Tonight we begin the holiday of Tu B’shevat -the 15th day of the month of Shevat. This is commonly called the birthday of the trees. It is one of the four New Years as it is written in the Mishnah:
There are four new years… the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month. (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1)
So tonight and tomorrow marks the time when we figure out which year the produce is accounted to especially for the purposes of tithing. Everything that blossomed before the 15th of Shevat-the produce is of the previous year. Everything that blossomed after the 15th belongs to a new year. But it is also important because we need to know the age of the trees to help us understand how the tithing is done. In Leviticus 19:23-25 we learn that the first three years of produce from a tree may not be eaten. The fourth year of a tree’s life the produce belongs to God. Every year after that the tree’s owner may eat and use the fruit of the tree. Of course, there are other tithes and taxes that had to be given to the priesthood and God but by the fifth year much of the produce may be eaten and used by the owner. Tu B’shevat-the 15th of Shevat then is the birthday of the trees because the tree aged one year on this day. But this holiday has larger implications. This holiday is deeply about a chain of life: The life-of our planet, the interconnection of all life and how we care for the life of our planet.
In our time Tu B’shevat has grown into a celebration of nature and our responsiblity to care for the planet. Judaism has a lot to say about caring for our world. Even Shabbat is a celebration of the creation of our world- Ma’aseh Breisheet. Shabbat is the pinnacle of the creation story. In the Garden of Eden the first human being was charged with caring for the garden of the earth. Tu B’shevat is an opportunity to raise our awareness of our planet and the precarious shape our garden is in at the present time.
So as we anticipate Tu B’shevat in a few hours from now think about the gifts of sustenance the trees give. They are an integral part of our lives. The reduction in the number of trees world-wide is alarming. Not only for the fruit they offer as food. But trees as a maker of oxygen is an important link in the life of the planet and for all creatures, human and animal. The carbon dioxide we breathe out is taken in by the trees for its growth and renewal. The oxygen they breathe out is taken in for our growth and renewal. This is the chain of life.
So let’s use Tu B’shevat as an opportunity to bring “tree” consciousness into our daily life. Don’t just hug a tree, plant them-everywhere and share the bounty with God, with your family and friends and with those who are hungry. Then the chain of life will be strengthened from the inside and the out.