A snow day! What could be more inspiring than witnessing the beauty of falling snow from the warmth and comfort of your home? While I marvel at the majesty of it all, I reflect on this week's Torah portion, B'shalach, from the book of Exodus, which describes the Israelites' journey from Egypt to the inhospitable Sinai desert. The Israelites' rejoicing at their newfound freedom doesn't last long. They soon begin to experience the pain and discomfort of hunger. Unable to feed themselves, they are forced to rely on divine intervention in the form of manna.
But why not send regular food? We are taught that G-d felt that mortal food was not sufficient to truly satisfy the Israelites. They needed a special food that would nourish both their bodies and their souls.
In a sense, we still receive special nourishment today. At our Shabbat tables we bless two loaves of challah. One loaf reminds us of our physical sustenance as we recite the prayer, "who brings forth bread from the earth." The other loaf represents spiritual sustenance, "food from heaven." This tradition reminds us that we are only whole when we feed both our bodies and our minds, no matter what form our spiritual journeys may take.
How ironic that tonight is also the beginning of Tu BiSh'vat, our "New Year" for trees, a time marking the beginning of spring (forget about the snow outside!) and our connection to the life-sustaining land. Tu BiSh'vat focuses our attention on renewal, growth and continuity. Like the challahs on our Shabbat table, trees nourish us in many ways. In addition to providing fruit that feeds us, shade that protects us and wood to house us, trees help us recognize the wonder and beauty of the natural world. In a more figurative sense, trees also remind us of our roots, our values and our obligations. Our Torah itself is called "a tree of life to all who grasp it" (Proverbs 3:18).
May this Shabbat fill us with delicious food and soulful experiences so that we are not only satisfied but filled to the brim, physically and spiritually. And while we may not be able to plant a tree for Tu BiSh'vat this weekend, let us marvel at the beauty and strength of trees and our Tree of Life.
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