Tu B’Shevat: Happy Birthday to the Trees!

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Tu B’Shevat: Happy Birthday to the Trees!

By Tasha Friedman

Today is Tu B’Shevat, the birthday or new year for the trees in the Jewish tradition.

In Judaism, teachings are rarely given directly. Instead, they come through stories, symbols, and intuitive associations, a living network of meaning that grows with every interpretation.

So, if you look at a tree, you don’t only see a tree. You see roots reaching deep into the earth, like the roots of this physical world anchored in the subtle realms and deeper still, the unmanifest.

You see the beauty and vitality of the Universe that supports and provides for us, helpless little human children, on our journey towards truth.

You see the trunk of the tree stretching towards the sky like the central axis of our being that runs from muladhara to sahasrara, as the yogis would say, or from Malchut to Keter in Kabbalistic terms.

Tu B’Shevat is traditionally celebrated by honoring trees in a literal sense: planting trees (a more recent custom) and eating lots of fruit, especially certain fruits grown in Israel.

On a deeper level, as we celebrate the yearly renewal of nature, it is an invitation to contemplate our own renewal, the possibility for a new vision to blossom within us.

The Tree of Life

“Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and its paths are peace. It is a Tree of Life to those who hold fast to it, and all those who hold to it are blessed.” (Proverbs 3:17-18)

In the Jewish tradition, the Torah is commonly referred to as the Tree of Life. “Torah” literally refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, but is understood more generally as the revelation of divine will or the path to union. The dharma, in essence.

Wisdom is a Tree of Life. Knowing the Heart is to eat the fruits of this tree, sweeter and more nourishing than any dream of the world.

When we nourish ourselves by the Heart, we are alive in the deepest and truest sense.

We can also choose to eat the fruits from another tree, one which propels us into a virtual reality of concepts and categories, perception from the outside rather than intimacy—Knowledge of Good and Evil, you could say—but then, we are cut off from life. Our world becomes dead, objectified, devoid of its inner reality.

We are cast out of the Garden, at least for as long as we cling to this wrong perception.

Repairing the World

The very word “Kabbalah” literally means “receiving,” since, in this vision, the spiritual path is seen as nothing other than a process of becoming more open and empty to receive God’s grace. There really is nothing to achieve or accomplish—only becoming transparent to what is already here.

Yet deeply embedded in Jewish spirituality is the concept of tikkun olam or “repairing the world,” an obligation to restore the world to sacredness, its primordial state of purity.

The world appears to us as broken, in a state of separateness, but actually, it is only our perception that needs to be repaired. By changing our view, the divine reality manifests on Earth.

For Jewish mystics, the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden represents the primordial ignorance and grasping that drives human beings to seek pleasure in external objects rather than receiving everything from God.

Tu B’Shevat is seen as an opportunity to repair this division, to redeem humanity’s fundamental ignorance.

Like Adam and Eve before the Fall, we resume our place as caretakers for the Earth and all its creatures.

We drop the doing, grasping, manipulating circumstances, and open to receive grace. We enjoy the fruits of the trees and all the fruits of life, the sweet blessings that come to us beyond any action of the individual.

Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.

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