10 Life Lessons from Trees.
Wisdom for living, garnered from the trees and fruits of Israel.
Jewish wisdom is full of insightful comparisons between the Jewish People and the trees and fruits of Israel, urging us to learn character perfection from our deep rooted forest friends. So now, with Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees approaching, it’s time to put the spring in your step, branch out and take a leaf out of nature’s book with these ten green gems.
1. Be diligent, like an almond!
The almond tree is the symbol of Tu B’Shvat, the first tree to blossom - always right on time. Its essential quality is encapsulated in its Hebrew name, ‘shaked’, coming from the verb ‘lishkod’ meaning to be diligent. In Hebrew a ‘shakdan’ is someone who is always reliable, punctual and diligent.
2. Find the sweetness of life even in the bitter times
If you’ve ever visited Israel, you’ll notice the date palms are one of the few trees that can flourish anywhere - even on the salty marsh land of the Dead Sea where nothing else grows. In fact Israel produces a third of its date harvest from the shores of the Dead Sea. And what do these dates produce? Honey! The sweetest thing of all.
King David took inspiration from these amazing trees, writing in Psalms, “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.” Even if you find yourself in the most bitter of places, stand tall, stick to your values and share some sweetness for others to enjoy!
3. A birthday in the middle of winter? New life is just around the corner.
Just like trees, we all go through our personal winter when productivity feels on the wane. How do we bring ourselves back to life? Trees may now look bare and dead, but don’t be deceived; the sap is already rising in the tree trunks and first signs of life are about to appear. We may not see fruit yet, but the inspiration is there. As long as we stay connected, still thirsty for inspiration even through the winter, Tu B’Shvat teaches us that new hope and new life is never far away.
4. Challenging times bring out the best in us.
When an olive is crushed, it produce oil which lights up the world, reminding us that although we would rather a smooth ride in life, the challenges of life can often bring out the best in us. The Zohar explains that Torah study is only really absorbed when one makes sacrifices to learn it. No one’s looking for tough times, but when they come along, don’t lose hope. We never know what light might emerge.
5. Joy through humility.
Grapes produce wine which brings us happiness. The grape doesn’t mind being trodden on, squeezed to a pulp, filtered, stored and left in a dark barrel to ferment for years. Does any other fruit suffer such treatment? The grape is the king of all fruit precisely for its quality of humility. One day it will turn into wine, soar in price and bring joy to the world. Our rabbis teach us we drink wine on so many occasions in Jewish life to instill this message of humility learned from the grape. When we are prepared to set our egos aside and start to see all of life as a gift, the blessing we have brings joy to our eyes.
6. Never stop searching for answers.
The secret to knowledge is to never stop searching. The Talmud learns this from the fig tree which, unlike other fruit trees, ripens little by little over a period of time. The more you search, the more you will find. Torah is a tree of life; as long as we hold on to it and are willing to ask questions, it will always continue to provide us with answers.
7. Don’t judge another Jew.
We never really know another person fully inside and out, and often we can jump to conclusions. The pomegranate has hundreds of seeds, hidden away in secret chambers and is also likened to the Jewish People, as the Talmud teaches, “What a wonderful nation Israel! Even the most unlikely Jews keep many aspects of tradition, or engage in secret acts of kindness.” These are the hidden pomegranate seeds that every Jew possesses.
8. Take a bite out of that opportunity.
The apple tree teaches us to sense when a great opportunity is on the horizon and immediately seize it with both hands. King Solomon compared the Jewish People at the Giving of the Torah to an apple tree. "Like as an apple tree blossoms appear before it even produces leaves, so too the Jews at Mount Sinai declared ‘We will do,’ and then said ‘We will understand.’" Opportunities always come with a risk, but sometimes we can spend so long assessing our options that the moment will pass us by.
9. True beauty is always found within.
Appearances can often deceive. The Zohar praises the walnut as a fruit that keeps its secrets well hidden. A thick shell, seems at first inedible, however within it reveals a wonderful source of protein. The Talmud teaches, “That which is precious is always hidden away,” hence the Torah not only has a cover, but is also hidden away in the Ark, which also has a cover. In relationships, first impressions can often lead us to the wrong conclusions. The walnut teaches us to protect that which is of most value and understand there is always more to people than meets the eye.
10. Everything has a purpose
Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, was once walking in the fields when a student accompanying him plucked a leaf off a tree. Rav Kook was visibly shaken. Turning to his companion he said, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.”
For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. Everything serves a purpose, every tree, fruit and blade of grass are gifts to us to enhance our world. If we can master such sensitivity for the plant world, how much more so for the people around us.
Wishing you a happy new year for trees!