"And when you come into the land and have planted all kinds of trees for food..."
In the Jewish calendar Tu Bishvat is marked as the New Year of trees.
In Israel this festival is celebrated by planting young trees. It is an expression of our connection with our homeland. Although Tu Bishvat has been celebrated for centuries and is an integral part of the Jewish tradition, the custom to plant trees is relatively new. The tradition goes back to the first pioneers who settled in Israel who regarded working the land a great virtue.
Tu Bishvat (the 15th day of the Jewish month Shvat) is dedicated to nature and agriculture. It also marks a season when the trees begin to bloom offering a breathtaking view.
This holiday is an emotional experience when we become more aware of the wonders of God and are reminded that life cannot be taken for granted. We also hope that a cold and dark winter soon will be over and spring with its fresh warm days is just around the corner.
The Talmud states that the reason for choosing Tu Bishvat:
“Up to this point, the trees are sustained by the rainwater of the past year; from this date on they will be sustained by from the rainwater of the coming year."
(Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Rosh HaShana)
In other words, after the trees have received nourishment from the earth, they produce fruits and thereby provide nourishment.
In Israel Tu Bishvat is celebrated by eating fruits and drinking wine, with singing songs and readings of Bible chapters, in which the Land of Israel and its fruits are mentioned. We thank the Lord for His blessings and meditate on specific "Mitzvot," (commandments) which relate to the Land of Israel. For example, in the Torah there is a commandment about eating fruit from the Seven Species. We welcome the New Year of the trees with the blessing "Shehechiyanu" by thanking God for the fruits of the New Year.
By Ora Shapiro
Credit: Jewish National Fund