“The almond tree has blossoms and the sun is shining brightly…”
השקדיה פורחת ושמש גם זורחת
Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish Holiday celebrating the New Year of the Trees. It is known as the Holiday of the Trees, or chag ha’ilanot/חג האילנות, and is mentioned in the Mishnah as one of the four new years that pepper our colorful calendar. (The other three are Rosh Hashanah, the date commemorating Creation; Passover, marking our birth as a people; and the lesser known 1st of Elul, which during the time of the Temple was a date used in calculating animal tithes to be given to the priests.)
Just like Passover, there is a seder that many carry out on Tu B’Shvat. During this celebratory feast, friends and family gather and, following the Kabbalist custom of Rabbi Isaac Luria of Tzfat, partake of symbolic fruits, nuts, and drink. Paramount among these are the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, whose plenty sustained the Children of Israel when they repopulated the land. These are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Other foods which we commonly eat are oranges, walnuts, pistachios, apricots, persimmons, and berries; these represent different levels of our own and God’s spirituality.
Eating these foods in the prescribed order is said to help realign the Sephirot, or Spiritual Spheres, in the same orientation of ascending holiness as we see in the Kabbalist chart known as the “Tree of Life,” offering a further meaning to the arboreal nature of the holiday. This Tree of Life also symbolizes the state in which we lived in the Garden of Eden — by celebrating the natural world, we begin to piece together the sanctity of Eden which was lost. And, just like on Passover, we drink four cups of wine, each with an increasing proportion of white wine to red wine, which also bespeaks our spiritual ascension toward natural holiness. Tu B’Shvat has become a time of great fun and celebration for children. Many people carry the tradition of planting trees in Israel and abroad, and of singing songs having to do with spring and rebirth.
The name Tu B’Shvat refers to the date of the holiday: the 15th of the month of Shvat, which falls in either January or February of the Gregorian calendar.
by Eran Hornick
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