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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tu B'Shevat: A tree grows in Zion

Flowering Almond Tree (Nicolas Perez)
Tu B’Shevat (literally, the 15th of the Jewish month Shevat – which coincides with late January or early February) in Zion is the equivalent of apple blossom time in North America.  It is the time when the wild almond trees begin to flower, and springtime has arrived in the holy land.

It is also a time to sow.  This Jewish New Year of the Trees is particularly honored by the planting of more and more trees.  The Jewish National Fund’s (JNF’s) reforestation efforts have turned barren lands into (literally) fruitful ones.  Participants can either plant trees with their own hands, or purchase certificates that equate the planting of a tree with the honoring of an individual or event.  This planting of trees, as well as the symbolic sowing of Passover crops such as parsley, takes place outside of Israel also.

The sacred relationship between trees and Judaism began way back in Genesis 1.  As soon as the land had dried, seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees were produced.  And G_d saw that was good.  Not too long after that, in Genesis 2, came the Garden of Eden with its central Tree of Life.  This tree has become a key symbol of Judaism.

According to My Jewish Learning, Talmudic tradition considers trees to be as sacred as the Torah does.  Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, who lived through the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, said this:  If you should be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling, then go out and greet him.  Planting trees is also looked upon as a way of passing goodness on from one generation to another.

It is also customary to eat the fruits of these sacred trees on Tu B’Shevat.  The fruits that coincide most with this tradition are dates, pomegranates, figs, grapes and olives.  An accompanying blessing is this:  Blessed are You, L_rd our G_d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.


Copyright January 20, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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