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This Year (5777 / 2016-2017), Tu (the 15th) B'Shvat, the Rosh Hashana (New Year) of the Trees, falls on Shabbat, February 11, 2017. As all Jewish Holidays do, Tu B'Shvat begins sundown Friday evening, February 10, 2017 and ends at nightfall on Shabbat, February 11, 2017.

"Tu" is the pronunciation of the numeral 15 when spelled out (the letter "tet" and the letter "vov.").


A
NEW YEAR
IN THE
MIDDLE
OF
WINTER???
What? New Year in the middle of the winter? Now I've heard everything!! But seriously now, when it comes to the New Year, Rosh Hashana is just the beginning....

If you think about it, there are lots of starting points throughout the year. The first of Elul, is the beginning of the tax year for animals. For Maaser (tax) purposes, all animals born after the first of Ellul are taxed the following year.

Rosh Hashana, on the first of Tishrei, begins a period of judgement for mankind.

The first of Nisan is called the "first month" in the Torah, commemorating a cycle of freedom for the Jews when they left Mitzrayim (Egypt). It is also called the "New Year for Kings." This was very important information in the time when Israel's monarchy ruled, because all documents were dated by the year of the king's rule. For example, if a king ascended to the throne, even a day before the first of Nisan, when Nisan rolled around it was considered his second year on the throne. Any official documents written from that day on would say, "In the second year of the reign of King So and So."


NEW
YEAR
FOR
WHAT??
The same rule counts when it comes to Tu B'Shvat, the "New Year of the Trees." Actually, it's a flowery way to say "tax season begins now...." In the time of the Bait Hamikdash (Holy Temple) farmers were taxed on their crops and produce as well as their animals.

The Mitzvot relating to crops and produce are only practiced in Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel). (Nowadays, with no Bait Hamikdash, some of these Mitzvot are observed differently than that which will be described here. However, the observance of these Mitzvot is still mandatory.)

After grains and fruit are gathered, there is a mandatory gift (tax) called "Terumah" that must be given to any person who is a Kohain, (priest). After this gift is given, there are then a series of gifts (tax) called "Ma'aser," meaning "a tenth."

There are three kinds of "Ma'aser:"

  • Ma'aser Rishon
  • Ma'aser Sheni
  • Ma'aser Ani
The first of these Ma'aser gifts is called "Ma'aser Rishon" - The First Tenth. This gift, consisting of 1/10th of the harvest, is given by the farmer to any member of Shevet (tribe of) Levi only after "Terumah" has been taken.

After this gift has been given to the Levi, there are two other Ma'aser gifts, only one of which is taken in any particular year. (There is a system that dictates which Ma'aser is given in which year). The first of these "gifts" is called "Ma'aser Sheni" - The Second Tenth. This "gift" consists of 1/10 of the remaining crops, and it is taken by its owner to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to be eaten there.

The other "Ma'aser" is "Ma'aser Ani" - The Tenth of the Poor. This "gift" consists of 1/10th of the remaining crops, and it is given to poor people.

The beginning of the agricultural year for trees as far as these gifts go is the 15th of Shvat - the New Year for Trees. Any fruit ripening after Tu B'Shvat is to be assessed for tithing only during the following tax season.

For example:

The present Jewish year is 5777. If a fruit was formed on the tree before the 15th of Shvat 5777, it is included with all fruits that were formed from the 15 Shvat 5776 until 15 Shvat 5777.
If the fruit was formed after Shvat 15, 5777, it is included with the fruits formed from 15 Shvat 5777until 15 Shvat 5778 for purposes of determining to which year's gift it will be subject.
This is the significance of the New Year for Trees. Any crops harvested from the 15th of Shvat are counted for that year.

Then there's the law that states that a farmer may not harvest a tree during it's first three years (Orlah). If a farmer plants a tree on the 14th of Shvat, the tree's already a year old on the 15th of Shvat. (pretty neat trick, eh?).


WHY
SHVAT?
The question remains: Why is this new year in the month of Shvat? The Talmud, Tractate Rosh HaShana tells us that by this point in the year, the majority of the rainfall to come during the year has already arrived. Therefore, the trees have already started to grow, and this is the time when fruits begin forming on the trees. Because the fruits begin to grow at this time, it is fitting that we start the New Year for the tree (which has significance to the fruits produced and the gifts the fruit are subject to) at this time.

