A Spiritual Practice for Tu B’Shevat

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

reform temple los angeles tu bshevat treesSoftening our hearts towards goodness…

Today is the 15th of Shevat, or Tu B’Shevat, which is the birthday of the trees. It comes at the time of the year when the earth is still hardened from the winter, and the trees are starting to wake up to begin their leafy life once again as spring grows closer. Within the traditions of the holiday, there is a special Tu B’Shevat Seder, which has within it four cups of wine, just like the Passover Seder. There are mystical and traditional readings of what each cup represents (which you can find online), but I wanted to introduce an alternative spiritual exercise that might help us all come out of the long nights, into the longer days.

The four cups of wine are combinations of white and red wine. The white represents the cold of winter, and the red represents the warmth of the sun and the robust colors that come to life in the spring. In this interpretation, each can represent the hidden and the revealed. In the winter, the snow covers the land and the roots of the trees, we only see the branches of the trees, and the ground is hardened and closed off. Inside of us, it represents what we hide from the world, what keeps us from opening ourselves up. In the spring and the summer, life is revealed: we see the roots, blossoms bloom into leaves and flowers, and the ground softens to allow the life from inside the earth to come out and flourish.

As a spiritual exercise, imagine that the white represents what we close off from the world, or what we don’t let into our hearts. It is the cold aspect of our humanity, that prevents us from accepting others, promotes judgment and animus, because we do not allow the person or idea to penetrate our hearts. The red represents the warmth and kindness that we extend to the world, to other people and to the ideas that keeps love alive inside of us.

Each cup of wine, then represents the relationship between the closed and the open:

Cup 1: All white. The cold.

This cup invites us to explore those aspects of our lives where we are closed off, where we keep a distance, and where we can’t find the kindness. Reflect on those areas of your life and notice where this takes you.

Cup 2: White, with a little Red.

The world warms up. This cup invites us to explore those areas of our existence where we feel that we have been closed off, but a part of us is warming up to accept that person, or idea, that we have been closing off from our discourse. Reflect on the places you feel your heart softening, and allow the kindness to color where you feel you have been hardened.

Cup 3: Red, with a little White.

The chill in the warmth. This cup invites us to find those parts of our lives where we feel we have been open and warm, yet judgment creeps in to make us question our goodness. Reflect on those areas in your life where you feel like you have been kind and open, yet in reality, your actions belie your belief. Search inside to bring out the warmth and love that has been compromised.

Cup 4: All red. The warmth.

This cup invites us to think about what and whom we love, and urges us to continue to embrace the kindness that is in our hearts. Reflect on that which gives you joy, that which gives you life, and warms your heart for others. Recommit to the relationships and ideas that strengthen you, and strive for peace and wholeness.

As we welcome the new year of the trees, may we reconnect inside and find a way to relate to the softening of the earth by softening our hearts towards goodness. May this year be a year of blossoming and growth.

                                                                 – Rabbi Jonathan Aaron