by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – January 19, 2011

In the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 2a), Bet Hillel establishes the 15th day in the Hebrew month of Shvat, known as Tu B’Shvat, to be the New Year of Trees.  This day marks the beginning of a new year for the tithing of fruits that grow from the tree.  Fruits of trees that blossom from the 15th of Shvat are treated as belonging to another year for the levying of tithes, trumot and ma’asrot, and for the prohibition of orlah, and not related to the tithes preceding that point.

In light of this important starting point as related to trees and their fruits, Tu B’Shvat is considered a semi-holiday, wherein penitential prayers and fasting are prohibited.  In Ashkenazi communities the custom developed over the centuries to eat various different kinds of fruits on Tu B’Shvat (see Mishna Brura, 131:6), with special preference given to fruits grown in Israel, and Sephardic communities add special liturgies on this day.

G-d enjoins His people (Vayikra 19:23), “When you shall come into the land, then you shall plant.”  Planting and the growth of fruit, especially in the land of Israel, is infused with special importance.  Our Sages teach us (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3), “From the very beginning of the creation of the world, the Holy One, blessed be He, was occupied before all else with planting …. So should you when you enter into the land occupy yourselves with planting.”  We are exhorted to plant, an act in which we place seeds, currently useless to us, in the ground with the fore-thought of their developing in the future into trees full of ripe delicious fruits to enjoy.

We must always look to the future, not concentrating solely on the here and now.  We must invest our energies now for the sake of producing positive results in the future, whether it be farmers’ planting seeds for the future growth and development of pleasurable trees and their fruits or parents’ and teachers’ planting seeds for the future development of young minds and bodies.  We must always have an outlook to the future.  It is this thought that comes to mind upon our preoccupation with Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, and the fruits of the trees: the importance of planting seeds for the future.