Are you needing a boost to make it through the winter? The Jewish arbor day of Tu B'Shevat — also known as "Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot," or "New Year for Trees" — may be just the right lift for your spirits. It falls on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat ("Tu" is the number 15 in Hebrew) and is considered to be the day when trees wake from their slumber. You may recognize the words "Rosh HaShanah" and already realize that Judaism celebrates several "new years," similar to the way that many cultures celebrate not only January 1 but also the first day of Spring, the start of a new school year, and other special beginnings.
Historically, Tu B'Shevat was largely an agricultural festival, related to the precise timing by which people would tithe the fruits of their trees. It takes into account the pacing of the trees themselves, so that they can fully mature before bearing fruit.
Woven into Tu B'Shevat are some lovely customs, like making an effort to eat at least one fruit which you have not yet eaten this season. Traditionally, you would choose from the ones mentioned in the Torah as bounty of the Holy Land: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.
B'Shevat also ties into Deuteronomy 20:19, which compares the human being to the tree of the field. Our relationship to trees makes fertile ground for reflection. For instance, how can we produce fruit unless our roots go deep in a vital faith? What a fitting way to greet mid-winter, recognizing our own rootedness and also the literal roots of the trees who sustain us with nourishment!
To Name this Day:
When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-rd. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.
-- Leviticus 19:23-25
For the L-rd your G-d is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains, a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-producing olives and honey.
-- Deuteronomy 8:7-8
- Tracey R. Rich, on the Judaism 101 website, writes that "In my childhood, Jewish children commonly went around collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year." Today is a perfect day either to set aside money to plant a tree come springtime or to donate to an arbor society or ecological cause of your choice.
- When you eat fruit today, you can say the customary blessing for B'Shevat: "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree." (Transliteration: "Baruch atah A-donoy, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam borei pri ha-aitz.") You may want to make a special point of choosing a fruit from the Holy Land such as grapes, olives, dates, figs, or pomegranates.
- If you eat a fruit that you have not yet eaten this season, here's the appropriate blessing, the Shehecheyanu: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion." (Transliteration: "Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech Ha-olam She-heche-ya-nu Ve-ki-yi-ma-nu Ve-higi-a-nu Liz-man Ha-zeh."