This Year (5779 / 2018-2019),
Tu (the 15th) B'Shvat, the Rosh Hashana
(New Year) of the Trees, falls on Monday, January 21, 2019. As all Jewish Holidays do, Tu B'Shvat begins sundown Sunday
evening, January 20, 2019 and ends at nightfall on Monday, January 21, 2019.
"Tu" is the pronunciation of the numeral
15 when spelled out (the letter "tet"
and the letter "vov.").
A NEW YEAR IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER???
What? New Year in the middle of the winter? Now I've heard everything!! But seriously now, when it comes to the New Year, Rosh Hashana is just the beginning....
If you think about it, there are lots of starting points throughout
the year. The first of Elul, is the beginning of the tax
year for animals. For Maaser (tax) purposes, all animals
born after the first of Ellul are taxed the following year.
Rosh Hashana, on the
first of Tishrei, begins a period of judgement for mankind.
The first of Nisan is called the "first month" in the
Torah, commemorating a cycle of freedom for the Jews
when they left Mitzrayim (Egypt). It is also called the
"New Year for Kings." This was very important information in the
time when Israel's monarchy ruled, because all documents were
dated by the year of the king's rule. For example, if a king ascended
to the throne, even a day before the first of Nisan, when
Nisan rolled around it was considered his second year on
the throne. Any official documents written from that day on would
say, "In the second year of the reign of King So and So."
YEAR FOR WHAT??
same rule counts when it comes to Tu B'Shvat, the "New
Year of the Trees." Actually, it's a flowery way to say "tax season
begins now...." In the time of the Bait Hamikdash (Holy
Temple) farmers were taxed on their crops and produce as well as
relating to crops and produce are only practiced in Eretz
Yisroel (the land of Israel). (Nowadays, with no Bait
Hamikdash, some of these Mitzvot are observed differently
than that which will be described here. However, the observance
of these Mitzvot is still mandatory.)
After grains and
fruit are gathered, there is a mandatory gift (tax) called "Terumah"
that must be given to any person who is a Kohain, (priest).
After this gift is given, there are then a series of gifts (tax)
called "Ma'aser," meaning "a tenth."
There are three
kinds of "Ma'aser:"
The first of these
Ma'aser gifts is called "Ma'aser Rishon"
- The First Tenth. This gift, consisting of 1/10th of the harvest,
is given by the farmer to any member of Shevet (tribe of)
Levi only after "Terumah" has been taken.
After this gift
has been given to the Levi, there are two other Ma'aser
gifts, only one of which is taken in any particular year. (There
is a system that dictates which Ma'aser is given in which
year). The first of these "gifts" is called "Ma'aser
Sheni" - The Second Tenth. This "gift" consists
of 1/10 of the remaining crops, and it is taken by its owner to
Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to be eaten there.
The other "Ma'aser"
is "Ma'aser Ani" - The Tenth of the Poor. This
"gift" consists of 1/10th of the remaining crops, and
it is given to poor people.
The beginning of
the agricultural year for trees as far as these gifts go is the
15th of Shvat - the New Year for Trees. Any fruit ripening
after Tu B'Shvat is to be assessed for tithing only during
the following tax season.
The present Jewish
year is 5779. If a fruit was formed
on the tree before the 15th of Shvat 5779,
it is included with all fruits that were formed from the 15 Shvat
5778 until 15 Shvat 5779.
If the fruit was formed after Shvat 15, 5779,
it is included with the fruits formed from 15 Shvat 5779until 15 Shvat 5780 for purposes
of determining to which year's gift it will be subject.
This is the significance of the New Year for Trees. Any crops
harvested from the 15th of Shvat are counted for that year.
Then there's the
law that states that a farmer may not harvest a tree during it's
first three years (Orlah). If a farmer plants a tree
on the 14th of Shvat, the tree's already a year old on
the 15th of Shvat. (pretty neat trick, eh?).
The question remains: Why is
this new year in the month of Shvat? The Talmud,
Tractate Rosh HaShana tells us that by this point in the
year, the majority of the rainfall to come during the year has already
arrived. Therefore, the trees have already started to grow, and
this is the time when fruits begin forming on the trees. Because
the fruits begin to grow at this time, it is fitting that we start
the New Year for the tree (which has significance to the fruits
produced and the gifts the fruit are subject to) at this time.
