Tu B’shvat is a holiday intimately connected to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel. Falling in the middle of the Jewish month of Shvat, the 15th day of the month is the New Year of Trees. Today, this holiday is often celebrated by planting saplings and eating the seven species—five fruits and two grains—associated with Israel.
Although it’s getting cold in Brooklyn, it is the beginning of spring in the Middle East. The first almond blossoms have opened and the sap in the trees is beginning to rise. Therefore, it’s traditional to eat fruits from Israel on Tu B’Shvat (the seven species): figs, dates, grapes, olives and pomegranates, as well as wheat and barley. It’s also traditional to eat fruits you haven’t tasted in a long time (or ever), and to say the shehechiyanu (a prayer for experiencing something new). While the holiday has changed over the centuries, today in the US, it is seen as a time to celebrate nature.
Trees grow from the seeds, until they die. A person must also keep growing lest he stagnate. This is especially true in Torah study and mitzvah performance. Living with vitality and accomplishment reflects the happiness associated with growth.
When one plants a seed in fertile soil and adds water, he must give it a chance to grow. If he removes the seed every day to check on its progress, it will never take root. So too, we must connect ourselves to our roots, the Jewish people, take nourishment from our life-source, the Torah, and grow through accomplishment as individuals and as a nation. This is the lesson of Tu B’Shvat.
This Tu B’shvat, take a walk with friends or family. Plant a tree or some seeds and eat the seven species. Tu B’Shvat is an opportunity to savor and appreciate the bounty of this world, and to give thanks for all the ways that trees provide us with food, shelter, beauty, air, and valuable life lessons. When eating Tu B’Shvat fruits, think of the Land of Israel and the connection of the Jewish people to the land. When making the blessing on the new fruit, thank the Almighty for life, and think of the power of growth in fruit, in Torah and in every person!