The holiday of Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, (Jan. 21st this year) was designated as a special recognition of the importance of nature for the survival of all creatures.
In its origin it was designated as the new year mark for the trees' growing cycle. This was used in order to calculate the age of the trees for the purpose of fruit tithing for the poor as well as calculating the first three years of a tree's life when its fruit was not allowed to be eaten. Over the centuries as our sages began to further appreciate the enormous role trees and nature play in survival of Earth and its creatures, a celebration of nature was born. Originally the Tu B'Shvat commandment was simple and straight forward: "Every year, you shall set aside a tenth part of the yield, so that you may learn to revere your G-d forever." Sharing the blessings of nature with the needy was a way to develop a deeper sense of reverence for our environment.
However, beyond the appreciation of the farmer's harvest and, the celebration of our nurturing environment, the holiday has a much deeper meaning.
The Jewish tradition recognizes Earth, Gaia, as a living entity which cradles, protects and feeds all life. But, as our sages noticed, nature is very delicate and vulnerable to Human upheaval both physically and spiritually. Therefore, when G-D created humans he designated them as custodians of earth in charge of the welfare of the earth and its inhabitants. We were to correct and repair all that becomes poison to earth.
When entering the promised land Moses warned the Israelites that not only physical impediments but also spiritual decay will make the land sick. It will literally "regurgitate" its inhabitants. (Leviticus 18:28) While Moses was talking specifically about the holy land of Israel the same is true of earth in general.
The Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics, understood that we humans need to cleanse ourselves spiritually first, so we can better take care of our environment. They devised a self cleansing ceremony, commonly known as Tu B'Shvat Seder, modeled after the Passover seder. The ceremony involves a serious of blessings which express deep appreciation for Earth and nature. By eating fruits of different characters such as the fruit's hard parts which represent challenges as physical beings, we acknowledge that humans too are not perfect and may not do their best as custodians of mother earth. The act of eating a variety of fruits, which also symbolizes the goodness of Earth, reaffirms that we are not forgetting our role as preservers of earth and all its inhabitants.
This Tu B'Shvat seder, this self cleansing ceremony allows for a better sensitivity for Mother Earth. Today, it especially has enormous significance to our modern life, as we are putting our Earth, the only known home for all living things, in serious jeopardy. From deforestation to severe pollution, chemicals that cannot be broken down to depleted oxygen and diminished ozone protection from the sun, we must repair the damage we are inflicting on our beloved Earth.
G-d designated the Jewish people as carriers of his special Light of Peace and Justice in the world which includes being a voice for Mother Earth. The modern holiday of Tu B'Shvat not only elevates us spiritually but reminds us of our responsibility.
Happy Tu B'Shvat!
Plant a Tree in Israel for Tu B'Shvat!