Tu B’Shvat: A Jewish Arbor Day?

Question

I heard there’s a Jewish holiday this time of year called “Tu B’Shvat,” also known as “The New Year for the Trees.” Would you please explain the message of this holiday for us today? Thanks.

1 week

Answers

  1. There are actually two main messages that this day holds for us. One is a “legal” definition for various laws of trees and fruits, while the second message is one of how we should view our lives and our relationships.

    There is story of a Chasid who went to speak with his Rebbe. As they were talking the Rebbe asked him to wait a moment while he made a blessing over a piece of fruit. As the Rebbe did so and took his first bite the Chasid began to think to himself “You know, I eat fruit just like the Rebbe. I wonder if there is any real difference between us. After all he’s only a human being just like me. Maybe I’m wasting my time here. What can he offer me that I can’t get elsewhere?” The Rebbe looked at his Chasid (who hadn’t said a word) and said to him, “Do you want me to tell you the real difference between us? I eat in order to be able to make blessings – you make blessings in order to eat!”

    The beauty and depth of the story is clear. Unlike his Chasid, the Rebbe had managed to elevate the mundane and turn it into something very special. Eating a piece of fruit was an intensely spiritual and “nourishing” experience. That is the meaning of Tu B’Shvat.

    Shvat on the face of it is a pretty bleak month. It comes in the winter, it’s cold and wet, the daylight is short and the darkness is long, but it is also a time of incredible potential. Underneath the surface things are beginning to move. Come springtime, they will begin to sprout and blossom and reveal their wondrous splendor for all who care to look. All that beauty, all that magnificence, is being nourished from the month of Shevat. Tu B’Shvat is the time to elevate the fruit from its physical properties to something that is spiritual.

    In the Mishna, Tu b’Shvat has the same classification as Rosh Hashana. It is the “New Year for the Trees.” The same way that Rosh Hashana is “stock taking” time, a moment to stop and evaluate one’s relationship with God, so too Tu b’Shvat offers us an opportunity to reflect on the wonders of the Creation and to ponder if we really utilize the incredible gifts the Creator has given us through the natural world to get closer to Him.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team