Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tu B’Shevat: Celebrating New Life

I’ve always found it interesting that during the darkest time of the year when the trees seem lifeless under a snowy and icy veneer that we celebrate Tu B’Shevat. Of course, this is the view from the diaspora when many of these seemly oddly placed holidays reflect the life and vibrancy of the homeland. As Chabad.org summarizes:

Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar—celebrated this year on Wednesday, February 4, 2015—is the day that marks the beginning of a “new year” for trees. This is the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.

Legally, the “new year” for trees relates to the various tithes that are separated from produce grown in the Holy Land. These tithes differ from year to year in the seven-year shemittah cycle; the point at which a budding fruit is considered to belong to the next year of the cycle is the 15th of Shevat.

We mark the day of Tu B’Shevat by eating fruit, particularly from the kinds that are singled out by the Torah in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. On this day we remember that “man is a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19), and reflect on the lessons we can derive from our botanical analogue.

The fascinating thing that we have to remember when these holidays come around is that they are celebrating the Jewish homeland. This is what draws our thoughts and prayers to Israel. They are subtle reminders that no matter where we are in this world we all focus or faith and our being on one central holy land. Today, which began at sunset this evening, we celebrate the bountiful land that not only sustains our bodies but also our minds and our spirit.

However, this year I can see the season of new life in a very personal way as our son is nearly ready to join us. It is during these cold months that he has grown so much and developed quite the personality as he insists on playing with his mom and dad and responding to our voices more than ever before. The trees may seem dormant here but our baby is fully embracing this holiday by not just beginning a new year but beginning a new life. At some point in his life we will be sure to show him this land to which we are so strongly connected.