Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life

Rabbi’s Blog

January 2021

Tu Beshvat, which falls this year on January 17th, happens in the winter in America. This holiday represents a time of potential growth for the spring, and acknowledges the beginning of the sap running up and down the almond trees in Israel. It is, in its essence, an aspirational holiday that reminds us of the beauty of creation and the bounty that comes from it.

In All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum speaks about the special kind of wonder that comes from watching growth as a young child:

Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody Really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

While I love that teaching, let me share with you a Jewish version of that same response to wonder by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe:

Growth is a natural, organic process. Seeds placed into the soil sprout on their own. So will trees and flowers….If we want something particular to sprout, we must be careful to plant precisely what we want, and afterward the seeds will sprout from themselves in a natural process.

Rabbi Wolbe moves beyond the wonder to talk about the relationship that humans play in the planting and growth process. While Fulghum is right that the roots go down and the plant goes up, Rabbi Wolbe acknowledges that someone has to partner with the creation process that allows for that growth. And, as those of us who are gardeners well know, if you plant too early or too late, ordon’t plant the right thing in the right season, then you will likely not end up with the harvest that you want. If we do not till and tend those seeds before, during, and after their sprouting, weeds may take over and the seeds will not grow.

The same is true for our own spiritual work. We have an inherent miracle of connection to the Divine. We notice it in our sacred questioning, in our connection to other people and animals, and in our recognition that we are part of something larger than us; a cycle of nature in relationship with its Creator. That spiritual work also, just like the seed in the ground, needs to be tended and tilled in order to sprout. We do that sacred work when we come together, engage in the work of the community, and care for one another because we see the Divine within them.

As we approach this delicate time in the lifecycle of the plants that sustain us, may we be blessed with an appreciation for the wonder of small miracles that we witness in their growth. May we have the appropriate insight to till and tend the plants and our world to produce the desired growth. And, as we start 2022 we hope that this year will be one of physical and spiritual growth – where we can plant the seeds of our spiritual seeking and till and tend them through the joy of our Coalition community.

Kol Tuv (Be Well),

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Rabbi James