This coming Shabbos coincides with the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the “birthday” for all trees. Traditionally, farmers who planted trees in Israel were commanded by the Torah not to use the fruit of the trees for the first three years of the trees’ lives. On the fourth year of the trees’ lives the fruit was given to the Cohanim (priests) in the Bais Hamikdash (holy temple) and on the fifth year, it was finally theirs to benefit from.
In medieval times, kabbalists (Jewish mystics) gave Tu Bishvat greater spiritual significance. According to Lurianic Kabbalah (which is a form of mysticism studied by the students of Isaac Luria), all physical forms–including human beings–hide within them a spark of G-d. This is similar to some kinds of fruits or nuts, which hide within them seeds of new life and potential growth. According to the Kabballah, human actions can release these sparks and help increase God’s presence in the world. On Tu Bishvat, the kabbalists would eat certain fruits associated with the land of Israel as a symbolic way of releasing these divine sparks.
As many of you already know, I have twin girls who are now nine months old. In fact, as I write this blog post, my Nechama is trying to climb on my lap and bang on the keyboard of the laptop. When I was pregnant with my twins, I felt a very distinct difference in energy and personality between the two of them in utero. One, (Nechama) was very active and always up for a party, constantly kicking me and reacting to music and loud voices. The other, (Zissie), I could tell was a very gentle soul. We did not know if they were boys or girls and we didn’t have names picked out. I read lots of books about twins and parenting; how to sleep-train, get them on a schedule, feeding, healthy foods etc. When the day finally arrived and I got to “meet” them, these little seeds that had been growing inside me for nine months arrived into this world as two new lives; two developed souls with endless potential. And all of a sudden, everything became very clear to me who was who and who they were.
I think every expectant mother has ideas about how she wants things to be, how she wants things to turn out. And I think every new mother is, in some way, hit in the face with reality when her kids do arrive, and she realizes, that they are who they are and they will be who they will be.
But one important lesson I learned when I was pregnant was from my own mother. I have one sister who is three years younger than me and we have VERY different personalities. I have always been an emotionally wired person, overly-sensitive and a people pleaser. (Those of you who know me may not think of me this way but this is my internal nature). My sister, on the other hand, is her own person; super-independent and an adventurous free-spirit. My mother explained to me that when we were growing up she always felt it was her duty to encourage me to be more independent, braver and less sensitive and to encourage my sister to be a little less unruly. But in the end, we turned out exactly how we always were; just in adult versions. Her point was that it is important to raise your kids with the right values, good manners and good middos (character traits.) However, instead of fighting against their innate natures as people, encouraging them to become less of this or more of that, work with them to help them actualize their full potentials; growing into the fully-developed beautiful trees which they were meant to be.
My girls are fraternal twins; born on the same day to the same mother, two minutes apart. Yet, they look nothing alike and have completely different personalities from each other. They are nine-month-old versions of those little seeds they were in the womb. Nechama is a super-active party girl, crawling and “cruising” the furniture, getting into anything and everything, and Zissie is a sweet, gentle, independent little soul who loves to practice “talking” and adores her time alone in her crib with her dolly. Marc and I LOVE that our daughters are so different and we wouldn’t want them any other way.
This principle is not just about babies though. All of us are born with good, raw materials that G-d gave us. We can work with them to actualize our full potentials or we can fight them to try and become people who we’re not. I recently gave a class for young single women called “Working on Me before Seaching for We.” One of the key concepts we discussed in this class is the importance of working on yourself to become the best YOU, not the best person who you think other people are going to want. If you end up in a relationship, acting as someone who you think someone else wants but not who you truly are, your true positive qualities won’t shine through and you won’t be able to fulfill your true potential of who you were meant to be!
This coming Shabbos and Tu Bishvat, while we appreciate the day for what it is, the “birthday” of all trees where we enjoy the fulfilled potential of their seeds by eating all different types of fruit, take a minute to think about the deeper meaning of what this day means to you. Embrace who you are and who you are meant to be; remember the tiny seed which you came from and celebrate the potential that G-d has given you as a unique and special individual.
“Tu Bishvat higia, chag hailanot.” –Tu Bishvat has come, festival of the trees.
Shabbat Shalom l’kulam- A good Shabbos to everyone.