A little over a month ago, I lost my necklace. I had worn that necklace day in and day out since my high school graduation. Yet, one Saturday morning, as I went to put it on, I realized it was nowhere to be found. I looked under the bed, under the dresser, in my nightstand. I looked everywhere and could not find it. After coming home from synagogue, I looked again in all the same places. Still, I could not find it. I was convinced that somehow it had fallen off at some point, or worse somehow ended up in the garbage.
That was until my older daughter was finding every excuse to be with me as I got ready for Shabbat services one Saturday morning, and started going through my nightstand. She opened the drawer and exclaimed that she had found my missing necklace. There it was, in the drawer that I had looked through no fewer than half a dozen times! I was thrilled to have my necklace. More than that, my daughter reminded me, that sometimes it takes an extra set of eyes, or fresh eyes, to see things that you did not see before. This helps the hidden become unhidden.
These next two months are about the hidden becoming unhidden. They are about looking twice or even ten times and finally seeing what is truly there. On the fifteenth of Shevat (beginning on the evening of January 31st), we will celebrate Tu B’Shevat, which is often referred to as the birthday of the trees. We know that the name of the holiday comes from the fact that it falls on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat. In Jewish practice, the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet take on numerical value, which is known as gematria. Alef equals one, Bet two and so forth. Yud is ten and Hey is five. It would seem then that the holiday would be called Yahh B’Shevat. However, Yahh (Yud and Hey together) is one of the many names for God. Appropriately, the rabbis avoided using God’s name outside of the realm of prayer, including when adding numerical values to letters. Noting that you can reach fifteen by adding nine and six together, Tet (9) and Vav (6), became the letters associated with fifteen, making the Tu for Tu B’Shevat. And thus, God’s name becomes hidden below the surface through this numerical trick.
Looking below the surface is not only necessary in the name of the holiday but in the essence of it as well. It is the heart of winter for us in Bergen County when we celebrate this holiday. It is still the middle of the winter in Israel too. The rainy season is nearing the end, but there are still many weeks until spring. Yet, below the very wet soil in Israel and the snow here in NJ, the trees and vegetation are preparing for the rebirth of spring. Below the surface, the flowers and crops are preparing to emerge in a few months. If you look deep enough, you can catch a glimmer of this. It might take looking more than a few times to spot the first signs of the trees budding (especially in Israel), but look again, and you will see it.
We are reminded on Tu B’Shevat to look once, look again, clear away the frost from the winter, and we might just see what has been there the whole time. Perhaps that is why Tu B’Shevat occurs one month before Purim. We will begin celebrating Purim on the evening of February 28th with the reading of Megillat Esther. If you read through the Book of Esther you will notice that God’s name never appears in the book explicitly. However, there are a few allusions to God throughout the megillah –if you look close enough. Perhaps it might take looking at the text one time or half a dozen times until you come to appreciate it, but it is there!
Just keep looking or ask a family member to help you look, and you might just find what you have been looking for the whole time!