Rosh Chodesh Shevat began Wednesday, Jan. 17, the day it snowed.
Our task during Shevat is to bring holiness down from the heavens into our mundane lives. We had extra help that day with the snow’s magical qualities. The city shut down, and we stared out our windows at the blanket of crystalline purity covering everything.
Even better was going outside to experience it in snowball fights, playing with the dog and building snowmen. The grass and pavement were hidden. The boundaries between homes were blurred, appearing as if our measured yards were joined as one vast surface. The routine activities of everyday life ceased, and we held our breaths for just a moment.
My romanticized vision of the water carrier in the sky, symbol for the zodiac sign of Aquarius, had him pouring water out of the vessel, and, through the whispers of Hashem’s breath, it froze and fell to the earth as snow.
There’s holiness in freshly fallen snow. It’s pristine, untouched and unspoiled, like the neshama (soul).
On the full moon of Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month, is the new year for the trees, marking the end of the rainy season in Israel. We plant trees to celebrate milestones, commemorate those who have passed and honor our commitment to the preservation of the environment.
Trees provide us with fruit, nuts, flowers, shade, shelter and comfort. They act as timekeepers, as well, when we count the rings of their longevity. Calculating the age of a tree makes us mindful of our protection of it, allowing it to grow and flourish during its first three years, offering it to Hashem in its fourth, and tasting it in its fifth.
Trees are structures of divinity, and cultivating patience is a holy act.
After the gluttony and heaviness of the winter holidays, this time of year is associated with cleaner eating, with a focus on improved health and mindfulness. Television chefs turn their attention from fat-laden casseroles and carb-loaded recipes served up before sweet treats to plant-based entrees and fruit for dessert.
That is in keeping with the fruits and intentional tasting of our food that are hallmarks of Shevat. During this month, especially in Kabbalistic traditions, it’s customary to eat many different fruits.
The First Twelve Fruits are to be enjoyed in order, with the challenge being to taste up to 30 fruits. Red and white wines are served for the four cups of a seder. In some celebrations, a blush and an amber wine are also included to coordinate with the seasons.
Blessings are recited before and after each new fruit is tasted. Symbolism is inherent in these foods.
The order of the First Twelve Fruits:
- Wheat, used to feed animals, serves as a reminder for us to curb our animalistic tendencies.
- Olives give their best oil when crushed, speaking to the strength and fortitude of our people to endure.
- Dates, unshaken by the winds, offer inspiration to be steadfast.
- Grapes take many forms, delicious as they are or as raisins or when transformed into wine. Each of us has the same potential.
- Figs when ripe must be picked right away. They remind us of the urgency to do good deeds.
- Pomegranates have 613 juicy, jeweled seeds, matching the 613 commandments given to us to fulfill.
- Etrogim (citrons) remain on the tree throughout all four seasons.
- Apples take 50 days to ripen and mirror our own ripening in the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot.
- Walnuts have four sections, like the acronym for Hashem’s name. Like many humans, they have hard shells and are soft inside.
- Almonds represent enthusiasm because almond trees are the first to bloom. We must be enthusiastic when doing G-d’s work.
- Carobs take the longest to grow and teach us that there’s a sweet reward for patience.
- Pears of all varieties maintain a similarity, much like people of the earth.
Meditation focus: Take several moments to sit quietly and imagine yourself as the channel between the heavens and the earth. What holiness might you receive that you can bring to your daily life?