Tu B’Shvat: The Beginning of Potential
Tu B’Shvat, Purim and Passover correspond to three phases of life.
Life can be divided into three phases: conception, reality, and post-reality – a life after death (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Encounters, 1990). During the period of conception, we exist within the confines of our mother’s womb, engrossed in physicality; our only focus at this point in life is to grow and develop. We are given all our organs, but they are nonfunctioning; we have eyes, ears, arms, and legs, but none of these can express themselves or serve as any benefit. There comes a time, however, when each of us must eventually take leave from this form of reality, from the shelter of the womb.
We then enter the second stage of life and are suddenly reborn into a different type of existence in which we can articulate our senses. Relying on the potentials nurtured within the womb, we now begin using our eyes to see and our noses to smell, and we become fascinated by the many wonders amidst the physical world in which we now find ourselves. This new life is still physical like the first phase within the womb, but it offers us opportunities to now generate meaning from our existence.
Then we enter the final stage: life after physical life. During the second stage, the womb in which we live is known as the body. Upon actualizing the potentials given while inhabiting our initial womb inside our mother and then cultivating a meaningful life thereafter, we experience another form of birth when we stand before our Maker in the World to Come. Whereas the second period of life liberates us from the confines of the womb, our third and final birth frees us from the limitations of the finite world – allowing us to experience unadulterated heights of spirituality.
Trilogy of Redemption
This three-phase journey of life parallels the process of Redemption observed in the holiday-trilogy of Tu B’Shvat, Purim, and Passover.
Tu B’Shvat, known as the New Year of the Trees, is the first stage of this process. It occurs on the 15th of the Jewish month of Shvat, 30 days prior to Purim and 60 days prior to Passover. Each of these holidays occur when the moon waxes full, symbolizing a maximum capacity for growth.
Tu B’Shvat celebrates the genesis of potential. On the day following Tu B’Shvat, to our external eye, a tree looks exactly as it had the previous day, oblivious to the fact that its sap has already begun developing within.1 Likewise, our inner dimension, our soul, looks hidden if observed through the lens of physicality; externally, it is difficult to detect the tremendous holiness buried within a person when we find ourselves continuously distracted by the transgressions we believe him or her to be involved in.
Purim: Potential Actualized
Purim symbolizes the point where we actualize our potential; it’s the middle phase of our life’s journey in which we look deep within ourselves – at our soul essence – and begin responding to our callings and directing our lives towards growing into the people we know we can become.
The Purim narrative seems void of any Divine Intervention just as the sap’s development within a tree is unnoticeable to our human eye at first glance. Our potential is only possible if we focus on what lies beneath the physical casing of our soul, just as God can be seen within the Purim story only if we choose to look beyond the surface of its seemingly random and mundane series of events. Purim is the time when each of us take ownership of our lives: never settling for that which lies above the surface – reality as we perceive it – but probing the limits of what others have envisioned for us and tapping into the parts of ourselves that we never knew achievable, the parts which allow us to succeed.
Passover: Breaking Free
Passover concludes our trilogy. It is the final stage in which we break free of anything holding us back from becoming our truest selves. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, comes from the word, meitzar, which means restriction and confinement. Egyptian culture was rooted in the rising and setting of the sun and the gods of nature, which dictate that reality is always predetermined and constant. Passover is the celebration of transcending the slave mentality that defines and limits who we are and of tasting true freedom. The seventh day of Passover recounts the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, like a newborn emerging without preconceived notions of how reality ought to look or how great he or she can become.
The journey is ours to create and it can take a lifetime to reach. Just as our lifespan is divided into segments, so too must our growth be gradual and lasting. That journey begins on Tu B’Shvat, the 24 hours which we dedicate to realizing and harnessing our budding potential. Happy New Year and may the journey ahead be meaningful and full of joy!
1. Trugman, A. A. (2003). Seeds and sparks. Southfield, MI: Targum Press.