When the average person thinks of Earth day or “going green,” they would most likely think of going outside, cleaning up the environment, appreciating nature, and planting flowers. When an average person thinks of Earth day, they do not think of it as a holiday, festival, or a birthday. . . or do they? To many Jews across the globe, their very own Earth day is built into one of their holidays: TU B’SHEVAT! Now, Tu B’Shevat is a holiday that holds deeper significance than just appreciating the environment. In fact, during the ancient times, the concept of Earth day was not equated with the celebration of Tu B’Shevat.
So, what is Tu B’Shevat
To simply put it simply, Tu B’ Shevat is a New Year’s celebration for trees! It is celebrated on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat (Rich, Tracey R). More importantly, in ancient times, this day helped the Jewish people determine the age of fruiting trees to offer their tithes. This idea stems from the nineteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus. As stated from the New International Version of the Bible, Leviticus chapter nineteen verses twenty-three through twenty-five says, “When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will increased. I am the LORD your GOD.” These few verses can be interpreted in many ways, and one commonly interpreted theme among many Jews is that this passage can represent the Jewish people’s relationship with God. Just like fruiting tress, humankind, in a sense, is planted and then grows. To someone who is Jewish they can interpret this as a growing relationship with God and a reverence for God.
How is Tu B’Shevat interpreted?
Kabbalists, Jewish mystics, give great spiritual significance and meaning to Tu B’shevat. According to Lurianic Kabbalah, “all physical forms-including human beings- hide within them a spark of the Divine Presence” (Mjl). This concept is then equated with the seeds of fruiting trees or nuts, since seed are known to produce and cause development when planted. Lurianic Kabbalah continues with the idea that, “human actions can release these sparks and help increase God’s presence in the world” (Mjl). In the season of growth and development, not being allowed to eat the fruit, that is the season to do works to and for God so that God’s presence can be felt towards His people. Separate from this deep concept. I view the spiritual aspect of Tu B’Shevat as a season to give as much praise and worship to where one can get to this moment of giving up the ultimate praise and in return being rewarded by God honestly. I say that because in the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus verses twenty-three through twenty-five, the Israelites can’t have the fruit that they have planted for three years, almost like a dry season, but they are still giving and praising God; then, in the fourth year it’s this year of ultimate praise for God and giving him fruit that is deemed Holy and after God blesses his people. Even through dry seasons and years, the Jewish people continued to offer what they had to God, in this case the fruit, and this act truly shows the deep spiritual trust between the Jewish people and God.
How is Tu B’Shevat celebrated?
While some Jews connect spiritually with Tu B’shevat, others connect with it “green thumb” aspect. Jewish people that do not live in Israel and Zionist celebrate Tu B’Shevat by sending money to the Jewish National Fund, a group committed to reforesting Israel (Mjl). This idea of reforesting Israel is advocated by many Zionist because it symbolizes a growth of a people, the Jewish people. Many environmentalist Jews consider it a duty to care for the land God has given them, “Tu B’Shevat is an ancient and authentic Jewish “Earth Day” that educates Jews about the Jewish tradition’s advocacy of responsible stewardship of God’s creation as manifested in ecological activism”(Mjl). Along with planting trees or donating money for trees to be planted, some Jews eat specific foods on this day. Traditionally on Tu B’Shevat, a person is supposed to eat fruit or food that connected to Israel: “olives, dates, grapes figs and pomegranates” (Chabad.org). Along with eating fruit there is a blessing that is said for the fruit which is: “Ba-ruch atah Ado-nai, Elo-hei-nu me-lech ha-olam, borei pri ha-etz,” which means, “Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree”(Chabad.org).
Though at a glance Tu B’Shevat may seem like any other Holiday that the Jewish people celebrate, there is deep symbolic and spiritual meaning for all who observe this holiday. Whether is it be for spirituality or the environment there is a significant purpose for all who observe Tu B’Shevat.
For more information look here!
Chabad.org. “Tu BiShvat – New Year for Trees.” Judaism, Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, 17 Jan. 2008, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/615205/jewish/Tu-BiShvat.htm.
Mjl. “Tu Bishvat 101.” My Jewish Learning, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tu-bishvat-ideas-beliefs/.
Rich, Tracey R. “Tu B’Shevat.” Judaism 101: Tu B’Shevat, http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday8.htm.
Temple Emunah, and American Council. “Tu B’Shevat Celebration for Families.” JewishBoston, 10 Jan. 2018, https://www.jewishboston.com/events/tu-bshevat-celebration-for-families/.