Tonight is the Jewish holy day of Tu Bishevat: the celebration of trees. We celebrate trees in the winter, before they awaken into Spring. This holiday is about hope. It is about remembering that what we see is only a small aspect of a larger whole. This holiday is about planting seeds knowing that we may never see them bloom. This is the holiday that teaches us about hope and faith. We celebrate Spring before Spring, to remind us that we are part of the process of Spring becoming… What we do on this earth impacts this planet.
The rabbis tell a story that is often repeated on Tu Bishvat about an elderly person who is planting a fig tree that he will never see grow, and he explains that it is his gratitude for the trees that were planted for him before he was born by those who came before him. He may not get to eat the figs from the tree that he is planting, but this world requires hope for us all to be nourished.
This story is about recognizing our place in the larger system, and about how we can trust that what we do matters. It is about thinking about the ripple effects of who we are and how we transform the world simply by being in it. This holiday is an opportunity for gratitude for the trees that ensure that we can breathe and live.
On this holiday, let us pause in gratitude… and commit to doing what we can to plant seeds of healing and love for those we may never know. Let us think about how our egos trick us: Our egos tell us to do things only if they will be useful. This transactional way of living is what is harming our planet.
On Tu Bishevat, we remember that we have a responsibility to care for our planet. We remember our place in the world and we celebrate the trees that have not yet begun to blossom. We celebrate the future and we are supposed to plant seeds and saplings and look to the future with hope.
The ego tricks us: why plant this tree that you will never see bloom? why celebrate this tree that seems dead? And this logic exists outside of the plant realm, because we are not as different from trees as our ego would like us to believe. We like to think we are smart… we can move and breathe on our own. But we are not any different than trees. In fact, the Indigenous teachings of the land upon which I am (Mi’kma’ki) teaches the deep spiritual connection between humans and trees. Maybe that is why we still talk about ourselves with the metaphor of family trees. There is much more to write about the connections between these teachings and the Jewish ones, but the brief summary is that we are all One. We are all interconnected, if we can see past the illusions of the ego that try to trick us with our brain and our belief that we are different than others and therefore special.
The ego tricks us with this logic in our every day too… The question, why plant a tree you will never see bloom, is also the question: why both visiting someone in the nursing home if they won’t know who I am? Why both doing the right thing if we don’t get credit for it? The transactional relationship is what Dr. Martin Buber called I-it. IT is what enables us to look at someone else who is suffering and not feel it within ourselves. The ego is the illusion of difference. We are really One, but this world exists in a duality that seeks to trick us into not feeling.
Dr. Martin Buber invited us through his teachings about the sacredness of I-Thou relationships to connect with trees as a spiritual practice. Science is reminding us of this same Torah/Wisdom: when we go outside, we heal. We are not as different from trees as our brains want to believe. We just need to compare our finger prints to the rings inside the trunk of a tree to realize that, at our core, we are One with the Universe.
The Torah states in Deuteronomy 20:19 that human beings are like trees, and much Jewish mysticism has extensive teachings about the Tree of Life that is our essence, the way that G!d’s Life Force flows through us and into this planet. Therefore, the holiday of Tu Bishvat is a celebration with deep kabbalistic implications.
Today and tomorrow, may we each go outside with gratitude and awe for the beauty of trees. May we connect with them in ways that helps us to heal. And this coming Friday night, you are all invited to join Reform Judaism in Atlantic Canada for a special Shabbat and Tu Bishvat service. We will continue to explore these themes, and reflect on the ways that hope, faith and rest can heal us.
Join us on Friday, February 10th at 6PM Atlantic (5PM Eastern/6:30 PM NFLD) for a special virtual, accessible and inclusive Shabbat service that will also celebrate the sacred Torah Wisdom that trees can teach us. I will also make a separate post for this, but am also including it here/
Originally from Montreal, Canada, I studied in Jerusalem at several Orthodox yeshivas, prior to beginning my studies as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College. I am a second generation Holocaust survivor, and early on, wanted to do whatever I could to build a world where hatred and prejudice would never again have the upper hand.
