Mazel tov to the trees. This week, on 15 Sh’vat, they will have their new year. Not that they are probably aware of it, though there is a Jewish belief that nature does have a form of self-awareness and even the trees and plants praise God. When the branches sway in the wind they are reaching out to their Creator. When the leaves rustle they are speaking their language and acclaiming God.
However, Tu BiSh’vat has a more mundane origin. Though it is in the northern hemisphere winter, it gave human beings a means of judging the age of the products of nature in order to be able to carry out the agricultural mitzvot.
Almost like the seasons of the textile trade, when mid-winter agenda is summer clothes and vice-versa, when the weather is cold we think of spring, when the night is dark we think of dawn, when life is full of problems we think of things being better.
How do we symbolise our hopes for a brighter future? The answer of the Torah is, “When you come into the Land, you shall plant all kinds of trees” (Lev. 19:23).
Trees are for shade, for wood – and especially for food. The kabbalists attached a special significance to the fruit of the trees. Not only was it good for health and nourishment, they said, but it was a way to overcome the traces of mankind’s original sin. If Adam and Eve could eat forbidden fruit, fruit-eating with God’s permission would absolve humankind from any effects of their sin.
Another kabbalistic idea centred around 30 kinds of fruit which were known in the Holy Land. They came in three categories, representing creation (fruits that could be eaten as they were, such as figs and strawberries); creativity (fruits that needed an action before being eaten, such as dates and olives, from which the stones had to be removed); and action (fruits like nuts that needed considerable effort before they could be eaten). In these three categories is symbolised the Divine-human partnership.