The holiday of Tu b'Shevat (the 15th day of the month of Shevat), which is Israel's Arbor Day, has gained more popularity and acceptance over the years as one to be observed with more than a tree planting, even though that is extemely important. Did you know that Israel was the only country to finish the twentieth century with more trees than it started with? (From The Daily, University of Washington, 2002):
Israel is a rebirth. It is the realization of the age-old dream of the Jewish people to return to the land of our origin, the land in which our nation was formed, the land from which we were exiled and kept out for 2,000 years. For 2,000 years, we did not forget - three times a day, observant Jews everywhere pray for rain in the right season in the land of Israel. Every major Jewish festival ends with the words: “… Next year in Jerusalem.”
In this rebirth, the people of Israel resurrected the ancient Hebrew language. Once confined to prayer and holy texts alone, 5 million people speak it today. And in this spirit, the Israeli and Jewish people began a tradition of planting trees, in order to restore ancient forests and make the desert bloom. As a result, Israel is the only country to finish the 20th century with more trees than it began with.
Tu b'Shevat is brought down from the Mishna as one of four "New Years" in the Jewish calendar, it being the New Year for the Trees. The Rishonim indicated that this day should be treated as a chag (holiday) to be observed, because it was one of the four New Years. The original purpose of Tu b'Shevat was for calculating the age of trees for tithing, as it is written in the Torah (in the book of VaYikra=Leviticus, 19:23-25) that it is forbidden to eat the fruit of a fruit tree for the first three years, the fruit of the fourth years is for G-d, but the fruit of the following years may be eaten.
Trees have great significance in Judaism, starting with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden). The righteous are compared to date-palm trees, and we are not permitted to destroy trees which bear fruit.
It is customary on Tu b'Shevat to eat fruit and food for which Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is known, such as the "seven species" (shiv'at ha-minim), which include wheat, barley, fruit of the vine (grapes), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.
Tu b'Shevat also acts as the cut-off between one year and the next, as in Israel, most of the rains for that year have already fallen. The sap is rising in the trees, the sh'kediyah (almond tree) is starting to blossom, and we feel the season begin to change...Tu b'Shevat is the harbinger of spring...
For years now our family had celebrated the chag with the optional "Tu b'Shevat seder", something like a Passover Seder, in that it is an organized, orderly way of expressing the connection between the spiritual and physical, through the blessings upon and eating of the various foods of the land of Israel; we also read appropriate passages of the Torah pertaining to the different foods--and, of course--singing songs relating to the holiday.
Last year, we didn't do one-our kids weren't here, and I just didn't have the cheshek. This year, our kids still aren't here, but D.H. was working all day at the computer on researching and creating our own Seder, so although it will be just for us.
In our current financial situation, we can't really afford to buy a lot of food for guests, I've been recovering all week since we returned from the Shabbaton from aching knees, and I've had a really bad ache in my upper back for two days now (no idea what this is)--and I'm still mourning the loss of my friend's mother, my friend as well, who passed away just at candlelighting on Friday. In short, I'm just not in the frame of mind for a full-blown Tu b'Shevat seder with guests. Instead, I'll think we'll do a low-key seder tonight, (Tu b'Shevat falls this year on Shabbat).
Tj b'Shevat sameach to all (and thank you, Jacob, for all the Tu b'Shevat resources). . .
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