Tu B’Shvat and the Jewish People
The sky is still gloomy, a few shafts of sunlight pierce through the thick veil of clouds, the winter has passed its peak, and suddenly Tu B'Shvat arrives, heralding the first signs of spring
Our Sages say that Tu B'Shvat is the New Year for Trees. We see that the birthday of the new buds and blossoms falls right in the middle of the winter. The trees are still bare and the cold is felt in every corner. Why then is this date a symbol of blossoming?
Throughout the long history of human civilization, a great number of cultures flourished and reached the peak of their success, but gradually disintegrated leaving no trace behind.
The Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman and British empires, Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union — were major world powers that on one clear day crumbled and vanished. But on the same time timeline, during the same historical period, a small and weak nation plods on alongside those successful nations.
The empires fall and perish but that small nation remains steadfast. All those storms and wars, decrees and annihilations, perpetrated against it do not overcome it. It survived difficult periods when it seemed that almost nothing remained of it, and for a moment it seemed that it also would cease, but when the violence passed, it again blossomed and increased.
A people that supersede time. That is the Jewish people. What is the secret of their existence? What is the spirit that infuses them with life? How did they survive their terrible history? The secret of the Jewish people can be learned from the verse: "For an adam (man) is a tree of the field." (Deut. 20:19) Our sages told us that wherever the word adam appears in the Bible, it is referring specifically to the people of Israel. As they put it: "'You are called ‘adam’, but the nations of the world are not called ‘adam’.
This verse therefore comes to teach us that the Jewish people is likened to a tree.
If we know what is the secret of a tree’s existence, we’ll be able to understand the secret of the Jewish people’s survival. The reason why a tree exists for so many years, despite snowy winters and fierce storms, scorching heat and periods without water, is because the trees’ roots have burrowed and penetrated deep in the ground. It nourishes, maintains and stabilizes the tree during difficult times. This is also the secret of our people’s existence — because it is firmly connected to its roots, to previous generations.
The uncompromising Jewish spirit which has confronted the most terrible regimes, is the spirit still in our midst and still invigorating us. This connection to our roots preserved us throughout history — during difficult wars, the destruction of our holy Temples, throughout our exiles, and under the threat of the terrible Inquisition, the Crusades, decrees and pogroms.
After all, our people are the only people that can look back four thousand years and take pride that we still are here. Our sages tell us that Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, with the trees are bare and the winter still raging in all its fury, is a testimony to our very existence.
The tree seems lifeless and dormant, but as long as it is connected to its roots — it will blossom in the spring. This is how the Jewish people are. Even if we go through difficult times, days of suffering and turmoil, as long as we remain connected to our spiritual roots — to the Torah of our ancestors, our end will be to flourish in great vitality and glory.