Today is the 15th of Shvat, known as Tu B’Shvat, and it is the “birthday of the trees”. I refer you to past posts of mine to learn about the beautiful minor festival. Here is a short excerpt:
The tree most associated with Tu B’Shvat is the almond tree, in Hebrew the Shkedi’a (שקדיה), which blossoms on or around that date. The letters forming the root of the word – ש-ק-ד – mean “early”, indicating that the almond tree is the earliest one to blossom. “My” almond tree across the road indeed blossoms faithfully every year on Tu B’Shvat, sometimes seemingly overnight. It really is miraculous how the tree bursts into blossom literally overnight. I get such a kick from seeing it. 🙂 (
However with Tu B’Shvat falling earlier in the civil calendar this year, the tree has not yet blossomed). Update: my almond tree indeed blossomed overnight!
The halachic (legal) importance of the day was to know from which date to start counting in order to calculate when to give tithes, for example – different tithes are given in different days in a 7 year cycle, ending with the Shmita (fallow) year. Tu B’Shvat is used as the date for calculating the age of trees, especially fruit trees, and other plants in order to know when it is permissible to eat of their fruits, and for tithing purposes.
In Jewish tradition the day is a minor holiday, with no special rules and regulations and was almost unmarked in olden times since the Jewish people were expelled from the land of Israel into the Diaspora, around the year 70 CE. However, with the growth of Zionism and the re-establishment of a Jewish settlement in Israel, first under the Ottomans, and later under the British Mandate, the early Jewish pioneers decided to adopt Tu B’Shvat as a symbol of the renewal of the physical (as well as spiritual) reconnection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Equally as important, the day symbolized the creation of the “New Jew”, one who worked the land, farmed and produced his own crops and fruits.
One of the customs of Tu Bishvat, even in olden times in the Diaspora, is to eat either the 7 species of produce native to Israel, or to eat 15 different kinds of fruit to represent the 15th day of Shvat. The “shivat haminim” are listed in the Torah, Deuteronomy 8 v. 7-8:
כי ה’ אלוקיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה ארץ נחלי מים עינות ותהומות יוצאים בבקעה ובהר. ארץ חיטה ושעורה וגפן ותאנה ורימון ארץ זית שמן ודבש.
For the L-rd your –d is bringing you to a good land, a land of rivers of water, fountains and deep wells coming out of the valley and mountain. A land of wheat and barley, and the vine and fig and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and honey (dates).
Around this verse another tradition has been reintroduced: the Tu Bishvat Seder. This tradition started with the growth and development of Kabala and is slowly gaining popularity, especially in Israel.
Tu B’Shvat commemorates another important date – it is the birthday of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. The first elections to the Knesset were held on Tu B’shvat.
The most popular way of celebrating Tu B’shvat in Israel today is by planting trees, and usually ceremonies are held all over country, particularly by young children. I’m sure we shall be bombarded with pictures of our grandchildren at various planting activities around the country today – and I love it!
As I wrote above about the meaning and root of the word Shkedia, and the Shaked (almond) that it bears, I thought it appropriate to share this cute picture of our own little Shaked celebrating Tu B’Shvat at her day care center. ❤
The Israeli journalist and inspirational commentator Sivan Rahav Meir has written a beautiful, poignant post for Tu B’Shvat:
Here is the transcript for those who cannot read the Facebook post:
Tonight is Tu B’Shvat. Before we start with all the jokes about the fruits being from Turkey, here is one short text that puts things in perspective. It was written by Chaim Yoavi Rabinovitch, about celebrating Tu B’Shvat on Polish soil: “I was a 6 year old boy, and the communist government had just completely closed the gates to Eretz Yisrael. On Tu B’Shvat eve, the Jewish Community managed to get a box of oranges from Eretz Yisrael and the oranges were not cheap. One snowy evening, my father Z”L returned from work and decided to take me with him to purchase the longed-for orange. When we returned home, we put the orange in a big bowl, that was placed in the center of the table. The Jewish neighbors came to look at the orange from Eretz Yisrael, and I was beaming with pride. I invited my friends home, to show them the ‘orange from Eretz Yisrael’. On Tu B’Shvat eve we sat at home around the table for a festive family meal. Father blessed ‘Boreh Pri HaEtz’ and ‘SheHecheyanu’, and then did something that should never be done. He took a knife and cut the orange from Eretz Yisrael. And I, a small Jewish boy, burst out crying. How could you cut the only orange from Eretz Yisrael, in which I was so proud? My father also added the prayer that was customary in the Diaspora on the night of Tu B’Shvat: “May it be Your will, G-d our Lord and the Lord of our forefathers, that you should take us joyfully up to our Land, to eat of its fruit and to be satiated with its goodness.’ I remember that my mother burst out crying then. So big were the longings to leave Exile.
I found comfort in the orange peels, which I kept in a special cardboard box. The peels began to rot, but I guarded them very carefully. A few months later, using bribery, we got the long-sought-after permit to leave Poland, where our family had lived for 800 years. I wanted to take with me the orange peels from Tu B’Shvat, but Mother explained to me that in Eretz Yisrael we would have many oranges, so the skins remained on Poland’s defiled land. If I have immense love for my forefathers’ land today and to its landscapes, and if not once I have risked my life for it, the origin of it all is probably also in that orange from Eretz Yisrael”
This is the intense love for Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, that all we Jews and Zionists feel, which is so outrageously misinterpreted by those who hate us.
Let us feel the love, for the Land, for the trees, for the people and for our Torah.
Happy Birthday Trees!