Jewish law denotes four New Years with Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Shevat, being the New Year of the trees and begins a three-month series of mid-month full moons that culminate in Passover.
Tu B’Shevat is the cut-off date in the Hebrew calendar for calculating the age of a fruit-bearing trees. A tree planted before Tu B’Shevat is considered one year old and a year is added to the tree’s age every year on Tu B’Shevat. Fruit that ripened on a three-year-old tree before Tu B’Shevat is considered orlah and is forbidden to eat, while fruit ripening on or after Tu B’Shevat of the tree’s third year is permitted.On the fourth year, the fruit is considered Neta Reva’i and is brought to Jerusalem as a tithe.
When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten.In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before Hashem. Leviticus 19:23
Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, head of the Sanhedrin’s Noahide Court, had a special message for Tu B’shevat.
“Just like Rosh Hashanah, Tu B’Shevat is a time for introspection and a personal accounting. It is a time for renewal, the beginnings of spring that are still hidden. Everything new in nature is intended to awaken in us the desire to return to God, to seek out God’s influence in the world, especially in this era that is preceding the end of days.
The entire world receives its sustenance, spiritual and physical, via the land of Israel. Not only is this written in Jewish sources but we see this today; Israel is a tiny country yet we produce more than enough food for our needs, a beautiful bounty that we even export. We have technology that allows other countries to increase their food production.
The rain that falls around the world is determined on Tu B’Shevat and in the land of Israel. This is reflected in Israel being a leader in water technology. We are the means by which Hashem (God, literally ‘the name’) gives water to the entire world. The basis of rain, of course, is spiritual; God’s connection to the world.”
Rabbi Schwartz referred to an incident over the summer in which an Iranian general accused Israel of stealing rain clouds.
“Israel and another country in the region have joint teams which work to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain,” Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization told Iranian media in June.
“On top of that, we are facing the issue of cloud and snow theft,” Jalali added, citing a survey showing that above 2,200 metres all mountainous areas between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean are covered in snow, except Iran. The general’s bizzare accusation came in the midst of a severe drought in Iran.
Schwartz noted that the Iranian general had unintentionally hit upon an aspect of the truth, although he had entirely missed the lesson to be learned.
“Since God gives rain to the world via Israel, anyone who threatens Israel will not be blessed with rain,” Rabbi Schwartz said. “The rain is stopped at the border of Iran.”
Rabbi Schwartz also noted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the Iranian General. The prime minister made a video in which he offered Israel’s water technology to the Iranian people. To facilitate this, he established a Persian language website with information about water shortage. Netanyahu emphasized that the conflict with Israel was due to the current regime and not from the Iranian people.
“In this act, Prime Minister Netanyahu was acting on the aspect of Israel being the source of water for the entire world,” Rabbi Schwartz said.
The rabbi called for the non-Jews to recognize Tu B’Shevat as a universal day to emphasize the divine aspect revealed through nature.
“This can be accomplished by a universal initiative of planting trees,” Rabbi Schwartz said. He cited a section of the Talmud that illustrated the importance of planting trees. The Talmud (Ta’anit 23a) teaches in the name of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai that if you have a sapling in your hand and are told, ‘Look, the Messiah is here,’ you should first plant the sapling and then go out to welcome the Messiah.
The rabbi noted that in his lifetime in Israel he merited to see that deserts can indeed bloom and how it affected the people.
“Tu B’Shevat needs to be a global day for planting trees,” he said. “In addition, every time a tree is cut down, whether it is a fruit tree or not, it should be replaced and another tree should be planted in its place.”
“Just as prayer and repentance on Rosh Hashanah lead to a blessed year, planting a tree on Tu B’Shevat will bring a blessed year and hasten the Messiah,” Rabbi Schwartz said.
As part of the global tree initiative, the Sanhedrin established a blessing that can be said when planting a tree.
בָּרֵךְ עָלֵינוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ אֶת הַשָּׁנָה הַזּאת. וְאֶת כָּל מִינֵי תְבוּאָתָהּ לְטובָה. וְתֵן טַל וּמָטָר לִבְרָכָה עַל כָּל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה. וְרַוֵּה פְּנֵי תֵבֵל וְשַׂבַּע אֶת הָעולָם כֻּלּו מִטּוּבָךְ. וּמַלֵּא יָדֵינוּ מִבִּרְכותֶיךָ וּמֵעשֶׁר מַתְּנות יָדֶיךָ. שָׁמְרָה וְהַצִּילָה שָׁנָה זו מִכָּל דָּבָר רָע. וּמִכָּל מִינֵי מַשְׁחִית וּמִכָּל מִינֵי פּוּרְעָנוּת. וַעֲשֵׂה לָהּ תִּקְוָה טובָה וְאַחֲרִית שָׁלום. חוּס וְרַחֵם עָלֶיהָ וְעַל כָּל תְּבוּאָתָהּ וּפֵירותֶיהָ. וּבָרְכָהּ בְּגִשְׁמֵי רָצון בְּרָכָה וּנְדָבָה. וּתְהִי אַחֲרִיתָהּ חַיִּים וְשָׂבָע וְשָׁלום. כַּשָּׁנִים הַטּובות לִבְרָכָה. כִּי אֵל טוב וּמֵטִיב אַתָּה וּמְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ , מְבָרֵךְ הַשָּׁנִים:
May the Lord our God bless this year. And provide all types of bounty for our good. And give dew to bless all the earth. And fill our hands with your blessings and from your many gifts. Protect and save us this year from every evil, and from every danger and disturbance. And may this year be one of hope and peace. Have mercy on us and on this year’s harvest and fruit. May this year be blessed with good and giving rains. And may it be a year of life and satisfaction and peace.Because you are a good God whose blessings are good and who blesses the years. Blessed are you, God, who blesses the years.