August 7, 2018

Tu B’shvat

Tonight, Jews throughout the world are celebrating Tu Bishvat, often referred to as the ‘birthday for trees’. The source for Tu Bishvat is the Mishna Rosh Hashanah 1:1 in which we are told of 4 New Years: 1) The New Year for kings and for bringing gifts to the Temple during festivals (1st Nissan), 2) the New Year for the tithing of animals after which you must bring each tenth animal to the Temple (1st Ellul/1st Tishrei), 3) The New Year for reckoning the regular, Shmitta & Yovel years, and for determining whether a tress is forbidden for consumption and establishing which type of terumah and ma’aser must be taken from your vegetables (1st Tishrei) and 4) The New Year for Trees for establishing which type of terumah and ma’aser must be taken from the produce of trees (1st Shvat/15th Shvat). All of these events were associated with the Temple, Jewish Monarchy or the Land of Israel, and when the Temple existed, these were great days of celebration.

However, once the Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from the Land, all of these New Years were rendered meaningless. We do not celebrate the New Year for kings and for bringing gifts to the Temple, or New Year for the tithing of animals. Yet, Tu Bishvat remains a day for celebration. Why?

In response to this question, Rabbi Hayyim David Halevy zt’l (Torat Hayyim pp. 101-5) offers the following beautiful explanation: Despite our lack of Temple, and the fact that we were exiled from the Land, ‘the love of Eretz Yisrael has continued to beat in the hearts of all Jews in all the lands where they have been exiled’; and because of their love for the land, Jews have continued to connect with Tu Bishvat because the essence of Tu Bishvat is its connection with the land.

Rabbi Halevy concludes his analysis by citing the verses “man is like the tree in the field” (Devarim 20:19) and “for as the days of a tree are the days of my people” (Isaiah 65:22), both of which describe Jews as trees. However, according to Rabbi Halevy, this is no mere metaphor. We are like trees because our life is rooted in a land which may not be the place where we live, but is central to our life. By celebrating Tu Bishvat tonight – even if you are not in Israel, you are celebrating how your love of Israel is very much in you. Happy Tu Bishvat!

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