Trees and Change: What Lesson Can We Learn From Shevat

The Power of Shevat

Most people don’t have a life-changing “aha” moment. That romanticized moment when everything clicks and you are a changed person from then on, rarely, if ever happens. Change is slow. It’s tedious.

Yet the internet is brimming with before and after pictures and stories of successful people all from making just one simple change. Sounds too good to be true!  People are pulled into the fairy tale of results only to be disappointed when they can’t achieve the same results. How many times have you clicked on that success story, hoping maybe one day you too can have that same success? That promise of easy success is so ever enticing yet always disappointing. That dream of change lingering in the far-off distance only to remain as just a dream.

If the internet stories don’t have the key to success, who does? If there’s no “aha” moment and there is no easy step, how does change really happen?

Understanding some of the energies at play during this cold wintry month of Shevat can give light on the process of change. Shevat is known as the month of renewal. The mazol of the month is Aquarius, a water bearer. The word Shevat means lashes, referring to the heavy rains during the month of Shevat. Water is a strong theme in the month of Shevat. 

What is the importance of water?

In Parshas Devarim, Moshe compares Torah to water, as written, “My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation/herb, and like raindrops on grass.” (Devarim 32:2) Torah is like water. It nourishes. It promotes growth. Torah is knowledge, life lessons, and a specific pathway to living a meaningful life. So it seems that water, Torah, is a valuable tool in this month of renewal.

But of course, it’s not that simple. Have you ever read a truly inspiring book, leaving you ready to change, only to find it put back on the shelf a few weeks later, collecting dust with minimal change in your actual day-to-day life?

Knowledge can’t be the only ingredient for change.

So what are the other ingredients for change?

Delving deeper into the moments of Shevat can help us understand what else goes into the process of change. On the 15th day of Shevat, we celebrate the new year for trees, Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat comes in the dead of winter. It is clearly not the height of a tree’s life cycle. From the outside, this stage of a tree’s life seems very dim and depressing. The tree is empty and lifeless. If I were to choose the best time to celebrate the life of a tree, I would choose any other season; spring when the leaves are first budding, summer when there is an abundance of fruit ready to be picked from the tree’s branches, or even autumn, my personal favorite, when the trees become vibrant with color. Any season other than winter would certainly be more fitting.

Yet the dead of winter is precisely the moment when a tree begins to change. All the old leaves have fallen off the branches. The days begin to get longer, more sunlight bringing a little more warmth so that the sap can begin to flow through the tree. Heavy rains or snow brings the nourishment needed for growth. With water and sun, the sap can begin to flow through the tree causing life to begin again. From this very moment, underground, not visible to any onlooker, the tree begins the process of growth and rebirth.

From the change a tree undergoes in the dead of winter, we begin to understand a little about the process of change in ourselves.

Lessons from a tree

Step 1: Letting go

Like a tree, our change can only begin when we have fully let go. Change is impossible when we fill our minds with negative thoughts.

“I’m not good enough to do...”
“I’ll never succeed.”
“I’ve tried so many times and failed.”
“It’s just my personality.”
“I’ve already eaten one cookie, I might as well eat the entire box.”
“I don’t have time to Daven.”

Sound familiar?

These negative thoughts fuel negative behavior which in turn makes it very hard to break bad habits. So like a tree, letting go of our negative thoughts is the first step to true change.

Step 2: Knowledge

Knowledge is power. Knowledge is like the nutrients the tree takes from sunlight and rain. It’s the building blocks that help us change. Luckily there is no shortage of information nowadays. A multitude of Torah classes are posted
daily. From Torah Anytime to random influencers posting Torah thoughts on Instagram. Self-help books are exploding off the shelves in bookstores written by experts in the field of change. In recent years the amount of self-help books on the market has nearly tripled. Knowledge is at our fingertips. Soak it in like the trees soaking in the heavy rains of Shevat.

But like we said earlier, knowledge unused will just collect dust on a shelf.

Step 3: Work

This is the hard part. This is the time when the tree spends weeks and even months taking all the nutrients and using them to slowly grow new leaves and flowers and eventually fruit that over time ripens to perfection. Take the knowledge and put it to work.

This is the time when you reach for your child in the midst of a tantrum to give them a hug and love when all you really want to do is yell “Stop!”.

This is the time when you set your morning alarm 15 minutes earlier so you can spend much-needed time in Hitbodedut with your creator.

This is the time that you eat just one cookie because you know you haven’t ruined anything and you don’t need to eat the box.

This is the time that you put all the knowledge that you have gathered to work.

Step 4: Focus

I’ve read countless self-growth books over the years, working on a multitude of areas for growth. Never once have I finished a book and felt instantly changed. As we know, change takes work. Lots of it. But it also takes focus.

Over the years, the knowledge I have accrued from each of these books has helped shape me into a better person. Each time I pick up a book on self-growth I am refocusing on my goal of becoming better and changing. Every time I learn Torah I am refocusing on what matters and how I ultimately want to live my life. Day in and day out, refocusing on our goals is the sap that is nourishing the change in our lives. Over time, ever so subtly. Every bud that grows and flower
that bloom is a result of continued refocusing on the goal.

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that focusing on your why and goal is every weight loss coach’s slogan for success. But there is truth in the importance of focusing on your goal and why you are doing something. The tree knows exactly what it needs to do. There is no wavering for the tree. It knows its ultimate goal is to produce fruit. Every step of the process is leading up to
that ultimate goal. Just like the tree, knowing our goal helps propel us to growth and change. Every bud that grows and flower that blooms is a result of continued refocusing on that goal.

Step 5: Repeat

Like the life of a tree, our lives are always changing. New challenges and circumstances pop up. We find once we have succeeded with one challenge, another is on the horizon. We will never fully arrive and we will never finish growing. That is the dance we call life. Goals will be met and fruit will grow and be enjoyed but we must always have to start the cycle over. 

Another New Year

It’s no coincidence that there is another new year that we celebrate in the month of Shevat. On the first day of Shevat, Moshe Rabbeinu began to review the Torah with the Jewish nation. This month is known as the New Year for the study of Torah. During this month we have a chance for a renewed spark in learning Torah. A refocus, if you will, on what’s important. May this month of Shevat be filled with a renewed spark for learning Torah and focusing on your goals so that the buds of change can be seen in the months to come.

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