The holiday of Tu B’shavt falls on the 15th of the month of Shvat. And, as most Jewish holidays, there is a message for our use in the physical world as well as an opportunity for Divine connection.
In Torah law, the birthday of the trees – Tu B’shvat – is the indicator for calculating the age of trees. All trees, no matter when they were planted during the year, have their birthday on Tu B’shvat.
The age of the trees is important – both today and in years past – because of tithing. There are twenty-four mitzvot connected to farming that include information on how to run a farm, how to treat the animals, the workers and the land, and how to give to G-d. For the first three years of a tree’s life, one may not take fruit from it. In the fourth year, the fruit is given to G-d.
In the following years, a tithe is given. The Tribe of Levi was assigned to holy duties and was not given a portion of the land in Israel. The Levites received the first tithe – a tenth of all grain and fruit crops. Many Jewish farmers today still give a tenth of their crops.
Our deep respect for the earth and its land comes from G-d. Jewish farming occurs on a 7-year cycle, the seventh year being a “shmitta year” or a year when farmers do not grow anything – giving the land a chance to recuperate and refresh itself.
Tu B’shvat has become a time of the year when Jews focus on ecological issues. This is a fabulous day for Jewish vegetarians and environmentalists. Their work and their beliefs are supported within the Torah, and on Tu B’shvat we are all paying a bit more attention to them. Often times, local communities will host Tu B’shvat festivals filled with rides and games for children, environmental awareness programs and lots of food and fun!
It is a great opportunity to plant a tree in your backyard or donate Tzedakah to a local organization that plants trees, like JNF. Trees – and not just farming - are important within Jewish lore as well. A tree is symbolic of – both – the Torah and of man. The Torah is written of in Proverbs 3:18 “It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it”.
Like a tree, and with the Torah, man has deep roots. The fruit from the tree is often referred to as the mitzvot we carry out. Our potential for growth stretches and reaches similar to the branches of a tree. Tu B’shvat is a great time to think about reaching beyond where we currently are.
Planting trees ensures the future of our children and their children. Not only because they will have food for generations to come but because we can take the opportunity to teach them about caring for G-d’s earth and their role in G-d’s creation.
There is a custom begun by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat from the 1600’s of holding a Tu B’shvat seder. Today many people will eat the seven species of fruits that grow in Israel (wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date) along with a new fruit that has not yet been eaten this year. The eating of the fruit is interspersed with drinking of four cups of wine. Is it a custom that invites us to learn and recite the blessing on fruit and to enjoy eating them with special kavanah or intention. You can find instructions for Tu B’shvat seders by doing a search on the internet.
Tu B’shvat is considered to be a minor holiday in the Jewish year, but the impact of connecting with its deeper meaning can last for years. G-d created man in his own image, and we are partners in Creation with G-d. Tu B’shvat is the perfect time of year to recognize that partnership and to ensure that we are doing what we can to protect our trees, our earth, and the future of generations to come.