Almond Blossom: Tu B’Shvat And Wintering

Today is Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees, signals the start of spring in Israel. This is supposed to coincide with the budding of the first almond blossoms. While our frosty lunar based solar mash-up calendar might not totally align to the coming of spring, it is interesting to note how the almond blossom is the sign of spring coming.

This gets particularly interesting in light of the custom to eat pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah, the “real” New Year. On a simple level as we go into the season of accounting we hope to be in the black. On Rosh Hashanah we eat the seeds of a pomegranate and say, ” May it be Your will, HaShem, our God and God of our ancestors, that our merits increase as the seeds of the pomegranate. ” On a deeper level as we start the fall season eat the pomegranate seeds as a reenactment of Persephone’s return from Hades, we connect to this first taste of spring. Just as Persephone has to spend half the year with Hades because she tasted the seeds of this tree, with the budding of the almond blossom we prepare for her return of spring. These trees bookend winter with fall and spring.

Before we leave winter and Hades we should take a moment to sit in that experience. Recently a student of mine suggested that I read Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat by Katherine May. It was the right book at the right time for me to lean into this our second winter of Covid. I would recommend it.

There she writes:

Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.


As we reflect on winter, Covid, isolation from community, the rise of hate crimes and anti-Semitism, and the banality of evil, we need to take this moment to sit in the cold and bask in the rest and retreat of winter. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., who’s birthday we celebrate today, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Now more than ever we need to winter and to give some deep thought as to transformation that we want to struggle for in this world. Merry Tu B’Shvat.


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