Monday, February 9, 2009

Tu bishevat higiya Chag ha'ilanot!!

When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit. -- Leviticus 19:23-25
Today (starting last night and ending today at sundown) is Tu B'Shevat -- the birthday of the trees -- in Judaism! Trees, to be completely honest, are the essence of so much of what being Jewish is about. There are myriad passages in the Bible that talk about trees, being like trees, finding shade under trees, and of course, perhaps the two most important trees, the trees of life and of knowledge. When you visit Israel, one of the most significant things to do is to plant a tree (which was the first thing I did when I got to Israel). In fact, Israel has planted -- in the past 107 years -- 240 MILLION trees. The man-made forests in Israel are a beautiful site, even if they are lined up perfectly so that you know they're man-made.

So, on this new year of the trees, I give you some wisdom from Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, a Talmudic sage of the 1st century CE, who said: "Anytime our wisdom exceeds our good deeds, to what are we likened? — to a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few; then the wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. ... But when our good deeds exceed our wisdom, to what are we likened? — to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous; even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place..." And from Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1, we have the call for this, the new year of trees!

There are four new years ... the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month.
Also: Two years ago I wrote about this holiday on my blog, check it out for some wisdom from the Lubavitcher Rebbe!
Note: All the photos are mine, taken in Israel, at Neot Kedamim, a nature preserve. Of course, some of these you've seen before but -- come on! It's a holiday, lots of tree love is needed.