Friday, February 10th… The 15th of Shevat… Thus begins the New Year for the trees, Tu B’Shevat.
Buying or receiving a tree for Israel always seemed to be such a strange and far off thing as a kid. Did my tree have a plaque on it with my name? Would I ever actually see it? I finally made it to Israel in 2014, and seeing the lush green in an otherwise beige desert was amazing, and these wonderful gifts finally made sense.
“See the forest for the trees.”
I have always loved this expression.
While the phrase seems to be used most often in the negative… as a criticism for someone not being able to see the big picture… I actually find value and comfort in both sides, especially when one looks at the positive.
First, we must see the whole forest. The big picture is always essential and an important observation, but we must not lose our handle on specifics and details. After all, another one of my favorite phrases is “G-d is in the details.” (Or Hashem is in the details.)
The meaning of this has also changed for me, and become even more specific, and it now hits me on an amazing level… that G-d truly is in every single thing… and in the tiniest element of each of those things. G-d is always around us. Too often we fly through life… running from one thing to the next… and forget to smell the roses or even look at the bushes and trees.
We must always remember that a forest is made up of each individual tree, for growing side by side with other individual trees is what makes up a forest. One by one, each tree is planted, and grows and becomes a complete whole.
I find this to be a great analogy for life and Judaism. We all share the same roots… are all from the same tree… and while we must express and celebrate and live our individualities, we must also be part of the forest… the whole… the people… and protect it and help it grow and thrive.
One of my dear friends and teachers, Rabbi Avi Rabin, says that Judaism is Judaism. He comes from South Africa and doesn’t understand the differences we embrace in America… Reform, Conservative, Orthodox… Conservadox, Modern Orthodox and on and on… In his mind a Jew is a Jew, and should be able to go to and feel welcome in any Shul, no matter what. This is definitely the Chabad way and mentality… and while we all have the specific traditions and chants and melodies we grew up with, we are ALL Jews.
And yet, too often we do not act like it. Politics and parties… and life, and so many other factors pit us against each other. Bernard-Henri Lévy has a new book out, called The Genius of Judaism… which I have coming from the library. He was on CNN the other night, and was talking about the tragic rise of anti-Semitism… and how it is coming from BOTH the right AND the left. I have seen this for myself and in a greater intensity than I have ever seen in all my life.
Now is the time for Jews… all Jews to come together… to celebrate who we are, specifically… individually… but realize that our strength and our survival is in the health of the trees… in every part of the trees, from the roots, to the trunk, to the bark, to the leaves, and to the fruit… and of course, to the forest.
“A land of wheat and barley and vines (grapes) and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey … and you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your G-d for the good land which He has given you” (Deut. 8:8-10).
Let us celebrate this Tu B’Shevat by planting and growing together… side by side… by drinking the fruit of the vine, and eating the fruit of trees… and knowing and understanding that we as Jews, are both the trees AND the forest.