Tu B’Shevat (בשבט ט״ן): The New Year of the Trees
“G-D made to grow from the ground all sorts of trees, pleasant to look at and good for eating.”
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.
From sunset on January 25, 2013 to nightfall January 26, 2013, Jews celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, also known as The New Year of the Trees or, in some circles, Jewish Arbor Day. The holiday acknowledges that humans are children of the whose roots are in the Garden of Eden and is celebrated by planting trees, eating fruit, holding a special seder meal.
The observance of Tu B’Shevat has waxed and waned over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, Jewish mystics reinvigorated the holiday. And, according to My Jewish Learning, it is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts :
“With the rise of Zionism in the late 19th century, Tu B’Shevat was rediscovered as a celebration that links the Jews with their land. The holiday became one of rededication to the ecology of the denuded land, with the planting of trees taking center stage in the celebration. Jews outside of Israel contribute money to plant trees there and/or plant trees in their own communities.
With the increased concern for the environment in recent years, Tu B’Shevat has taken on an additional meaning as a day on which Jews can express and act on their concern for the ecological well-being of the world in which we live. This has led to the rediscovery of the mystical Tu B’Shevat seder, now transformed into a celebration of God’s bounty and the environment.”
Rabbi David Wolpe ends his fine essay for Tablet magazine by asking Jews to explore their relation to the natural world:
Do we love it because it is our home, for the sake of its own magnificence, or rather because it directs us to God, who fashioned it? Surely despite traditional opposition between these conceptions of nature, the heart is large enough for both. We can sit on the mountaintop and feel the deep, disinterested love of that which cannot be owned: the stars, the mountains, the sea, the sky. At the same time we can appreciate that everything from a tree to the cosmos is a gift. The deepest Jewish attitude toward beauty is to cherish it as a reflection of a more surpassing sublimity we can only begin to fathom. Wordsworth calls himself “a worshiper of nature … Unwearied in that service.” Judaism has been unwearied in service as well, but in service of the One who bestowed the wonder.