Whose birthday is it? The Trees

Posted by RabbiCohen on Jan. 29, 2021  /   0

I was driving through my neighborhood last Spring, down a street that I had taken many times before. This time, though, I noticed the most remarkable tree, with a natural nook perfectly in the shape of a heart.   I must have passed that tree many times, but had never taken the time to notice it. 

Noticing nature and appreciating its beauty.   To me, that's the central message of Tu B'shevat, which was celebrated on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.   Tu B'Shevat literally means the "15th of the Month of Shevat."  Hint: if you look outside today, you will see a slightly waning full moon.  The full moon always falls mid-month in the Jewish calendar.   

Tu B'Shevat most commonly, though, is translated as the "Birthday of the Trees."   And, why do trees need a birthday?  It all dates back to Biblical agricultural laws.  Leviticus 19 mandates that, for the first three years, fruit from new trees could not be eaten.   The trees were considered "orlah," literally uncircumcised.  In the 4th year, the fruit was brought as a sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem (think tax for the priests).  And, finally, in the 5th year, the fruit could be eaten and enjoyed.   Although this law may seem irrelevant today, it indicates a certain ecological awareness and a commitment to communal responsibility in the ancient world.

But, back to Tu B'Shevat, the birthday of the trees.  It was impossible to recognize and remember the birthday of every new sapling.  So, they were given a communal birthday on Tu B'Shevat, the beginning of springtime in Israel. 

Today, we don't bring sacrifices to the priests in Jerusalem.  And, for the most part, we purchase our fruit from Trader Joe's or Giant or Harris Teeter - distanced by time and circumstance from the agricultural workers who harvested it.  But, I contend that skipping out on Tu B'Shevat is like driving by a beautiful tree and not noticing it.    A few ideas:
  • Take some time for a walk or hike this weekend and appreciate the nature around us. 
  • Make a special point to purchase some especially luscious fruit this weekend and enjoy it with intention.
  • Use this as an opportunity to donate to your favorite environmental organization.
  • Or, to write to the new administration or your member of Congress with your opinion of the Biden-Harris climate plan, unveiled just in time for Tu B'Shevat!  (I am sure that they timed it that way on purpose.)
And, of course, join Beth Chai for our Shabbat-Tu B'Shevat service tonight at 6 pm.  Our Sunday school students will also be talking about Tu B'Shevat.  

Shabbat Shalom, and happy birthday to all the trees out there!

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