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Each year Tu BiShvat, birthday of the trees is commemorated by Jewish people all over the world in the middle of winter. Why do we celebrate a seemingly insignificant holiday? We will soon learn that as with everything the Torah mentions, recalling the birthday of the trees is significant to all of humankind. The Torah tells us that humans are likened to the trees of the field (Deuteronomy 20:19).
Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller shares an important insight. She says as human beings, our roots are embedded in dry land. We experience reality tangibly and physically. We grow beyond our roots extending our branches towards the heavens in our search for connection and meaning. We focus our lives on producing fruit because we yearn to leave our mark in the world. We yearn for people to know we were here. We yearn to emulate the righteous, who are compared to inverted trees that derive their sustenance from the heavens and give fruit to the earth itself and those who inhabit it.
Positive Psychology also teaches us to get in touch with nature. The health benefits we experience when we take advantage of nature are beneficial and wondrous. In a renowned study, Roger Urlich compared the medical records of patients who underwent gall bladder surgery. All patients in the study were arranged according to age, gender, health, and weight. One group of patients, however, had a view of deciduous trees from their rooms in the hospital while another group had a view of a brick wall. Ulrich found a significant difference between the rates of recovery of the two groups. The group that had a view of the deciduous trees were reported to have made a quicker recovery than the group that had a view of a brick wall. They also took moderate pain killers, were discharged earlier, had less postoperative complications, and had more positive notes written in their medical records.
When we are merely exposed to scenes of nature, we feel instantly healthier. This goes hand-in-hand with Urlich’s stress reduction theory which states that humans respond positively to non-threatening stimuli. This produces a positive emotional response that reduces anxiety and stress. Stress reduction is associated with a higher functioning immune system, which aids recovery.
We can find the meaning in celebrating Tu BiShvat, when we study the wisdom and comparisons between the Jewish people and the trees and fruits of Israel. We are urged to learn about character perfection from trees. Exposing ourselves to nature can also heal us and aid in our spiritual growth. “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.” (Psalms 92:12) A date tree can flourish in any climate – even in the Dead Sea. So too, the righteous can stand tall and hold to their values when they find themselves in the most bitter of places.
During Tu BiShvat, we only see the middle of winter where trees look bare and unproductive, but we should not be deceived. Beneath the surface, sap is already rising in the tree trunks, signs of life are about to appear. We should not be disheartened by our challenges as they only serve to bring out the best in us. We learn this from an olive; when it is crushed, an olive produces oil that lights up the world. We should never despair of finding new life for it is right around the corner.