29 January 2010
14 Shevat 5770
Tomorrow is Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, known as the New Year (or “birthday”) of trees, the first day of the annual cycle of counting the age of trees. This counting originated in order to fulfill the Biblical commandments about when it was permitted to begin to eat the fruits from a newly planted tree. In recent years Tu B’Shevat has become a symbol and connection to the Land of Israel and an opportunity to explore Judaism and the environment. Tomorrow is also Shabbat Shirah (the Shabbat of Song), the special Shabbat on which we read Parshat Beshallach, which contains Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea that B’nei Yisrael sing after they cross the Red Sea and escape Egypt once and for all.
All week I have been trying to understand the connection between Tu B’Shevat and Shirat HaYam, sensing that there must be some underlying spiritual, philosophical theme that unites the two. Yesterday I had two experiences that helped me uncover what they have in common.
During my routine recitation of the Shacharit (morning prayer) service on Thursday, two lines that I recite every morning jumped out at me in a new way: “Shirah chadashah shib’chu geulim l’shimcha al sefat hayam.” As I read these lines of the third blessing after the Shema leading up to the Amidah, I was drawn to the beautiful translation of the new Reform Siddur, Mishkan Tefillah: “With new song, inspired, at the shore of the Sea, the redeemed sang Your praise.” On both literary and theological levels, Shirat HaYam links redemption, inspiration, faith and song.
With the concepts of inspiration and song fresh in my heart and mind, I was overjoyed to attend last night’s Winter Arts Festival. From photography to film production, chamber music to chorus, juggling to improv comedy, our students lit up the Black Box theater with their talent, passion, and creativity. Their hard work and preparation, along with their joy of performance, provided an evening of entertainment and inspiration for their classmates, families, and friends.
So, what unites Tu B’Shevat, Shirat HaYam, and the Winter Arts Festival? One word, one deep spiritual concept that is alluded to in the morning service that called to me yesterday morning: hitchadshut – newness, renewal, the process of creating anew. After months of the rainy season, Tu B’Shevat represents the transformational period in which fruit trees begin to blossom anew, and this blossoming, albeit not yet visible, begins even in the “dead” of winter. The Exodus from Egypt and the march through the sea represents the birth process of the Jewish People, our own blossoming anew after years of soul-crushing slavery. Freedom and redemption unleash the energy and creative capacities of B’nei Yisrael, which manifest in song. Our Winter Arts Festival could not have come at a more appropriate time than during the cold, dark days of January Through whichever artistic media they are expressed, the “songs”of our students’ passion and creativity should remind us all that each individual soul is always singing, always yearning to create and recreate, even if we cannot always hear it.
May we all take the time and find the energy to look and listen for the moments of hitchadshut and the signs of renewal, inspiration, and redemption all around us.
Rabbi Marc Baker