For me, studying Judaism from traditional perspectives was crucial because “it was important to understand what we are reforming”. I believe in making educated choices from the rich set of resources provided by Jewish tradition, in order to ensure that every ritual and prayer is meaningful. I was a founding board member of the Society of Classical Reform Judaism (now Roots of Reform), due to my unwavering commitment to advocacy for interfaith families and the creation of inclusive Jewish communities that are unconditionally welcoming of all spiritual seekers, regardless of their religious background, relationship status, identity or Hebrew speaking ability.
In addition to nearly two decades working in synagogues, teaching, counseling and participating in life cycle events, I am also a social worker, psychotherapist, mediator and trained as an interfaith chaplain. I worked with the American Red Cross after 9/11, providing counseling and support at the family assistance center, Ground Zero and the morgue. My doctoral research was focused on burnout and compassion fatigue, as part of my years of work in hospice and palliative care. My life experiences have taught me hope and how to cultivate resilience and wisdom.
This blog reflects my attempts to distill rabbinic wisdom into insights that can speak to all people. I have dedicated my life to healing and spiritual alchemy. I first began the writings that formed the basis of this blog as part of my role as Vice President of Mission for KentuckyOne Health, an interfaith hospital system that brought together Catholic, secular and Jewish hospital systems, in order to bring wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved. I began my weekly reflections on the Torah portion, in order to share some of Jewish Hospital's heritage and values with staff that may not have known much about Judaism. These reflections were then shared by staff with others who asked to be placed on my blind copy list, as well as by the system mission leader of Catholic Health Initiatives to his own reader list, along with his own reflections.
I have been profoundly humbled by the reactions to these writings, and as more people have asked to have access to them, I eventually worked to overcome my discomfort with the internet in order to publish them online. I realized that Jews and non-Jews were drawn to my inclusive interpretations of the biblical text, and my reflections on how to apply these in our every day. I believe that, much like the Sufi teaching that describes all the religions of the world like different prayer beads, with the same string of truth that runs through each of them, so too can these ancient spiritual and mystical teachings can come to life, when we reflect on the echoes of other world traditions and by contemporary psychological theory.
As my professional journey has continued to evolve, and I have found myself transitioning from pulpit rabbi to community rabbi, to who I am becoming as I seek to move beyond all labels, I have found that this site remains an important way for people to get to know me, and understand my theology.
I am fundamentally committed to the sacred act of translation- seeking to discern the Divine through text and life, and to translate those words of Torah and wisdom into reflections that can speak to people of all faith traditions... and in so doing, hopefully encouraging others to do the same. We are all created in the Image of G!d, and as such, each of us has our own unique understanding of the Sacred. In the same way as the rabbis teach that if even one letter from the scroll of the Torah is missing, the entire Torah has lost its sacredness (is no longer kosher), so too is this world diminished so long as people silence themselves. For too long, organized religion has been used as a weapon, to keep people silent and to teach shame... my quest as a rabbi, and indeed, as a human being, is to work to translate religious teachings into redemptive and healing truths, to seek to liberate s/Spirit and to work toward "tikkun olam" (the healing of the universe).
My current rabbinate is dedicated to teaching and mentoring other rabbis, and working with interfaith families, as well as those traditionally marginalized from mainstream Judaism. In the same way as the holiness of the Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) can be found in its fringes (tzitzit) so too do I believe that the most important contribution I can make to the Jewish people is "Keruv" (helping people find their way home), and to the broader world is "shleimut" (helping people to find wholeness). I also serve G!d as a social worker, doing what I can to work for justice for all people.
It is my prayer that the insights in this blog will bring healing and insight to others, and encourage others to find their voice and path. Thank you for your time reading my work.
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