Tu B’Shvat is the new year for trees here in Israel, which might seem strange unless you know the biblical context.
In Jewish law, the fruit that a tree produces for the first three years is called orlah and is forbidden to eat. The age of each tree is determined by how many Tu B’Shvats have passed since it was planted. Thus, the holiday is a new year for each tree planted in Israeli soil.
This year, my wife and I celebrated Tu B’Shvat, which fell earlier this week, with family and friends. While there are no biblical commands to celebrate this holiday, it’s tradition to eat the fruits of Israel and recite special blessings on each fruit, thanking God for the bounty we have been blessed with here in the Holy Land.
Sitting around a table colorfully decorated with the fruits of the land, I looked at my wife and our friends, who had recently moved to Israel from Australia, and mentioned that we had a special reason to be thankful this year on Tu B’Shvat.
In the past year, my Australian neighbor and I both planted multiple fruit and olive trees in our yards. These are the first fruit trees my Australian friend and I have ever planted in Israel, and since they were planted in the Holy Land, the fruit these trees eventually produce will necessitate tithing and orlah.
At our Tu B’Shvat celebration, we discussed the importance of the life-giving sustenance we receive from the world God created and from the trees which we plant.
While passing around the fruit plate, we explained to our children that trees represent a symbol of our life. Our roots are our ancestors, our branches are our actions, and our fruits are the good deeds we perform, especially the children we bring into the world.
Tu B’Shvat reminds us to view every aspect of our world as meaningful. There is nothing mundane if we train our eyes to see the life-giving light of God permeating every living thing – even the seemingly simple act of digging up some soil, putting in a sapling, watching it grow, and, in God’s perfect time, enjoying its fruit.