A tourist arrived in Taos, New Mexico, and found himself in a hotel room with a huge picture window overlooking a beautiful mountain. The tourist said to their spouse: “It would be a nice view, but I can’t see the scenery because that big mountain is in the way.”
We have all been, at one time or another, like the tourist in Taos. We sometimes are blind to the natural wonders all around us.
Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, comes to serve as a corrective to this impulse. It is the Jewish Arbor Day and the Jewish Earth Day. This holiday, whose origins seemingly reach back to the first century C.E., is call Rosh HaShanah La’ilanot, “the New Year Year for Trees.”
Although it is still winter here–and it has been a colder than usual winter–Tu B’Shevat reminds us that in another part of the world and in another time to come, there will be renewal and growth. It reminds us that nature takes its own course and eventually winter will melt away and in its place will come spring.
And as winter winds down and spring creeps in, Tu B’Shevat emphasizes the importance of appreciating nature, of acting natural, and that natural beauty (outside and inside) is still the greatest beauty.
If you cut an apple in two, you will discover a design and a sculpture that is truly magnificent. If you observe a cobweb, you will find that it is more delicate than the finest lace. If you study a bare tree when the foliage does not obstruct your view, you discover that it is more striking than anything an artist has yet created. All this natural beauty is ours if we would but take the time to observe it and appreciate it.
When we stop our busy-ness to appreciate nature, a moment of holiness can result. Our tradition acknowledges this by asking us to recite a blessing when we see the beauties of nature:
ברוך אתה ה’ א-ל-הינו מלך העולם, עושה מעשה בראשית.
Praise are You, HaShem our G!d, Ruler of the universe,
who created the world’s pristine beauty.
When a mountain is blocking our view, perhaps it’s time to stop and take in the beauty of the mountain.
Chag Ha-Eitsim Samei-ach! Have a joyful, meaningful Tu B’Shevat holiday.
Rabbi J.B. Sacks