The winter rains were over, and Spring was blowing her sweet breath across the waking land, whispering encouragement into tender blades of grass and bidding anemones and primroses to unfurl their petals. It was the month of Shvat and time for Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of Trees.
“Mama, I feel so sick,” whimpered Isaac from his pallet on the floor.
Mama laid her hand on Isaac’s hot brow, and he leaned into her soothing touch. His eyes glistened with fever, and his cheeks were flushed and dry.
“You must rest, little one. Sleep will make you strong.
“I want to go to the meadow tomorrow to plant a tree for Tu B’Shvat. What if I’m not better?”
“We will ask Yahweh to take away the sickness and make you well in time for Tu B’Shvat.”
“But, Mama, it’s tomorrow!”
“You think Yahweh cannot heal you by tomorrow? Silly boy! Listen! Give ear to us, Yahweh, the God of Abraham. See Your lamb, my little Isaac. Please heal him. He wants to plant a tree for You on Tu B’Shvat. Thank You, Yahweh!
“There, now you must close your eyes. When you wake up, you can have some soup.”
Comforted, Isaac watched sunbeams and the dappled shadows of new leaves dancing on the floor of the cottage. His eyelids fluttered, and he succumbed to healing sleep.
As Isaac slumbered, Mama contemplated Yahweh’s favour towards her, certain that He would answer her prayer for Isaac’s healing. Hadn’t Yahweh always been faithful? He had blessed her with this precious child who brought brightness and joy into her life. What about her tall husband, his goodness as strong and straight as a date palm? And didn’t Yahweh always reward the labour of their hands with bountiful harvests of dates, olives, and grapes? In return, they had been faithful to Yahweh, always tithing their first fruits, as they had been commanded.
Isaac slept long into the afternoon and was cool when he awoke. With relief, Mama spooned broth into his chapped lips, and he responded with weak smiles. By the next morning, his cheeks were blooming, and his laughter rang out.
“Yahweh heard us! I’m better! I can plant a tree!”
Isaac celebrated by skipping and hopping about, first on one foot, then the other. Mama clapped her hands with delight at his exuberance, silently thanking Yahweh for answering her heart’s cry. Papa joined in, nodding his head indulgently, as he watched the rambunctious antics of his son.
Soon, it was time for the feast of Tu B’Shvat. Mama set out heaping bowls of figs, dates, and grapes. Papa thanked Yahweh for once again preserving their family and for providing fruit for their pleasure and sustenance.
“Papa, when can we go to the meadow?” Pomegranate juice ran in sticky rivulets down Isaac’s chin, and he stuffed yet another fig into his mouth.
“Soon, Isaac. First, we must finish tasting the goodness of Yahweh and His gifts.”
But Isaac insisted, “Let’s go now, Papa!”
“Okay, okay! Let’s take our fruit with us.”
The little family set out for the meadow, Mama with a covered basket, Papa with a bundle of saplings. Isaac ran on ahead, chasing butterflies and stopping to examine interesting stones. Before long, they arrived at the place where the trees would be planted. Papa showed Isaac how to dig the hole and explained how the roots would go deep, getting nourishment from the soil.
“When we eat the fruit of the tree, we are satisfied with holiness drawn from the very land of Israel.”
Isaac nodded somberly at Papa’s words and then continued to dig eagerly. Soon he had a hole large enough for his sapling. Papa held it upright while Isaac carefully pushed dirt around the roots, tamping gently.
After the saplings were planted, Papa, Mama, and Isaac rested on the grass and finished their feast, each one deep in reflection. Papa meditated on abundant harvests to come, Mama dreamed of spring flowers and new life, and Isaac thought about Yahweh, the One who cares about trees and little boys.
Many decades later, Roman workers would hew rough timbers and crossbeams from trees gathered from the countryside. In a far away meadow, a certain tall and sturdy tree would also be sawn down. It would be transplanted into a gruesome forest and watered with the blood and tears of Yahweh’s people.
Mama’s prayer for healing, the healing of all Yahweh’s children, echoes on.
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