The following are reflections from an Orthodox rabbi who was shunned by his community for standing up for LGBTQ rights.
I’ve recently had to transition out of a position where I could provide spiritual shade, shelter, and sustenance for many of G-d’s children who have been denied sanctuary elsewhere. Today I exist uprooted, forsaken, and rejected. It’s the middle of the winter and the trees are barren. They look like they could blow over in the snowstorm. I feel like these trees look, worried that the best days are behind me with my contribution to the world decomposing on the ground. How can we be asked to celebrate the birthday of the trees when they look like they are dying and should be eulogized?
The first Mishnah teaches that there are actually four “Rosh Hashanahs”: one of each for the kings, tithings, years, and the tree. The ‘tree’ stands alone — it’s the only one that is taught in the singular and the only one that does not fall on the first of the Jewish month, but rather the 15th (Tu Bishvat).
Fifteen, in the Jewish tradition, resonates fullness and blooming. There are 15 individual generations that descend from Abraham to King Solomon which parallel the waxing of the moon towards its fullest reflection of divine light. The Talmud compares us to the moon, having our source of light being God instead of the sun. There are fifteen years that all three of the lives of our forefathers overlapped. We find fifteen steps in the Haggadah that we read on the 15th of the month of Nissan corresponding to the 15 steps in the temple that the Levites would climb while singing 15 Shir Hama’alot; songs of ascension. But how are we meant to see and celebrate this fullness and blooming when the trees outside are barren?
King David praises God in Psalm 30 with an allusion to the month of Shevat. “ארוממך ה’ כי דליתני ולא שמחת איבי לי,” or “I will exalt you Hashem for you have drawn me up and not let my enemies rejoice over me.” The root of the word “דליתני” “to draw” can be understood to come from the word “דלי” meaning bucket, which is the astrological sign for the month of Shevat.