May 2, 2017

We are now in the middle of the winter season which is usually quite cold and dreary, with an often cloudy miserable grey sky. Not exactly inspiring! In fact, some people feel low during this time of year and this mental state has even been named S.A.D. - Seasonal Affective Disorder. We are all influenced by the weather.  So how can we keep upbeat during the winter blues?

The famous Chassidic teacher, the Shem Mishmuel, teaches us that the Jewish calendar and its festivals are very much connected to the seasons of nature. What's happening in nature and the physical world mirror what's happening in the spiritual world.

If we look at the physical world at this time of year things look pretty bleak. Apart from the short winter days and long winter nights, the squirrels and hedgehogs are in hibernation, and the bare trees are without any sign of leaves, blossom or fruit. Not much seems to be happening!

What does this all mean spiritually?

Our Sages teach us that the world is made of two parts: the external revealed world (chitzonios) and the internal hidden world (p’nimis). And, even if on the surface there doesn't seem to be much happening, behind the scenes there's a lot going on.

The upcoming mini-festival is Tu B’Shevat – the New Year for Trees (this year on Wednesday night 15 January). It’s relatively unknown however its message is significant.

The famous commentator Rashi tells us[1] that the sap in the tree starts to rise and soon the blossom will begin to flower. This is the first step of growth. We may not be able to see anything externally but internally things are happening, and soon the beautiful blossom of the spring will be upon us.

Spiritually too this is the beginning of a new cycle of spiritual growth. Changes are happening behind the scenes and the kabbalists suggest that we focus on our inner world, on the hidden parts of our personality. Since nobody else really knows about this part of our personality we often neglect it. If a person has an anger problem and doesn't control his behaviour externally this will have damaging consequences on his relationships. However if he has inner anger and is able to pretend to control it, nobody will know it exists and as a consequence he will not be put in a situation to develop this facet of his personality.  In addition the negativity is still there, eating away at his soul. As King Solomon, the wisest of all men, writes[2] "Remove anger from your heart" - not just externally, even from your heart. The same is with jealousy or hatred. The Torah tells us[3] "You should not hate your brother in your heart" meaning even in your heart.

There are many statistics that demonstrate how our inner world, our inner feelings, emotions and character traits have an effect on our physical health. Worry and stress are the main causes for many physical illnesses such us stomach ulcers, heart and kidney disease, insomnia, high blood pressure and many other illnesses[4]. Dale Carnegie in "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" quotes a medical opinion that 70% of all patients could cure themselves if they would minimize inner stress and stop worrying.

The inner hidden part of our personality is our true essence, who we really are. The Torah shows us how to work with every part of our personality in order to elevate ourselves to a life of greater inner peace. So, make the most out of Winter.

Rabbi Reuven Stepsky

[1] Talmud Rosh Hashana 14a
[2] Kohelet 11:10
[3] Vayikra 19:17
[4] Book of the Human body p.392 quoting Dr Hans Selye, University of Montreal

TAGS for this article: Tu B'shevat | Fruit | Winter | Character Development