This week, most Jewish people ignored the minor holiday of Tu B’Shvat. Unlike the biggies, like Rosh Hashana, Chanukah and Passover, Tu B’Shvat has always occupied a spot on the sidelines, kind of a red-headed step-child kind of holiday.
In part, it’s because it’s a complex festival that has to do with tithing and farming and a lot of technical “arboreal-related” issues. Most of us think of it as some sort of birthday celebration for the trees. Beyond that, we can’t really see the forest.
I would’ve missed the holiday completely this year had it not been for my 11 year-old son, Levi, who came home from school on a mission. It was 4:00 and I was rushing to get ready and get out of the house by 5.
“Mom,” he started in a determined tone that clued me in immediately that I was in for trouble. “I have to go to the grocery store right now.”
“I’ve already gone shopping today,” I assured him. “I’m sure whatever you need can wait till tomorrow.”
“But it can’t,” he bemoaned. “Tomorrow will be too late.”
I explained calmly that no amount of whining would sway me on this issue and sent him on his way. A few minutes later he re-emerged with a grocery list and a very rational request. He had $15 in tow and announced that he was going to pay for his items himself if I would agree to let Gabi, our nanny, take him to the store. He assured me that they would be back in plenty of time to get Eli, his brother, to Karate.
“Levi,” I finally inquired, “What is so important that can’t wait until tomorrow?”
“I’m making a Tu B’Shvat seder and we don’t have all the items I need.”
Now I believe in consistent discipline. I also believe in sticking to my guns. If I say something, I try very hard to follow through with it. But the requested grocery trip had suddenly taken on a new perspective. Sure it was still inconvenient. But why was I sending my boys to Jewish Day School if I wasn’t going to support the important and thoughtful lessons they were learning? I agreed to the bargain, delayed my dinner date and handed Levi a 20 dollar bill.
About an hour later, Levi called the Seder to order. He had set out bountiful platters of pomegranate seeds, nuts, dates and olives. There were avocados and plums, fruits with inedible peels, seeded berries, pitted fruits, and a few Fig Newtons to stand in for wheat, barley and figs. I was taken aback by the beauty and effort involved in creating this meaningful display.
Then Levi taught me about Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees. He explained the significance of eating each of the food items he’d prepared and told me stories of what the holiday meant spiritually as well as literally and religiously. I have to say I was in awe of his expertise and the facility with which he handled the information. We sat together for nearly an hour, me listening to him, reciting prayers, and even asking follow up questions to gain better understanding of his teachings.
It was an unusual opportunity for me to take off my parental hat and see my son for the bright, thoughtful and passionate person he’s becoming. It is truly an honor to be able to step back and appreciate your child for who he is and what he believes in and cares about.
Sure, we’ll still fight about his forgetting to put his dishes in the dishwasher, and his failing to put away his folded laundry as promised. But in between those minor altercations, I’ll try to remember just how amazing this strong, independent young man is, and how grateful I am for all that he brings to our lives.
Happy New Year, trees!