LESSONS FROM THE TALL BAMBOO TREE

TU B'SHVAT MESSAGE

BY RABBI GLENN BLACK

It’s cold outside, the wind blows, and the snow swirls or lies in hard compact layers on the ground. As we huddle in the warmth of our homes, we come upon what is seemingly a misplaced Jewish holiday called “Tu B’shvat,” a holiday when we celebrate the trees.

Surely there is a better time to celebrate the birth of trees?

Perhaps in the spring, when we actually witness the green leaves and the blossoms heralding a new season of growth.

But, no—our sages have instituted this holiday of the trees at the most unexpected and, frankly, inopportune time of the year!

The answer to this question can be found most poignantly from one tree in particular– the bamboo tree. Before it germinates, the bamboo tree lays under the ground for three long years, during which time not a leaf, branch, or shoot can be seen. In fact, during this three-year period, you can actually walk right over a bamboo tree, without ever knowing what is laying beneath. The bamboo tree hibernates under the cold earth, establishing and securing itself until it is ready to appear. It is during this time that the most important work is done to ensure its survival. Then after this three-year period of hibernation, it appears above ground with such vigor and force that is unlike any other tree.

When it is ready, the bamboo tree will grow one inch every 40 minutes and, in a matter of days, it will grow many feet in the air. It is able to do this amazing feat precisely because of the years it spent establishing its roots and shoring up its nutrients.

Our sages who established Tu B’shvat during the winter months understood the importance of the tree, not as a fully formed specimen, but as a burgeoning sapling shoring up its strength to survive.

We are all trees. What we are celebrating on Tu B’shvat is potential–the potential of the tree to grow and the potential in each of us. Our potential is sometimes buried deep, but we are growing our roots and solidifying ourselves in order to become exceptional. Like the tree, it is impossible to grow proud, tall and strong without first planting our own seeds.

That is what NCSY is all about. If you had to describe NCSY in one word, that word would be “potential.” At NCSY, we help teens appreciate, harness, and hone their potential to become the great Jewish influencers of the next generation.

Wishing all our NCSY and Torah High families a wonderful Tu B’shvat!

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