When is the Jewish New Year?
Would you be surprised to know that there are 4 New Years in the Jewish calendar -- and Wednesday, January 21st is Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat) and the New Year for trees!
The first mishna - teaching - in the Talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashanah informs us of the 4 New Years:
1) The first of Nissan is the New Year with regards to counting the years in the reign
of the Kings of Israel.
2) The first of Elul is the New Year with regards to tithing of the animals. (One out of
ten animals born from the Hebrew month of Elul until the beginning of Elul the
following year was given to the Temple.)
3) The first of Tishrei is the New Year for the judgment of mankind -- for life or
death, rich or poor, sickness or health -- as well as for counting the Sabbatical
Year (Shmita) and the Jubilee year (Yovel) for the land of Israel; the counting of
the first three years of a fruit tree when the fruit is not allowed to be eaten
(Orlah), and calculating the tithes for grain and vegetables.
4) The 15th of Shevat is the New Year for trees with reference to calculating tithes
due to be given from fruit of trees in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Tu B'Shevat is a festive day. The Torah praises the Land of Israel with reference to the fruits of the trees and the produce of the soil: "A land of wheat and barley and vines (grapes) and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey. ...and you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you" (Deut. 8:8-10). The Jewish people rejoice in the fruits, in the Land and in the Almighty Who has given us life.
It is celebrated by eating the special types of fruits for which Israel is renowned: olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates -- and also buxer (carob). It's also celebrated by planting trees in Israel and if you can't get to Israel, you can purchase trees to be planted in Israel from the Jewish National Fund (JNF.org). There are 5 million trees that need to be replaced after the Carmel Forest fire a few years ago. Just as others have planted for us, we plant for the future and those who will come after us.
In our home we put out a whole fruit display -- especially those mentioned above for which the land of Israel is praised. It is a time of appreciation for what the Almighty has given us and which we might take for granted. Let your attitude be gratitude! The Kabbalists in Safed created a Tu B'Shevat Seder (similar to the Passover Seder) with explanations and meditations where the inner dimensions of fruits are expounded, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion. (see http://www.aish.com/h/15sh/)
Man is compared to a tree. In Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), it is written:
"A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous, but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place" (Avot 3:22).
Just as a tree needs soil, water, air and sunlight, so does a person need to be spiritually rooted and connected with a source of nourishment. Water to a tree, Torah wisdom for us -- as Moses proclaims: "May my teaching drop like the rain" (Deut. 32:2). Air for the tree, spirituality for us -- as the Torah states that "God breathed life into the form of Man (Genesis 2:7)." Sunlight for a tree, the warmth of friendship and community for a person.
May these qualities come to fruition in our lives in 2019!