We celebrate the fruit and trees on the 15th of Shvat, at a time when there are no fruit or flowers to be seen. Frost (and often snow) is covering the trees, the days are short, nights are long, darkness and despair reign. And yet, with insight, seeing beyond the surface, we know that deep within the tree the sap is rising, preparing the tree for the blooming and blossoming that will occur in the springtime.
It is through realizing that there is going to be growth in the future, that potential will eventually come to fruition, that we celebrate the holiday for the trees. This is the trait of “binah” – the insight that Jewish women are known to have. We need to see beyond the facts and surface reality; we need to see potential and hope for a brighter future. Taking a leadership role means acting upon this vision, affecting change in our communities and in our society, by influencing the people around us to have that same hope and optimism, and help to bring to fruition the dormant potential within each and every one of us.
The first mitzvah the Jewish people ever received as a nation is a mitzvah to celebrate and sanctify the new moon. “This month is the first of the months for you, the first among the months of the year” (Exodus, 12:2). This mitzvah also expresses the need to see beyond the here and now to a brighter tomorrow. When we actually celebrate the first of the month, Rosh Chodesh, the moon itself is barely visible!
“The reason why the Jews count according to the lunar calendar is that the moon is at times completely dark and you don’t see in it any light at all, and yet even at its darkest, we always know that it will soon be light again. And that is specifically when we celebrate Rosh Chodesh.” (Slonimer Rebbe, Netivot Shalom, Parshat Bo)
Interestingly enough, women have a special connection to Rosh Chodesh. They have the custom to avoid certain types of work and celebrate a mini-holiday every Rosh Chodesh, more than men do, as a reward for having refused to contribute their jewelry for the infamous Golden Calf project. (Midrash Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 45).
When the men lost hope, as Moshe delayed in coming down from the Mt. Sinai after 40 days, they immediately scrambled to create an alternative intermediary between God and themselves. The women, however, were able to stay focused on the bigger picture and see beyond the despair of the moment.
Let us utilize this power of seeing beyond the surface and focusing on potential and through that build towards a brighter and better future.