In Eretz Yisroel, the 15th of Shvat is the day when new sap starts to rise in the trees. It is a time of rejuvenation. It teaches us the important lesson that even in times that seem darkest, there is new life, in times of sorrow there is hope, and in times of Galut, (exile) there is the light of Moshiach.


HOW WE
CELEBRATE
What better way to celebrate the birthday of trees than to actually plant a tree. There are all kinds of organizations and groups that are dedicated to planting trees in the forests of Eretz Yisroel. You can also plant a tree in your own neck of the woods if you want to. Tu B'Shvat is the perfect time to protest deforestation and the shrinking of the rain forests, although there's no particular mitzvah to do so.

There are varied customs regarding eating fruit on Tu B'Shvat. Some have the custom to eat the seven species of fruits that grow in Eretz Yisroel. This "Top Seven" selection is based on a verse in Devarim: (8,8) "...a land of WHEAT and BARLEY and (GRAPE) VINES and FIG trees and POMEGRANATES, a land of OLIVE trees and (DATE) honey." Others have a custom of eating fifteen species of fruit (the "top 7" and eight more). In today’s "global fruitopia," where fruits from all over the world are available from our grocers, we mix it up: starting with the "top 7", we move on to local fruity favorites and throw in a "new fruit" (that we haven't eaten this year) in order to be able to make the Bracha (blessing) of Shehechiyanu.

For more details about Tu B'Shvat customs and their sources, click here.


CHONI
HAMA'AGEL
(the
Circle
Drawer)
Tu B'Shvat is a celebration of continuity. After all, what says "I am here for you just as I was here for your fathers, and I will be here for your children just as I am here for you" like a tree. In some cases, it takes longer than one lifetime for a tree to come to "fruition."

Here's a story (From the Talmud - Tractate Taanit 23a) that teaches just that lesson (and something to think about while we munch on bokser fruit):



The
original
story of
Rip Van
Winkle
Why do we eat bokser (carob fruit) on Chamisha Asar B’Shvat (the 15th of Shvat)?

The traditional answer is found in the fascinating story of Choni Hama'agel (the circle-drawer). One day, as Choni was traveling along the road, he saw a man planting a carob tree.

Choni asked him, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?"

"Seventy years," the man replied.

"Do you think that you will live another 70 years?" Choni asked.

The man replied, "I found carob trees growing when I was born, because my forefathers planted them for me, so I, too, plant them for my children."

Thereupon Choni sat down to have a meal, and sleep overcame him. As he slept, a rock formation grew around him hiding him from sight. He continued to sleep for 70 years. When he woke up he saw what looked like the same man gathering beautiful fruit from the carob tree.

"Are you the man who planted this tree?" Choni asked.

"No, I am his grandson," the man replied.

Choni then realized that he had slept for 70 years!!

Choni returned home and found that his son had died but his grandson was still alive. He said to the members of his household, "I am Choni Hama’agel!!" but they did not believe him, as seventy years had passed since Choni had last been seen.

He left and went to the Beit Midrash (study hall) and announced, "I am Choni Hama’agel," but no one believed him, and they did not show him any respect. Choni, in utter despair, prayed for Divine mercy and died. To this Rava observed, "For this reason people say, "Give me companionship or give me death!"


A
SPECIAL
TREE
The B'nai Yesasschar writes of another custom which is alluded to in the Mishna which tells us about the New Year for Trees. The Mishna calls the new year "Rosh HaShana L'Ilan," The New Year for a Tree. Why did the Mishna refer to "tree" in the singular rather than in the plural? Why wasn't the new year called "Rosh HaShana L'Ilanot," The New Year for Trees? The answer, the B'nai Yesaschar writes, stems from something our sages have told us: On Tu B'Shvat, we should pray that come next Sukkot, we are able to acquire a beautiful and kosher Etrog, so we can fulfill the commandment of taking that one of the Four Species to the fullest. (For more information on the taking of the Four Species on Sukkot, see our Sukkot pages). This is alluded to by the Mishna's use of the word "tree" in the singular: THE tree that we need in order to fulfill a commandment begins its new year, and in order to assure that we can obtain the fruit of THAT tree, we should pray for it on this day.

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