The 15th day of the month of Shvat marks the beginning of the New Year
for trees. Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for the purpose of calculating the
age of trees for tithing purposes. The fruit from trees that were grown in
Israel may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's
fruit is designated as G-d’s, and after that the fruit can be eaten. Each
tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B'Shevat, no matter when
in the year it was planted.
Of all the things in this world to have their own New Year, what makes
trees so different that they need to have their own New Year? And even if
they do require their own New Year, why can’t it be at the same time as
our New Year? Why does it need to be on its own, and in Shvat?
In order to explain this, we need to take a closer look at trees, and
what they might represent. Unlike most vegetation, fruits don’t grow from
the ground directly, but a bark must first develop, from which branches
grow, from which fruit grow. While all of this is going on, the roots
beneath the ground are firmly establishing themselves, and offer sturdy
support for the tree, branches and fruits that grow from them. This unique
cycle has many instructive qualities that we can duplicate. To grow and
enjoy the “fruits’ of being a Jew, we must also first develop a strong
“bark”, or support network, to always have as a source of information,
education and tradition. Once we have a “bark”, we can then grow our own
branches, representing our own unique performances of those laws and
traditions. While we all develop these networks of support and unique
Jewish identity, our roots are being spread beneath us without us
realizing it, so that our society, offspring and the world can benefit
from our growth and development.
But the most beautiful analogy we see from Tu B’shvat is the time of
year when it’s celebrated. Of all the times to appreciate the wonders of
the tree cycle, we celebrate it during winter, far from the “peak” of a
tree’s aesthetic life. The lesson is to develop as a Jew, just like the
tree, and not to care about looking good in the process.
This year (5762 / 2001-2002) Tu B'Shvat falls on January 28, 2002.