Today is Tu B'Shevat ("the 15th of Shevat") which marks the beginning of a "New Year for Trees." This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
Legally, the "New Year for Trees" relates to the various tithes that must be separated from produce grown in the Holy Land. We mark the day by eating fruit, particularly from the "Seven Kinds" that are singled out by the Torah in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). On this day we remember that "Man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19) and reflect on the lessons we can derive from our botanical analogue.
This week's Torah reading contains the "song at the sea" sung by the Children of Israel upon their deliverance from the Egyptians, when the Red Sea split to allow them to pass and then drowned their pursuers. Hence this Shabbat is designated as Shabbat Shirah, "Shabbat of song."
Our sages tell us that the birds in the sky joined our ancestors in their singing; for this reason it is customary to put out food for the birds for this Shabbat (to avoid the possibility of transgressing the laws of Shabbat, the food should be put out before Shabbat).
One life breaking out through the soil into this world. And even then, with all our might, we struggle to rise yet higher, climbing up towards the sun, desperate not to be torn away by the fury of its storms or consumed by its fires.
Then there are our roots, deep under the ground, unmoving and serene. They are our ancient mothers and fathers, who lie within us at our very core.
For them, there is no storm, no struggle. There is only the One, the Infinite, for Whom all the cosmos with all its challenges are nothing more than a fantasy renewed every moment from the void.
Our strength is from our bond with them. With their nurture we will conquer the storm and bring beauty to the world within which we were planted.