Tu B’Shvat: Exploring ‘Potential’ within the Miracle of Nature

Potential is probably one of my least favorite words. It was used excessively in my report cards as a child; it’s a noun that disguises itself as an adjective, and vice versa; it confused me most in Physics class when the teacher tried to introduce us to “electric potential.” As the Poet says, “Potential – you’re a loaded lie [1].” Haven’t we all, at some point or another, fallen victim to someone’s potential, and came out looking like fools?

Last week, I got to visit the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens with a friend, and we were basically the only visitors because it was raining. Nearly every tree was bare, a skeleton, and most of the plants were a mere echo of their full form. The flowers that remained bowed submissively to the tyrannical winter, and some of the plant identification markers pointed to, well, nothing at all. We were absolutely surrounded by the earth’s amazing and Godly potential. It was beautiful.

Potential can be defined as the “possibility” or “capacity” to succeed, but that doesn’t sit well with me. I want it to mean “promise.” I don’t believe in the mere possibility that the trees will bear fruit again; rather, I know it to be the truth. Who knows, perhaps if my elementary school teachers had regarded me with this level of certainty, I’d have realized my so-called potential. Just as with plants, every person has a nekudah tova [2], a point of purity and light, and the potential hidden within that point is not that of “possibility,” but of Godliness, of promise and of certainty.

I recently finished reading a terrific novel, and one sweet sentence stayed with me, like a cat following a stranger through the alleyways of Nachlaot. This sentence struck me as being eerily relevant to our situation today in the Land of Israel, and I took a moment to pray on it. Here it is: “What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it… the possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed [3].” Perhaps Tu B’Shvat is about faith in that which seems completely impossible, in the revival of that which appears to have died.

It is the earth itself that teaches us about hope, about how inevitable growth is. In the deepest depths of wintertime, when the plants look deceased, hopeless, non-existent, we celebrate the New Year of the Trees. We celebrate our perseverance, our refusal to give up hope in the trees, in one another, in a peaceful and better future on this Land.

We designate one day a year to genuinely and profoundly believe in one another’s Godliness, in ourselves, in our bountiful and inexhaustible Mother Earth. And we take a day to focus on mitzvot sh’bein Adam l’Admato/a, acts of kindness toward our planet. Because we know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that winter will be followed by spring, and this isn’t a mere possibility but a promise.

[1] Conor and the Mystic Valley Band, Slowly (Oh So Slowly). The actual lyrics are “Potential- you’re a loaded line,” but I like my version better.

[2] Rabbi Nachman of Breslev, Likutei Moharan, Section I, Torah 282, “Azamra

[3] Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

About the Author
Shira is a non-angry feminist living in Jerusalem. She loves red wine, good books, unpopular music, and Shir Ha'Shirim.
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