January 2013: Tu’B’Shevat

On the evening of January 25th, we will be celebrating Tu’B’Shevat .The focus of the holiday has evolved over time as our awareness of the intertwined relationship of Judaism and the world around us increases in complexity.  Tu’B’Shevat is known as the New Year for Trees. The Torah makes over 150 references to trees with more than 100 different species. The historical etymology of the holiday is for calculating the age of trees for the purpose of tithing. Fruit after this day belong to the next year’s tithe in the seven year Sabbatical cycle.

When studying the beauty and strength of trees, one gains insight in our own life’s lessons. Our faith in G-d provide strong roots. Study and observance of Torah provide strength. Seeds are planted through acts of love and kindness to others. In Deuteronomy 20:19, we remember that “Man is a tree in the field”.

Seventeenth century mystics developed a special Seder modeled after Pesach. Four cups of wine are served with varying amounts of white and red wine to represent the change in seasons. The15 different types of fruits and nuts are separated into three categories based on which part is edible.

In Israel, this holiday marks the arrival of spring. The trees have gained vital nourishment during the rainy season and the buds have begun to appear. This is symbolic of a spiritual awakening and acknowledgement of the hard work ahead. Many children celebrate Tu’ B’Shevat by planting saplings. This has become a reaffirmation of our attachment to Israel.

Many modern Jews consider this day to be equivalent to Arbor Day. Environmental awareness programs are promoted on this agricultural and ecological holiday. America’s largest Jewish environmental group, HaZon, offers an educational sourcebook available for download at their website. Judaism incorporates these highly specialized branches of science, such as ecology and the environmental sciences with a higher dimension of spirituality. We learn from the Torah to act responsibly and compassionately toward the world around us. The laws of Bal Tashchit teach us not to waste or destroy our resources unnecessarily.

For me, Tu’B’Shevat is a wonderful and meaningful celebration.  As the Vice President of the Woodbridge Land Trust, I am committed to conservation, preservation, and protection of our town’s natural resources. The Trust is host to a Chestnut research orchard. Our goal is to produce disease resistant trees in order to repopulate the species. As stewards of the land, we want to assure that future generations will be able to marvel in G-d’s beauty. I am amazed at how intuitive and progressive Conservative Judaism has become, and how it compels us to respect all plants and animals as well as our environment.