The 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat is the New Year of the Trees. This holiday originated in the Mishna, which designated Tu B’Shvat as the date when the agricultural cycle began or ended for the purpose of biblical tithes. It was the cut-off date in the Hebrew calendar for calculating the age of a fruit-bearing tree. I know, it’s origins are not so exciting, but Tu B’Shvat gained new meaning and significance with the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
The Chalutzim, Zionist pioneers who came to Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century were a tenacious bunch. They had energy and resolve to accompany their vision. They planted cedar trees where none had grown for 2000 years; imported eucalyptus trees from Australia to drain the swamps; worked incredibly hard and in many cases gave their lives to do what no one thought could be done – they brought a land that was considered dead and gone back to life.
The spirit of those chalutzim is alive and well in Israel today. During Shvat heavy rains fall, and the slopes of hills and mountains stream with water. The rains mark the end of the winter and the beginning of spring. By the middle of the month, they taper off and the signs of spring begin to appear. The fields sprout green, and flowers of every color carpet the earth. The first tree to blossom is the Shkediya, the almond tree. Soon after, other trees begin to bloom. It is traditional for school children in Israel to go on field trips to plant trees. People around the world participate in this mitzvah by buying trees in Israel through the JNF. Another wonderful Tu B’Shvat tradition instituted by the great 16th c. kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria is to celebrate a seder on the holiday, eating 10 different fruits and drinking four cups of wine. This is a custom that has gained in popularity both in Israel and the diaspora.
Tu B’Shvat has become popular with environmentalists who encourage us to be responsible stewards of the earth. A famous Talmudic tale often told at Tu B’Shvat observances tells of Rabbi Honi who comes across an old man planting a carob tree. When he asked why the man was planting a tree that would not yield fruit in his lifetime, the man replied that just as his father and grandfather planted trees that benefited him, so too he was planting this tree for future generations.
I have a selection of Tu B’Shvat songs on our website for your enjoyment. I will also be conducting a Tu B’Shvat Seder at the JCC on February 7 at noon which you’re all invited to attend. My thanks to Barbara Sugarman for arranging these seders each year – check with her for more details.
I’m excited to announce that we’re getting the band back together! The Shira group will be enhancing our services once again starting on Shabbat Hagadol (April 1) as we get spiritually warmed up for Passover. Our first practice will be Wednesday, February 1 at 6:30 PM in the Sanctuary. We always welcome new members, so if you like to sing and want to help us bring joy into our services, contact me or the office to sign up!