Who is ready for spring? I am! I’m tired of winter, even though it has been relatively mild so far. Well, as I write, the snow is falling ... I surely would love to see some signs of spring.
I love to see snow on the ground, but I hate to drive in it and I hate to have to clear my driveway. I am ready for spring.
But spring should be making an appearance in other parts of the world soon, specifically in Israel. This week we celebrate the Jewish holiday of “Tu BiSh’vat,” the New Year of Trees.
Every year we celebrate a special holiday just for trees, Tu Bi-Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. This year, Tu Bi-Shevat falls on Feb. 11, six weeks after Hanukkah.
Isn’t that strange—celebrating trees in the middle of winter, when all the trees seem dead and bare? The holiday actually is based on the seasonal cycles of Israel. In the Hebrew month of Shevat, in January or February, in Israel it is last of the rainy season, and spring is starting to awaken. The first tree to blossom is the almond tree, and it blooms around Tu Bi-Shevat.
Thus, Tu Bi-shevat is a time of celebrating the promise of spring when the trees will again blossom and leaf. This holiday is the beginning of the annual cycle for trees—their New Year.
How is Tu Bi-Shevat celebrated? It is customary to eat fruits that grow in Israel, such as figs, dates, carob, raisins and almonds. Many Jewish families and Jewish schools hold a Tu Bi-Shevat Seder, a sort of ritual meal, in which they celebrate the fruits that grow on trees and the greatness of God who makes trees.
Judaism has always had a special love for trees. The Torah requires that when the ancient Israelites besieged a city, they were forbidden to cut down fruit trees.
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In our weekly Sabbath prayers, we sing about how the Torah is the “Etz Hayyim,” the Tree of Life. This love of trees is common to many cultures and faiths.
It is a special “mitzvah” (good deed) to plant trees, and it is a Jewish custom to plant trees to celebrate weddings, births and other joyous occasions, and to plant trees in memory of our departed loved ones. In fact, tree planting is so important that Rabbi Yohanon Ben Zakkai said that if you are planting a tree when the Messiah comes, you must first finish planting the tree before you go greet the Messiah.
I can look out my window at a huge pine tree that I planted over 30 years ago. It is much higher than my house. When I planted it, It was a 6- to 8-inch seedling that I got from the local forestry service. It always amazes me that it survived and it grew so big and beautiful.
I like to watch the birds sit in the branches and swoop over to the bird feeder by the window. It makes me feel like I did something important when I planted it. It will probably be here long after I am gone, which makes me feel wonderful. It makes me glad that I have done something that will last for generations, something that helps the Earth.
Many Jews observe Tu Bi-Shevat by giving money to plant trees to help re-forest the earth, or by planting trees themselves. Of course, we can plant trees throughout the year (as long as it isn’t too cold), and we should.
Many people of all faiths and cultures appreciate the value of trees and participate in planting them. People of all faiths are concerned about climate change, and know that we must act together to save our plants, trees and animals. By planting trees, we are giving a gift to future generations, so that they can enjoy the changing of the seasons and the beauty of nature, and to insure ongoing habitat for all creation.
In a time of despair and sadness over the many troubles tragedies in the world, planting a tree is something we can do that is positive.
Go plant a tree!