Tu b’Shvat

Happy Birthday, All You Trees Out There!

Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees is upon us! “Tu” comes from the Hebrew letters tet and vav since this is the numerical equivalent of 15. This year, 5766-2006, it falls on February 13th. This is Jewish tradition according to the House of Hillel. Shammai picked an earlier time as most of his followers lived on the coastal plain rather than the high drier areas. The date picked was counted from the time the trees stopped absorbing water from the ground and began to draw nourishment from their sap. This day then becomes the “birthday” of the tree. The 15th of the month of Shevat is the day the sap begins to rise in the trees, signaling the earth’s awakening from its winter slumber. Toward the end of the month, the rains will have tapered off and the first signs of spring appear! Trees begin to show their leaves again and the first tree to bloom is the Almond Tree, a symbol of the Messiah. It is called “The Awakening Tree”. All Israel waits for this sign.

A favorite saying of mine is this:
by Nikos Kisantsakis

I said to the Almond Tree,
“Sister, speak to me of God.”
And the Almond Tree blossomed!

The countryside now becomes a carpet of wildflowers – anemones, daffodils and primrose. Remember – this is Israeli time! Snow covers much of the western world now and spring seems far away here but when you love something you want to identify with it, know what is happening to it and try to be a part of it as best you can. Jews all over the world remember this day with great love for Israel

Tu B’Shevat is a time to celebrate the earth’s cyclical renewal. It’s a good time to contemplate our personal relationship to the environment – God did place man as caretaker of the earth and we have a responsibility to do our best. We are to worship the Creator and not the creation but we should take very good care of it.

“For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people.” Isaiah 65:22

This day is also dedicated to the praises of the Land of Israel. It is one of joy because the Land begins to bring forth the harvest, produce its fruit and reveal its splendor. The Land of Israel is singled out as being a “good land” because of the fruits of its trees, as it is written:

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of rivers and springs … a land of wheat and barley, and grapevines and figs and pomegranates; a land laden with olives and (date) honey.”

Deuteronomy 8: 7-8

The Land of Israel is blessed with five fruits and two kinds of grain. When the people eat of these and taste their goodness and say the blessings to God for them, then they recall the Source of this bounty and their eyes turn to God as they remember this verse:

“… and you shall eat and be satisfied and bless the
Lord your God on the good land that He has given you.”
Deut.8:10

Jews pray this prayer after meals.

Eating the Fruits

The general custom is to first say the blessing over fruit:

“Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech haolam, boreh p’ri ha etz.”
“Blessed art Thou O Lord, King of the universe, who brings forth the fruit of the tree.”

And then the “SHEHECHIANU” (my favorite) the blessing said for every new and special event:

“Baruch atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech haolam,
shehechianu, v’kimanu, v’higiyanu, lazman hazeh.”
“Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the universe,
who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this
special occasion.”

Some people eat each of the seven foods. Others try to eat of all the fruits grown in the Land, oranges, apples, bananas, carobs, almonds, etc. Jams and preserves are often eaten on this day – some made from the very fruits that were planted on Tu B’Shevat many years earlier!

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat – the New Year for Trees – symbolizes more than just a birthday or an Arbor Day (day of tree-planting). Trees have more importance beyond their beauty and utility. They are a picture of growth, renewal and the continuity of life. In ancient times, this day was an important milestone in their society. While it is not biblically mandated, as such, (see Leviticus 19:23-25. the first mention of this day is found in the Talmud – Rosh Hashanah 1:1 where it says there are four New Year days. First of Nissan, the New Year for kings and the festivals; First of Elul, for the tithing of animals; First of Tishrei, New Year’s Day for the counting of the years, the Sabbatical year (shemittah) and the Jubilee (50 years); and First of Shevat, the New Year for Trees (so says Shammai – Hillel says the Fifteenth and we follow him.) [Lev. 19:23-25 gives necessity for tree birthdays]

Trees were so important in Israel that when some conquerors were in power, they taxed landowners for every tree on their property. Consequently, many trees were cut down, climatical changes took place and the land went to ruin. One of the things the Israelis have done is to replant their nation with trees. School children take very seriously their job of planting trees every year on this date. Here’s a quote from Arutz-7 news Friday, February 6, 1998 “Tens of thousands of saplings will be distributed to the residents of Tel Aviv next week….in honor of Tu B’Shevat. Also 11,000 eucalyptus trees will be planted to replenish nectar supply for bees. There are currently 70,000 beehives in Israel each producing about 88 pounds of honey.” Trees will be planted all over the country. Several organizations have plans in effect to have a tree or many trees planted for people in other countries who cannot come and plant their own. The Jewish National Fund does this and Bridges for Peace, a Christian organization does also. They will have a tree planted in honor or in memory of someone and send a nice looking certificate to you for about $18.00. You can reach these people on the internet, a local synagogue – or me. You’ll love it! We have six trees there already.

Much of this information comes to you from internet – Virtual Jerusalem. Look ‘em up!

See you next time!
Shalom, Sharaka

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