Something about Tu BiShvat and its focus on nature inspires so much beautiful poetry! Take a moment and enjoy these heartfelt words from across the Jewish world appreciating the joy and beauty of nature in poetry! Photos are of Beit Sefer’s Tu BiShvat Seder taken by Marcy Epstein and Jess Flintoft.
Psalm 34, verse 8: “Taste and see that God is good.”
We make our way into the woods
at the edge of our land, trees webbed
with plastic tubing, clear
and pale green against the snow.
Down to the beaver dam, pond
punctuated with cattails,
galvanized tin bright
against grizzled trunks.
Dip a finger beneath the living spigot.
At every sugar shack across the hills
clouds of fragrant steam billow.
And after long boiling, this amber…
Where I grew up, the air is soft
already, begonias thinking
about blooming. Here, this
is what rises, hidden and sweet.
In honor of Tu BiShvat which begins tonight at sundown, here’s a poem about the sap rising. It’s a revision of a poem I shared here a few years ago.
Enjoy the full moon. Here’s to the sap rising — in our trees and in our hearts!
I walk through the woods. How great the stillness
in its cold bosom; how deep the silence.
Nothing but spirits whisper here among the branches
looking at me, and running ahead.
I walk through the woods, hearing the mute prayers for dew
of oak and pine, the bushes and flowers.
It seems to me now I will never arrive
and the woods will stretch on all around and forever.
A trace of sky, the size of my heart
bleeds from between the green canopy
and below the shadows switch and live
running the gamut from dark gold to black.
A sunbeam breaks through and suddenly vanishes
and the heart that is sky quickly shimmers with joy.
There, to the side, as if frightened from sleep
a bird gives a peep, and then thoughtfully sits
and is quiet a while, and then for a while sings.
I walk through the woods, where my footsteps are marked
by the moisture of grass, the dew of the morning.
For protection from sorrow and shelter from care
I give thanks and I praise you, oh merciful god.
Thanks for returning, in mercy, my pledge,
my body and breath, without blemish or harm,
for guarding my poor, fragile image in darkness
Therefore I will bless you, give praise to your name.
Joy to you, trees, and to birds and to people.
Joy to you, world!
I listen to the shelter of you
The sweeping canopy cradling the day and night of me
The moon rising in your branches
The stars falling in the sweep of your hair
I see the feet of your forest
The fingers, the limbs
The concave and convex of you
The light that falls around the perimeter
I smell your maple
The light serpentine
falling through the rings
Your people are grieving and weary,
Isolated and afraid.
We struggle to rejoice in budding trees,
To remember the sweetness of apple blossoms,
The rising sap of the maple tree.
We have so long been confined in isolation
By fear of sickness and death,
Plagued by ignorance and selfishness.
Help us remember the blessings of the trees.
The towering Spruce,
Whose branches held a lonely child,
In the infinite sky of cloud and blue,
And offered the blessing of sanctuary.
The ancient Black Walnut,
Where mother and child gathered nuts,
Carried them home in ragged wicker baskets,
A blessing of sweetness and sustenance.
The Shag Bark Hickory,
Standing guard at the graveside,
Its bark ragged like clothing torn in grief,
Witness to the blessings of memory and love.
And the TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes “Torah” is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general., Tree of Life.
Even in times of trouble and sorrow,
Its fruit eternally ripe,
With blessings of hope and healing,
With blessings of joy and peace.
“We are each given exactly one chance to be”
—Hope Jahren, Lab Girl
“Like the days of a tree,
Shall be the days of my people”
Every tree was once a seed
A seed knows how to wait.
A cherry tree will wait for a hundred years.
A lotus seed may wait a thousand years
for a chance to become a tree.
Most seeds hope for an opportunity
that will never come,
to shed their hard coats
and take root.*
What does it take to pare away the husks
of our own hardness,
to discover the patience of trees
In spite of doubt and stubborness,
someone believed in us, nourished us.
So whatever keeps us tethered to obstacles,
let go, focus, begin again,
Life holds the possibility
of inner transcendence,
moments of love and awe
so powerful that they call upon us
to redirect the course of our lives:
to ascend the holy ladder,
to embrace the wisdom of trees
and reach the heights of our
own unique divine stature.
*Note: The first two stanzas in italics borrow and rearrange sentences from Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl.