Happy Tu Bishvat

You may not know this, but in a week the trees are celebrating their New Year… yes the trees! Those big, tall, green, fluffy-looking things that are hard and brown in the middle. They would like to have their new year at the same time as the rest of us, but since they have to wait for the rainy season, they start a little later.

Okay, maybe we do the celebrating and the trees just do their “tree thing”, but the Torah does say that “Man is a tree of the field.” Our roots nurture and support us as they go down through the ages and, at the same time, we reach heavenward, bearing the fruit of righteousness.

Tu Bishvat is not mentioned in the Bible and is therefore believed to have sprung from some kind of agricultural festival. Harvest festivals are common all over the world, but Tu Bishvat is peculiar to the Holy Land. So if it’s still cold and bleak where you are, and the trees don’t seem to be celebrating, rest assured, they are starting to explode with color in Israel.

For many people today, it is a day to appreciate nature and the environment, a day of renewal and revival. Kibbutzniks, on the other hand, and other agricultural workers, celebrate Tu Bishvat as an agricultural holiday.

Because it marks the beginning of the fruit crops in Israel, many traditional celebrations revolve around fruit. The following seven crops mentioned in the Bible have found their way into the traditional Tu Bishvat snack menu: dates, wheat, olives, barley, figs, grapes and pomegranates. Some celebrate by having a Tu Bishvat Seder, a meal that follows a set order, similar to the Passover.

In 1890, Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz and his students spent Tu Bishvat planting trees and a tradition was born. Today, the Jewish National Fund organizes major tree-planting events involving over a million Israelis. No wonder Tu Bishvat is often called “Israeli Arbor Day” by non-Jews.

Originally, the day was called Ḥamisha Asar Bishvat, which literally means Fifteenth of Shevat, the date of the holiday. The name Tu Bishvat also implies the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, but it is a little more subtle. The English letters in “Tu” stand for the Hebrew letters Tet and Vav, which have a numerical value of 9 and 6 respectively, adding up to 15. The change from the slightly more cumbersome Ḥamisha Asar Bishvat to Tu Bishvat is relatively recent.

What can you do on this day? Many Institutions in Israel choose this day for their inauguration because it is a day of new beginnings. However, if you don’t happen to have an institution that needs inaugurating, eat some fruit, plant a tree. Eat all kinds of traditional fruits from Israel: olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates, and plant lots of trees, make a day of it. Have a picnic and enjoy nature. There is no official procedure for the day, and there is likewise, no specific greeting.

So on that note,

Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday)

 

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