, or even oneself, it’s not simply there for us to admire it’s beauty. We see it because we have the ability to see the great potential that lies within. And we have the power to bring that potential into fruition (no pun intended!).

Happy New Year to the trees!

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