By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
I am not a farmer, which is probably a good thing, as most of the plants I touch don’t survive. I just don’t have a green thumb. Unfortunately, due to my inability to keep plants alive, I don’t feel that I have a strong connection with plant life.
I think many of us feel that way. In our modern, concrete world, it is easy to feel disconnected from the agriculture around us. It’s easy to ignore or forget where our fruits and vegetables come from, let alone the fact that plants and trees also provide the oxygen we need to breathe. That’s why I feel that it is so important for us as modern Jewish people to celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, as it provides us with an opportunity to re-connect with nature.
Tu B’Shvat is often referred to as the “birthday of the trees.” It is an agricultural holiday. However, it didn’t start out as a holiday. The words “Tu B’Shvat” literally mean, “the fifteenth day of [the month of] Shvat.” This date was important for ancient farmers. In the Torah, we are taught that there is a seven-year agricultural cycle. In the time of the ancient Temple, on certain years, the farmers were required to give a specific amount of produce as tithes. Depending on the year, the tithe either went to the poor, the priests, or the Levites. Also, when someone first planted a tree in Israel, they were forbidden from eating from the tree for the first three years, and the fourth year, the fruits of the tree were given to the priests. Only in the fifth year of the life of the tree was the farmer allowed to keep the fruit for himself. Because of these rules, the rabbis deemed it necessary to choose a date to be considered “the birthday of the trees.”
Why did the rabbis choose the 15th of Shvat? They chose this date because it occurs shortly after the middle of winter. Most of the annual rainfall has already occurred, which means that the soil is now ready for new trees to be planted.
Tu B’Shvat affords us the opportunity to stop and think not just about the trees, but about all of nature. It also gives us a chance to recognize the role we play in taking care of the earth, whether by planting new trees, recycling, installing solar panels, etc. In our daily lives, it can be easy for us to take advantage of nature, and all it gives us. Tu B’Shvat reminds us that we have a responsibility to ensure the continuation of God’s creation.
We will celebrate Tu B’Shvat together as a congregation this Saturday (February 11) at 10AM at GSJC, with a special Tu B’Shvat ice cream seder! If you would like to join us, please RSVP to me at rabbi@ gsjc.org, so that we know how much ice cream to provide.
Wishing all of you a Chag Sameach! Happy Tu B’Shvat!