Tu B'Shvat - The New Year for Trees - January or February
Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for Trees.
The name Tu B’Shvat literally means “the fifteenth of Shvat,” because the holiday occurs on the fifteenth day of the month of Shvat on the Jewish calendar. The holiday goes back at least 2000 years to the time when Jews used to bring offerings of fruit from trees to the Temple which stood in Jerusalem. The New Year for Trees was set at the time of year when the first trees begin to bud in the Land of Israel.
During the last 2000 years when most Jews did not live in the Land of Israel, Tu B’Shvat became a time for Jews to remember our connection to the Land of Israel. It became a practice to eat fruit from the Land of Israel in celebration of the day. Older Jews might remember eating “bokser”, or dried carob, on Tu B’Shvat because that was just about the only fruit from the Land of Israel available. It also became a tradition to plant trees in the Land of Israel on Tu B’Shvat, especially throughout the 20th century when more and more Jews were living there.
In the 1500’s, Jewish mystics enlarged the celebration of TuB’Shvat. They created a Tu B’Shvat Seder, a ritualized meal patterned like a Passover Seder. Jewish mystics saw trees as important symbols of The Tree of Life, which to them represented the interconnection between the physical and spiritual worlds. In the 20th century the practice of the Tu B’Shvat Seder was revived, with an emphasis on teaching about the environment, which is another example of the interconnection between ourselves and all of life throughout the world.
On Tu B’Shvat we remind ourselves how we are all connected to each other and to the world around us. We remember that within ourselves, each one of us is an interconnected web of body and spirit. We celebrate the strength we can find when we honor all those relationships and interconnections that hold such an important place in our lives.
It is ironic that, here in America, this celebration of the trees always comes in the middle of winter when the trees seem least alive. The trees around here do not have leaves, but when you look closely you will find they all have buds. These buds contain the promise of new beginnings. At the same time, it is in the middle of winter that we are most need to remember the connections and relationships that sustain us. At this time of year, may you each find strength and joy in the many interrelationships that are part of your life. May each interconnection hold the promise that accompanies new beginnings.