Recognizing our Potential during Tu B’shevat
By Aviva Meshwork
Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel
The mother tree and the daughter tree were braving the blustery winter outside. The daughter tree was feeling miserable, so the mother comforted her by saying, “Soon, we will see the sun, warm up, drink water and grow leaves again. We will even produce delicious fruit…wait a few more days until Tu B’Shvat when our sap starts flowing again- it is our new year, you know, and our time to renew our potential as trees.”
Indeed, the mother tree is correct, we celebrate the New Year for the trees on the 15th day in the month of Shvat (Tu B’Shevat), which corresponds this year to February 4th, right smack in the middle of…winter! Just like the above conversation seems a bit odd, so does the idea of celebrating the New Year for the trees in the middle of winter. Could this celebration have been timed more appropriately? Perhaps the middle or latter part of spring would be more apropos, when trees are doing and looking their best; blooming, blossoming and in some cases, bearing young fruit! Further, we celebrate this day by eating tree fruits, specifically those associated with the Land of Israel, including figs, olives, dates and pomegranates. It is puzzling to symbolically eat fruits from trees that have not come forth yet. It is fair to ask if in this case are we jumping the gun? Tu B’Shevat is seemingly untimely, at least at first glance.
Let’s take a second look…
On Tu B’Shevat, something very special is going on inside those cold, lifeless trees. On this day, the sap begins to flow within the tree. That liquid is jam-packed full of water, sugar, nutrients and hormones. Tree sap carries much needed food and water to various parts of the tree after a long fall and winter. All this happens in order to facilitate the tree’s most important purpose – to be fruitful. Without its sap, the tree has no potential to fulfill this most important mission, and it is indeed the idea of POTENTIAL that we recognize on Tu B’Shevat.
Perhaps a tree’s greatest gift to us, and its most significant achievement, is its fruit. However, without the flow of sap directing nutrients throughout a tree the potential for it to bear fruit would not exist. Yet equally, if not more important than the tree’s potential, is its need to be nurtured properly. For in the absence of proper care and nurturing, the tree’s innate potential cannot be fully realized. In the case of a tree, that nurturing includes the proper environment (air, water, sun and a place in the soil to grow). If this were a math equation it would look like this: sap+the right environment= fruit.
My Rebbetzin in Toronto came to visit me in the hospital when my last baby was born, and of course she wished me a “mazal tov!” She explained that while most people think that “mazal tov” means ‘congratulations’, it actually means “good flow”. We give a blessing to Jewish parents that the Almighty should send them a good flow of blessings of all that they need in order for them to raise their Jewish child to his/her full and unique potential- whatever that may be. The baby hasn’t done anything yet, but inside that tiny life is gigantic unrevealed newborn potential. Now add to that a healthy self esteem, Jewish values, love, attention, good health & safety and mazal tov and we are undoubtedly setting the child off on the right path. In other words, combining one’s innate potential with the right environment and blessings from Above will surely lead to a life of realized potential.
The Torah says, “Man is like a tree in the field”. We, like trees, have the potential in us to achieve greatness– each of us has our own unique gifts that can be brought forth into the world. While trees give us sweet figs, tart pomegranates and other delicious and nutritious fruit, our ‘fruits’ are understood by our Rabbis to be our good deeds. Those good deeds can manifest in many ways such as in our parenting, leadership capabilities, peace-making skills and so on- there are so many options for greatness. Tapping into our G-d given potential and creating the right environments for ourselves, families and those around us is crucial for that potential to travel from the unrevealed to the revealed.
Even if you are in a dark and cold place, and your potential has yet to be realized, like a tree in the throws of winter, have hope and please hang on- you are not alone. If a tree has its potential lying dormant, just think what you have inside of you!! Nurture your potential, share your ‘fruits’ and have a meaningful Tu B’Shevat!