In Eretz Yisroel, the 15th of Shvat is the day when new sap
starts to rise in the trees. It is a time of rejuvenation. It
teaches us the important lesson that even in times that seem darkest,
there is new life, in times of sorrow there is hope, and in times
of Galut, (exile) there is the light of Moshiach.
way to celebrate the birthday of trees than to actually plant a
are all kinds of organizations and groups that are dedicated to
planting trees in the forests of Eretz Yisroel. You can
also plant a tree in your own neck of the woods if you want to.
Tu B'Shvat is the perfect time to protest deforestation
and the shrinking of the rain forests, although there's no particular mitzvah to do so.
There are varied
customs regarding eating fruit on Tu B'Shvat. Some have
the custom to eat the seven species of fruits that grow in Eretz
Yisroel. This "Top Seven" selection is based on a verse in
Devarim: (8,8) "...a land of WHEAT and BARLEY and (GRAPE)
VINES and FIG trees and POMEGRANATES, a land of OLIVE trees and
(DATE) honey." Others have a custom of eating fifteen species
of fruit (the "top 7" and eight more). In today’s "global fruitopia,"
where fruits from all over the world are available from our grocers,
we mix it up: starting with the "top 7", we move on to local fruity
favorites and throw in a "new fruit" (that we haven't eaten this
year) in order to be able to make the Bracha
(blessing) of Shehechiyanu.
For more details about Tu B'Shvat customs and their sources, click here.
CHONI HAMA'AGEL (the Circle Drawer)
Tu B'Shvat is a celebration of continuity. After all, what says "I am here for you just as I was here for your fathers, and I will be here for your children just as I am here for you" like a tree. In some cases, it takes longer than one lifetime for a tree to come to "fruition."
Here's a story (From the Talmud - Tractate Taanit 23a)
that teaches just that lesson (and something to think about while
we munch on bokser fruit):
The original story of Rip Van Winkle
Why do we eat bokser (carob fruit) on Chamisha Asar B’Shvat
(the 15th of Shvat)?
The traditional answer is found in the fascinating story of Choni
Hama'agel (the circle-drawer). One day, as Choni was traveling
along the road, he saw a man planting a carob tree.
Choni asked him, "How long will it take for this tree to bear
"Seventy years," the man replied.
"Do you think that you will live another 70 years?" Choni asked.
The man replied, "I found carob trees growing when I was born,
because my forefathers planted them for me, so I, too, plant them
for my children."
Thereupon Choni sat down to have a meal, and sleep overcame
him. As he slept, a rock formation grew around him hiding him
from sight. He continued to sleep for 70 years. When he woke up
he saw what looked like the same man gathering beautiful fruit
from the carob tree.
"Are you the man who planted this tree?" Choni asked.
"No, I am his grandson," the man replied.
Choni then realized that he had slept for 70 years!!
Choni returned home and found that his son had died but his
grandson was still alive. He said to the members of his household,
"I am Choni Hama’agel!!" but they did not believe
him, as seventy years had passed since Choni had last been seen.
He left and went to the Beit Midrash (study hall) and
announced, "I am Choni Hama’agel," but no one believed him, and
they did not show him any respect. Choni, in utter despair, prayed
for Divine mercy and died. To this Rava observed, "For this
reason people say, "Give me companionship or give me death!"
A SPECIAL TREE
The B'nai Yesasschar
writes of another custom which is alluded to in the Mishna
which tells us about the New Year for Trees. The Mishna
calls the new year "Rosh HaShana L'Ilan," The
New Year for a Tree. Why did the Mishna refer to "tree"
in the singular rather than in the plural? Why wasn't the new year
called "Rosh HaShana L'Ilanot," The New Year
for Trees? The answer, the B'nai Yesaschar writes, stems
from something our sages have told us: On Tu B'Shvat, we
should pray that come next Sukkot,
we are able to acquire a beautiful and kosher Etrog, so
we can fulfill the commandment of taking that one of the Four Species
to the fullest. (For more information on the taking of the Four
Species on Sukkot, see our Sukkot
pages). This is alluded to by the Mishna's use of the
word "tree" in the singular: THE tree that we need in
order to fulfill a commandment begins its new year, and in order
to assure that we can obtain the fruit of THAT tree, we should pray
for it on this day.