New Years must be the favorite holiday of Jews, otherwise, why would we have 4 of them? The Jewish calendar is a fascinating, fluid entity with definite landmarks. Some commentators list the first day of Nisan as the beginning of our year as this is the anniversary of the season of the redemption from Egypt and the birth of the Israelite nation. It is also the New Year for the reigns of Jewish kings.
The first day of Elul is the New Year for the tithing of cattle. The tithe for cattle had to be made from cattle born in the same fiscal year. It occurs at the end of summer.
Tishrei 1 is the New Year with which we are most familiar: Rosh Hashanah. Apples, honey, new clothes, renewal of synagogue friendships after the summer hiatus, services are some of the ways we celebrate. It serves as the New Year for the civil calendar, or “the new year for seasons.” The new year for setting the Sabbatical year, during which land may not be cultivated, is also 1 Tishrei. It also delineates the Jubilee year, the fiftieth year following seven cycles of Sabbatical years.
The last New Year on our calendar is the New Year for trees called T’u B’Shvat – which is an acronym meaning the 15th day of the month of Shevat. Historically, one can speak of four manifestations of this day: The T’u B’Shvat of the sages emphasizes tikkun olam—the repair of the world. On this day, all who have gardens are supposed to go down to their garden to count up all the fruits and profits that were gathered in the course of the year, and to reserve the required portion for the benefit of those who have neither garden nor fruit to eat from it.
The 15th of Shvat of the kabbalists is a day on which many kabbalists try to get as close as possible to the Garden of Eden at a T’u B’Shvat seder, at which they taste the fruits of this world and say blessings over them using techniques of special mystical meditations. In contrast to the mishnaic Sages’ social tikkun, the emphasis of the kabbalistic Fifteenth of Shvat is on theo-cosmic repair.
The T’u B’Shvat of the Zionists is a day of national-historical tikkun, of healing from the devastations of the exile. This day symbolized the longing of the Zionists to be healed of their Diaspora characteristics, to form a lasting relationship to the land.
On this day, the Zionists taught themselves and their children to color the Land of Israel green with the planting of thousands of trees. They would thus — so they believed — again take possession of their homeland by making the desert bloom. I’m sure many of you support this endeavor through your contributions to the Jewish National Fund. The environmentalist T’u B’Shvat understands the halachic essence of the holiday to be mitzvot that apply to the world as a whole and not only to the Land of Israel. It’s focus is on repairing our damaged eco-systems and living a life that helps the environment rather than contributing to the devastation.
Join us on Sunday, February 5th at 5:00 P.M. for a Kabbalistic T’u B’Shvat Seder and Mediterranean dinner to enjoy, learn and sing about this lovely holiday.
In peace and blessings,