The New Synagogue of Long Island
The Synagogue for Spiritual Judaism

“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.”

~The Talmud


Tu B’Shevat, or the “New Year of the Trees,” is Jewish Arbor Day. The holiday is observed on the 15th day (tu) of the Hebrew month of Shevat (this year corresponding to January 17th).  Tu B’Shevat was an agricultural festival, marking the emergence of spring. The holiday has become a tree-planting festival in Israel, in which Israelis and Jews around the world plant trees in honor or in memory of loved ones and friends.


Tu B’Shevat is a holiday that brings us back to nature. After all, this is a time of year when we could easily lose sight of the beauty of nature. The sky is often gray. The days are often short.  Tu B’Shevat reminds us that spring is going to happen after all, the blue sky will come back, and flowers will bloom again. It is a holiday that hinges on hope and possibility. The tree is a symbol of life; belief in the face of doubt; strength amidst uncertainty.


Life is a process of growth; you really stop only when you’re dead. As we adapt to circumstances, as we vault hurdles and overcome obstacles, we constantly change and grow. Every new experience we encounter, every new acquaintance we make, leaves a remnant in our soul, and transforms us into the people we are.


The Torah compares the human being to a tree: “Man is a tree of the field.”  (Deuteronomy 20:19) Tu B’Shevat, allows us to see just how similar to a tree we are.  Perhaps the Torah is referencing this ability to constantly develop and grow. A tree might look rooted and static, yet in truth it is an ever-changing, dynamic living being. The tree’s surface becomes pitted and scarred by the impact of weather and environment, yet a tree constantly grows. It’s a nonstop process of change and adaptation. Every moment renders the tree microscopically larger; every year brings a new ring. 


Tu B’Shevat is an appropriate time to appreciate the greatness of creation, and to honor it.  Tu B’Shevat is the day when the sap begins to rise through the tree; we can’t see the fruit yet, but we are celebrating the process of growth itself. It’s the day when the trees are no longer nourished by last year’s waters and begin to be nourished by the “new” year’s waters. It is a time that is in between the winter and the spring, not quite day or night. When we look at the trees, we are meant to think of ourselves in that same place, between our past and our future.   Let’s open ourselves up to more opportunities for growth as the sap rises and the new water flows.  The 15th of Shevat marks a turning point, a time when under all that cold and snow the sap of the trees is rising, readying for spring. 


Just like a small seed can turn into a tall tree, so too the human being has infinite potential to grow, develop and change. We have the ability to produce a strong productive personality which, like fruit, will have a positive impact and be of benefit to others around us. We may sometimes feel like a small seed, but there is nothing stopping us from becoming a tall fruit-bearing tree.  We all go through our own personal winter.  Even if you find yourself in the most bitter of places, stand tall, stick to your values and share some sweetness for others to enjoy!  No one’s looking for tough times, but when they come along, don’t lose hope. We never know what light might emerge.


“As my ancestors planted for me, so too I plant for my children and my children’s children.”  ~ The Talmud

There is no better day to begin planing our own personal tree of growth.  Happy Planting!

Rabbi Stuart Paris, HaKohen

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Torah Completion and Celebration

Sunday, May 15, 2016

7 Iyar, 5776

Rabbi Stuart Paris and Rabbi Gedaliah Druin

Rabbi Gedaliah Druin completing the last letter of the Torah