I took some time today to go out and look at and appreciate a few trees in my yard. I have a lot of trees because I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California. Some of them are very old and tower over our house. Others are small and struggling to stay alive during the hard conditions under which they live.
I did this because today Jews celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for the trees. This holiday is celebrated on the 15th of Shvat, a Hebrew month that usually falls between mid-January and mid-February.
Originally this holiday served to calculate the age of the trees for tithing. Leviticus 19:23-25 states that no fruit may be taken from a tree during its first three years of life. Fruit from the fourth year was given to God as a burnt offering, and in the fifth year the fruit could be eaten. Trees aged one year on Tu B’Shvat, so in many ways Tu B’Shvat is the birthday of the trees.
The holiday is also celebrated at a time when the sap in trees begins to rise within their trunks unnoticed. The trees, still leafless in most places in the world, are beginning to grow, bud and come back to life. They are getting ready to leaf out and bear fruit once again. (Although here in California some trees, like my orange tee, are heavy with fruit!)
As I looked at the trees in my yard, I thought about these things. How much growth goes on within us unnoticed? When does our creative nature begin to rise up and flow? Is it the same for each person? And when are we ready to give the fruits of that growth to the world?
I firmly believe we all have a God-given purpose in this lifetime. Our desire to create in the world often comes from that purpose, like my own desire to write. But I think first we must want to create for a higher purpose. The ancient rabbis and Kabbalists would say we must create for God—everything must be done for God, given to God—just as the first fruits taken from the tree in the third year were sacrificed. Only then, when we are clear about the true purpose of anything created in this world can we offer it to mere mortals, thus fulfilling our purpose on Earth.
Does that happen in the fourth year of our life? Probably not. Does it happen when we are forty? Maybe. Can we put an age on it as we Jews do for the trees, I doubt it.
I think , however, when we become clear about our purpose, how that connects us to something greater than ourselves, and the fact that we want to fulfill it our ability to create happens as naturally as the leaves burst forth, the blossoms open, and the fruit grows on trees.
What do you think?