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Tu B'Shvat - the New Year of the Trees


Dear Friends,

Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat; in fact, the literal meaning of Tu B'Shvat is "the 15th of Shvat."  This year, Tu B'Shvat falls on Shabbos, and it begins on Friday night, January 18th. It is the winter day when - in the Land of Israel - new sap starts to rise within the tree. Although we are still in the midst of winter and all looks bleak, cold and lifeless, Tu B'Shvat arrives with the promise of rejuvenation. There is a tradition that the month of Shvat begins a period of renewal for the individual and the community. Even though we may be experiencing the "winter" stage of our lives, there is a new hidden life force that is beginning to emerge within our being. On the outside, it is still the winter of exile - personal and collective, but on the inside, the signs of spring's redemption are emerging. 

There is also an outer sign of renewal that takes place around Tu B'Shvat: the Almond Tree begins to blossom. I would like to suggest that this serves as a reminder that there can be the sprouting of new life during the final stage of the "winter" of our exile. For example, although the messianic age has not yet arrived, we have experienced a partial physical ingathering of our exiles in the Land of Israel. We have also experienced a partial spiritual ingathering of those who were in spiritual exile. Although we live in an age when many Jews are assimilating into the surrounding culture, a growing number of Jews are rediscovering their spiritual roots and have begun to journey "home" - to Torah and the People of the Torah. In addition, there is the sprouting of new spiritual life among the nations as a small, but growing number of Gentiles are beginning to recognize that the Torah has a universal path for all the peoples of the earth. These Gentiles acknowledge that the Torah and its interpretations were given to the Jewish people; thus, they seek to study Torah with Jewish teachers in order to understand Torah teachings about the Oneness and Unity of God, the role of the Messiah, and the purpose of the mitzvos - Divine precepts. They are the first emerging "sprouts" of the future age of enlightenment when many peoples will go and say, "Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Compassionate One, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths" (Isaiah 2:3).

To celebrate this season of renewal, the teachers of Kabbalah - the hidden wisdom of Torah - began a tradition of having a Tu B'Shvat Seder devoted to fruits. The eating of these fruits on Tu B'Shvat is to also serve as a reminder of the period when we ate the fruits of the Garden of Eden. An article describing the Tu B'Shvat Seder appears on the following website: www.aish.com - in the section on Tu B'Shvat. On this site, one will find other fascinating articles about the significance of this holiday. Additional and more detailed information on the order and meaning of the Tu B'Shvat Seder can be found at: www.shemayisrael.co.il/yomtov/tubshevat/ .
Jewish tradition compares the human being to a tree, as the Torah states: 

"For the human being is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19). It is also written: "For as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people" (Isaiah 65:22), and during the messianic age, the Jewish people will be known as "elms of tzedek (righteousness), the planting of the Compassionate One in which to glory" (Ibid 61:3). May we therefore merit the fulfillment of the following prophecy:

"The righteous will flourish like a date palm, and will grow tall like a cedar in the Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Compassionate One, in the courtyards of our God they will flourish. They will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be" (Psalm 92:13-15).

Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)

Related Teachings and Comments:

1. The Torah portion which is read every year on the Shabbat close to Tu B'Shvat describes how the People of Israel continued their journey to Mount Sinai after the splitting of the sea, and how they arrived at a unique oasis:
"They arrived at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date-palms; they encamped there by the water." (Exodus 15:27)

The noted Sephardic sage and biblical commentator, Rabbenu Bachya, cites an explanation of this verse which is found in an ancient work of Jewish mysticism known as Sefer HaBahir. According to this interpretation, the twelve springs represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and the seventy date-palms represent the seventy primary nations of the earth. Just as the twelve springs nourish the seventy date-palms, so too the twelve tribes of Israel are destined to nourish the seventy nations. At the oasis of Elim, we were therefore reminded that our journey to Mount Sinai was not for ourselves alone, but for all humanity.

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