While we still feel the cold bite of winter, most likely we have all felt a subtle shift in the air. By mid day, it’s actually pleasant outside, warm even. And most of all, there is a change in the light–longer days and the sun setting after dinner rather than before (depending when each of us eats our course!).
On the Jewish calendar, we are coming out of the darkest time, which fell during Hanukkah. We are now making a subtle turn toward spring. Spring brings Purim and Passover–and these holidays bring the themes of joy and liberation respectively.
Along with the subtle changes we feel in temperature and light, we know there are other energies brewing in the natural world too. Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, begins this coming Sunday night. According to Jewish mystic tradition, Tu B’Shevat is the day when God renews sustenance and the life cycle of the trees. This is when the sap starts to rise. Quite literally, from the depths of something dark and hidden, life is percolating and preparing to come forth.
If we follow the Jewish calendar and liturgical cycle, there are certain things we can count on. Day follows night, light flows from darkness. The visible blossoming of life comes from a period of hiddenness and mystery.
And if we connect this to following Torah rhythms, in this week’s Parashah, Beshallach, liberation follows bondage. Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea is in Parashat Beshallach. This is the song that the Israelites sung after their leader Moses led them and they crossed the Red Sea, making it safely to freedom on the other side. It’s layout is distinctive in the Torah, appearing as an intricate brick work, rather than continuous text. Of course scholars, commentators, and mystics have puzzled about this and there are many ideas offered. What we know for sure is that it stands out and is obvious in the scroll–you can’t miss it.
Perhaps that is part of the point. There are certain truths that stand out and hopefully should be obvious to us. This story comes every year and stands out visually in the Torah and ritually during Passover. Our liberation story is something we count on. So too, the cycles of nature. When Tu B’Shevat rolls around on the calendar we are reminded that during the cold and darkness, life and possibility have been stirring quietly and invisibly. While we can’t see it, we are reminded to allow this truth to become more obvious.
May we tune into these holy cycles. May we have faith in something greater and beyond ourselves. May we trust in the cycles of change, knowing that transformation is not only possible, it is inevitable. These cycles are woven into the fabric of life and the rhythms of Jewish practice.