The Message in the Flower
Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum‘s Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program
Why is the new year for trees in the dead of winter? It’s a curious time to celebrate the birthday of the trees, when most are bare of leaves, and there is no hint of the fruit that will begin to grow in the spring. We can ask a similar question about birkat ha’ilanot, the blessing over fruit trees recited during the month of Nisan: “Blessed are you Hashem our God, King of the World, who left nothing out of His world, and created good creations and good trees for people to enjoy.” This blessing is said only once a year, and interestingly, may be said only when the fruits are still in the flowering stage – if they have already begun to develop into fruit, the opportunity for the bracha has passed. Why is that? If we are praising Hashem over the flower, shouldn’t we even more so praise Him when the flower becomes a fruit?
The celebration of Tu Bishvat now, and the blessing specifically over the flower but not the fruit, signals a crucial message, so relevant to us right now. What we are celebrating is potential, the first flowering after all the hard work we put in during the months leading up to this point, watering and pruning the tree as needed. Throughout the winter, it’s hard to know whether the tree will actually bring forth the fruit – we can simply work hard and pray to God to help us succeed. But we celebrate Tu Bishvat just as the trees begin to leaf out again; we say that blessing because when we see those flowers, we are filled with joy at the indication that our work has paid off! The fruit is on its way, and we thank God for bringing us to this point.
Tu Bishvat has a special resonance this year, after such challenging times for the world and for so many individuals. We at Midreshet Lindenbaum were not certain that the students would even be able to fly to Israel; once here, they had two weeks of quarantine which could have been very isolating and challenging. It turned out that it was very bonding for them, and they enjoyed the varied schedule of classes, Zoom chavrutot, a paint party, a challah bake and more. We’ve built capsule spaces and teacher bubbles for meaningful learning in classes and in our stunning beit midrash, and we’ve found ways for teachers to have safe one-on-one mentoring conversations with students. We’ve traveled Israel from North to South in between lockdowns, experiencing the country as we bond together. The students are volunteering even more than in the past, safely meeting the increased needs of families for food and help with their children’s schoolwork. The students are having a meaningful and fun year, something we did not take for granted would happen. And even though the coronavirus still rages, robbing us of precious people in our lives and in the world, we are seeing the hope of the vaccines, and their near-miraculous lightning-fast distribution here in Israel. Just like on Tu Bishvat, even though we cannot see the fruit yet, we see the leaves beginning and the flowers budding, and we have hope that with God’s help, the spring will bring the flowers and the fruit – the healing and return to normalcy – that we are all waiting for so eagerly.