In a famous verse in Psalms, King David states: “I will sing and give praise. Wake up my glory, awake the harp and the lyre; I will awake the dawn” (Psalms 57:9). The obvious question is – doesn’t David have it backward – doesn’t the dawn awaken us and not us awaken the dawn? The answer to this is not as simple as first appears. As we look deeper for an answer we will find beautiful allusions to Tu B’Shvat.
Although it is quite obvious that the dawn awakens us, there is also a level in which David was correct in stating that we too have the power to awaken the dawn. This dual idea can be seen in a number of different ways in nature. It is a known fact that the earth circles the sun, yet to our perception it appears that the sun rotates around the earth. Astronomically it is true that the earth rotates around the sun, but the appearance of just the opposite is for us just as important a fact. The idea that God made the appearance of the sun circling the earth just as real and immediate as the astronomical truth tells us much about the multi-nature of reality.
Another example from nature regards rain. On a scientific level it appears that man has no real control of the cycles of weather and rain. Yet we are told in a number of different verses in the Torah that rain is directly connected to the actions of man. In the second paragraph of the Shema, which we recite twice daily, we are taught that rain in Israel is directly connected to our deeds and serving God “with all your hearts and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:13-21). If we listen to God then He will “provide rain in the land at the proper time, the early and the later rains…” and likewise, rain will be withheld if we do not act properly.
A fascinating verse in the story of Creation reads: “And no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had grown; for God had not caused it to rain on the earth and there was no man to till the ground” (Genesis 2:5). Even though God created all sorts of vegetation on the third day, the Torah states that they had not grown for there was no man to work the ground. Rashi states that until man, there was no one to pray for rain, therefore nothing could grow. When man realized that rain was needed, he prayed for it and it descended causing everything to grow. Once again, we see that there is a clear connection in Torah between rain and our actions, in this case prayer.
Even more than this connection is our overall relationship to the environment. It is now clear that the actions of man most certainly effect the balance of nature and its direct effect upon us. Perhaps the best example is the greenhouse effect and its potentially disastrous consequences for all life if not corrected quickly. Water, noise and air pollution, survival of endangered species, wanton destruction of rain forests, etc are all dependent on our actions.
One last example is found in the quantum/scientific view of objective reality. It has now been established that human consciousness, just by viewing reality, actually changes that reality. Therefore “objective” reality is actually quite subjective. In other words, our actions, our prayers and our thoughts directly effect and alter reality, even if we are unaware of it.
Returning to our original question as to whether the dawn awakes us or we awake the dawn, we see a correlation to Tu B’Shvat and our overall connection to the environment. Tu B’Shvat in our days has assumed the status of not only the “holiday of trees,” but as a powerful tool to understanding man’s relationship to reality and the natural world. As much as we are at the whim of nature, the environment is effected by our every action.
There is a tradition that on Tu B’Shvat the sap, or life force of the tree, begins to ascend once more, bringing new life to the tree. Tu B’Shvat always comes out during, or right after, the Torah portion of B’Shalach, in which the Jewish people leave Egypt. Do we go from exile to freedom, from the narrow straits of Egypt to the expanded consciousness of being God’s people because the new life force in nature is now rising or does nature experience a renewal because we are going out of exile towards new life? If we really understood the nature of reality in its deepest aspects we would understand that both are true, just on different levels (as discussed in the first chapter).
Tu B’Shvat represents new life, not only in nature, but also in the spiritual psyche of man. The full moon of Tu B’Shvat begins a redemptive cycle that moves next to Purim on the full moon of Adar and then climaxes on Pesach, the full moon of Nisan.
May Tu B’Shvat awaken in us a new consciousness of our power to affect reality in all its levels – from the world of nature to the Divine worlds – and with it, the awareness of the great responsibility that goes with that power.