The 15th Day of the Month Shevat The New Year for Trees


Saturday, January 30, 2010 (starts evening prior)


IN THE BEGINNING "And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to his kind, upon the earth." And it was so… And God saw that it was good." (Genesis 1:11).


IN BIBLICAL TIMES Our fathers were farmers who appreciated nature as their lives depended on it.  They celebrated the changes of the seasons, with bikkurim -first fruits to the Temple, terumot heave-offerings and maasrot tithes.


THE PURPOSE of the Seder is to express our appreciation to God for Nature and for the annual gift of the fruits of his trees to his people – Israel.


AN EMOTIONAL EVENT In Israel on Tu BiShevat, 15th of the month Shveat, the trees begin to bloom.  This sight is more than a pleasant part of nature; it is an uplifting event within our emotions. It raises our awareness of the miracles of God; it awakens us not to take life for granted; it gives hope that the cold, dark, barren winter is over and fresh, new days are before us.


SOURCES: "There are four New Years …

The New Year for Kings and Festivals is on Nisan 1;

The New Year for Tithe of Animals is on Elul 1;

The New Year for Calendar, Sabbatical, and Jubilee Years is on Tishrei 1;

The New Year for Trees is on the fifteenth of Shevat."

(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana).


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DATE OF TU BISHEVAT "Until this point, the trees are sustained from the rainwater of the past year; from this date they are sustained from the rainwater of the following year." (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Rosh HaShana).


THE PROMISE "For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.  And you shall eat and be satisfied and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you." (Deuteronomy 8:7)


THE MEANING "When Moses wanted to praise the Land of Israel, he made special mention of its fruits… "Honey" refers to dates, because they are sweet."  (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, RaShBaM)


TITHES – OR FRUIT TAXATION! "You shall not delay to offer of the fullness of your harvest and of the flow of your presses." (Exodus 22:28) "Our masters taught that a tree whose fruit has ripened in the past year is tithed for the past year.  After Tu biShvat, it is tithed for the coming year."

In the Temple the tithing was as follows.  Teruma Gedola - The Great Contribution – was about 2% of the harvest, to be presented to the priest in the Temple.  Maaser Rishon –First Tithe – of the harvest was given to the Levite. Terumat Ma'aser – The Tithe Contribution – the Levite gave a tenth of his receipts to the priests. Maaser Sheni – Second Tithe – a tenth of what remained of the harvest after all the deductions mentioned above, had to be taken to Jerusalem (aliya laregel) where the farmer and his family had to eat it or sell it.  This was done on the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the seven-year cycle. Ma'aser Ani  - The tithe for the Poor – was the portion of Ma'aser Sheni that was set aside for the poor during the third and sixth year.



THE FIRST FRUIT OFFERINGS - Bikurim – were the choicest first fruits that were brought to the Temple to be presented to the priests. FORGOTTEN FRUITSShichacha – "when you reap your harvest and you forget a bundle in your field, you shall not turn back to take it.  It shall be for the proselyte, the orphan and the widow so that the Lord your God will bless you in all your work" (Deuteronomy 24:19). CORNERS AND GLEANINGS: Pe'ah and Leket – "when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field and the gleanings of your harvest… For the poor and the proselyte you shall leave them. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:9). THE FIRST FOUR YEARS of a fruit bearing tree – Orlah – "when you come to the Land and you plant any fruit tree, treat its fruits as forbidden.  For three years they shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten. In the fourth year, all its fruits shall be sanctified to praise God.  In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit – so that it will increase its crop for you.  I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus, 19:23)


SHMITA – THE SABBATICAL YEAR "Six years shall you sow your land and gather its produce and in the seventh you shall leave it untended and unharvested.  The destitute of your people shall eat and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left, so shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove." (Exodus, 23:10)



TODAY'S CELEBRATION As well as eating fruit, drinking wine and singing, we celebrate the Tu BiShevat Seder by reading portions of the Bible that mention the Land of Israel and her fruits; thanking God and all His endeavors for us; reviewing specific mizvot - commandments - relevant to the Land of Israel; eating from the Seven Species mentioned in the Torah (Wheat, Barley, Grapes, Figs, Pomegranates, Olives, and Dates); and welcoming the New Year for Trees with the blessing "Shehechiyanu" – Renewal – over fruits we have not yet eaten.

"Baruch Atah Yahweh Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, shehecheyanu, v’qiyamanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh." Blessed are You, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, given us sustenance, and brought us to this season."



THE FORMAL BLESSING OVER FRUIT "Baruch Atah Yahweh Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Borei Pri Ha'Etz." Blessed are You, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the Tree."


WHEAT – OR BREAD "Rabbi Judah said, "An infant cannot say "father" and "mother" until it has tasted wheat (bread)."  We deduce that from the moment a child eats bread, he is considered to understand.  Thus wheat symbolizes knowledge itself. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 70b.)


BARLEY "Rabbi Judah son of Simon commented that Boaz measured six measures of barley for Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 3:15). As his reward, Boaz was privileged to have six righteous men as descendants, namely, David, Hezekia, Josiah, Hanania, Mishael & Azaria, Daniel and the King Messiah, David" (Midrash Rabba, Ruth 7:2).


VINE "Why is Israel compared to a grape vine?  Just as when its owner seeks to improve it, he uproots it and plants it elsewhere and then indeed it flourishes.  Similarly, when God intended to make Israel's fame known throughout the world, what did He do?  He uprooted them from Egypt, brought them into the wilderness, where they began to improve.  They received the Torah and their reputation spread throughout the world." (Midrash Rabba, Exodus 44:1).


FIGS "Why was the Torah likened to a fig tree?  Because, while the fruit of most other tree – the olive, the vine and the date – is gathered all at once, that of the fig tee is gathered little by little.  It is the same with the Torah.  One gathers a little learning today and much tomorrow, for it cannot be learned in one year or in two years."  (Midrash Rabba, Numbers 21:15).


POMEGRANATES "Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate; he ate the fruit and threw away the peel.  This is to teach us to differentiate between the main thing and things of secondary importance." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagiga, 15b)


OLIVE "Why is Israel compared to an olive? To tell you that just as the olive produces its oil only after being pounded, so Israel returns to the right way only after suffering." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menachot, 53b).


DATE "Why is Israel compare to the date palm? There is no waste in any part of the date-palm.  The dates are eaten, the lulav branches are used for Hallel prayer, the dried branches are used for thatch, the fibres for rope, the leaves for sieves and the planed boards for roofing.  So it is with Israel that none is worthless in Israel. (Midrash Rabba, Genesis 41:1).



THE TREES ARE HAPPY! What do the trees of the field say?  "Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy! Before the Lord ... for He is come to judge the earth." (Psalms 96:12).


 Adapted from Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund

Tu BiShvat Newsletter

The Fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat, this year (2010) celebrated on Shabbat, January 30, 2010 is the date designated in the Torah as "New Year for the Trees". This is the time when the earliest blossoming trees in Israel start blooming, believe it or not, all of you out there who are still wading through slush in your winter gear. On this day, we partake of the Seven Species of fruit which represent the bounty of the Land of Israel, such as dates, pomegranates, figs etc.