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Tu B'Shvat
Reflections on Tu B’Shvat during a Shmita Year Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Yesterday, we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth day of the month of Shvat, the New Year of the Trees. Usually Tu B’Shvat is the day when the Israeli youth groups go out on field trips and plant trees. This year is a Shmita (Sabbatical) year where planting in the Land of Israel is forbidden so the children did not plant trees. However, the youth groups still found a way to plan Tu B’Shvat trips so that the children would have an opportunity to build a deeper connection to the Land of Israel as well as have an excuse to skip a day of school.

I was busy conducting a Tu B’Shvat seder, a tradition that was initiated by the Kabbalists in Tsfat in the 16th century, for the elderly residents of Jerusalem. We ate the seven species of the Land of Israel and learned about their significance in the Tanach, Midrash and Talmud. We sampled fifteen types of fruits and nuts, drank grape and pomegranate juices and a guitarist led us in songs connected with nature. While driving home I listened to the top of the hour news on the radio and was surprised that some of the news stories related to Tu B’Shvat.

One piece of news was that the rabbis warned the nursery and kindergarten teachers to be careful while serving dried fruit as it is a choking hazard for kids under the age of five.

In other news the Bayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party was caught giving out dried fruit violating the election laws which state that campaigning “cannot be connected to giving out food and drink.”

When I had a chance to take a look at the Hebrew newspaper, Yediot Achronot I was surprised to see President Rubi Rivlin conducting the first Tu B’Shvat seder ever to take place at the president’s residence.

This year there were some interesting innovations that were introduced:

Ben & Jerry’s is producing a limited edition special flavor of ice cream in honor of Tu B’Shvat called To B Nuts made up of vanilla ice cream, different types of nuts and chocolate.

Community centers all over Israel have arranged activities and trips with a focus on appreciating nature, ecology and recycling as part of a series of environmental activities that have been taking place throughout the Shmita year.

It is clear that Tu B’Shvat is still very much celebrated even during a Shmita year.

The fact that it is a Shmita year actually makes us more agriculturally aware all year long as opposed to on just one day. On a daily basis, we are investigating how, where and when all of our fruits and vegetables were grown before we buy them. After we eat fruits and vegetables that have Kdushat Shviit (holiness of the seventh year), we must be careful how we dispose of the parts that are wasted as it would not be respectful to put them in the regular garbage can.

The Shmita year in some ways actually feels like a year long Tu B’Shvat. Now if we could only get Ben & Jerry’s to keep the Tu B’Shvat flavor all year long!

 

 
Tu B’Shvat- The New Year of the Trees Print E-mail
Friday, 29 January 2010

 

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The first Mishna in Rosh HaShana teaches that there are four new years:

1st of Nisan: The New Year for kings and festivals

1st of Elul: The New Year for the tithe of animals

1st of Tishrei: The New Year for Shmitin and Yovalot, for the planting of the vegetables

 

So far, three out of the four new years are on the first of the month.

 

What about the New Year for the trees?

 

Beit Shammai says: The1st of Shvat

Beit Hillel says: The15th of Shvat

 

As usual, we follow the ruling of Beit Hillel. However, what is the reason why we would celebrate a new year in the middle of the month?

 

According to the Meiri, the 15th of Shvat is the median date between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, since half of this period has already passed, the winter has abated and the cold has diminished and the formation of the fruits accelerates.

 

The Gemara in Bava Metzia 106b explains that there are actually six seasons:

 

1. The second half of Tishrei, Marcheshvan and the first half of Kislev is the planting season

 

2. The second half of Kislev, Tevet and the first half of Shvat is the winter season

 

3. The second half of Shvat, Adar and the first half of Nisan is the cold season

 

4. The second half of Nisan, Iyar and the first half of Sivan is the harvest season

 

5. The second half of Sivan, Tamuz and the first half of Av is the summer season

 

6. The second half of Av, Elul and the first half of Tishrei is the hot season

 

Tu B’Shvat (the 15th of Shvat) therefore starts the beginning of the cold season. Celebrating on the first of Shvat doesn’t make sense since it is still the winter.

 

All of these seasons are based on the Land of Israel. Thank God we have had a lot of rain the last few weeks as the winter season is supposed to be the rainy season, the time that the bulk of the rain should fall.

 

This week, I had the opportunity to plant a tree in honor of Tu B’Shvat at the Tayelet in Talpiot, just a few blocks from my home, with over 1000 young women who are studying in Israel for the year. It was a very moving experience for each and every one of us to be able to be part of the holiday that connects nature and the Land of Israel.

 
Earth Day Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 January 2007

This Shabbat we celebrate Tu B'Shvat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, also known as the birthday of the trees.

Tu B'Shvat is not only the birthday of the trees, it is a day set aside to appreciate nature, a day set aside to focus on how we can take better care of our environment.

Caring for the environment has become a trendy concept over the past few years. Secular society has even introduced their own holiday called "Earth Day".

The Midrash in Kohellet Raba 7:28 teaches us that caring for the environment is not a new concept. When God created the first man (Adam), He took him and had him pass before all of the trees in the Garden of Eden and said to him: "Do you see my handiwork, how fine and excellent they are! All that I created was created for you. Be careful not to ruin and destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you."

Unfortunately, even in the beautiful streets of Jerusalem we see garbage strewn around.

There is a movement to keep Jerusalem clean and beautiful. Groups of students even spend their free time cleaning up garbage that was not properly disposed of. I applaud what these students are doing. However, we must raise awareness of the importance of protecting our environment. If we keep cleaning up after those who litter, they will not see a need to stop littering. I recently came across a booklet which listed different opportunities for recycling in Jerusalem. The list included food, clothing, computers, paper, batteries, books, bottles, cans, compost, boxes, tires and furniture.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav used to say "Know that every shepherd has a unique niggun (tune) for each of the grasses and for each place where they herd. For each and every grass has its own song and from the song of the grasses the shepherds compose their songs."

Once Rav Kook was walking in the fields lost deep in thought. The young student with him plucked a leaf from a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act. Rav Kook explained: "I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass of any living thing unless I have to. Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of creation."

This Tu B'Shvat lets all make an effort to make the world a cleaner, better place to live.