New Year for Trees or People?

Thursday, 21 January, 2016 - 1:27 pm

Monday is the 15th of Shevat, commonly known as Tu B’Shevat, a day defined by the Talmud as the Rosh Hashanah - New Year for trees. The obvious question is why would trees need a new year? Is there a special new year for animals or fish? Is there a new year for rivers and lakes? What do trees do on their new year anyway? Should they pray and blow the Shofar or cast their sins (what sins?) into the water?

While the Talmud uses the term “New Year for Trees,” the intent is that it is a New Year for Jewish people pertaining to trees. As with every aspect of Torah there are multiple applications – generally divided into two categories, legal - Halachic and moral/spiritual - Avodah.

The Halachic aspect of the Rosh Hashanah is that it determines the “fiscal year” for tithes of fruit growing on trees. According to the Torah, tithes of a particular year must be given from the produce of that same year. The blooming of a tree before or after Shevat 15 will determine to which “fiscal year” that tree’s fruit are assigned.

The Avodah aspect of the Rosh Hashanah is connected to a verse in Deuteronomy referring to the prohibition of cutting down fruit bearing trees. The homiletic application of the verse implies that, “Man is a tree of the field.” In other words, there are aspects of a person’s life that can be compared to a tree. Tu B’Shevat is the time that we must reflect on, and resolve to better those aspects of our life, just as the primary Rosh Hashanah is the time reflect on bettering all aspects of life.

What are some of the comparisons between the life of a tree and that of a person? The quality of a tree is determined by several factors. Is it growing? Does it have deep, strong roots? Does it provide shade or some other aspect of benefit? Does it produce lasting fruit?

As humans, especially as Jews, we must ask ourselves the same questions. Are we growing or are we stagnant? In fact, for humans, stagnancy actually translates into falling or slipping backwards.  

Do we have deep and strong roots that keep us anchored to our heritage – our G-d - through Torah and Mitzvot – in the face of the mighty winds of challenge and adversity?

Do we live our lives in a way that is beneficial to others and to G-d’s plan for the universe, or are we selfishly focused solely on our own needs and wants?

Finally, what lasting impact or influence do we have that will empower others to emulate our positive example?

So while planting trees or raising environmental awareness can be very nice things to do on Tu B’Shevat, we must also remember that this New Year is for us – for humans to see what kind trees they might make based on the lives they are living.

Our condolences to Judy Antin Lachoff and her family upon the passing of her father, Dr. Sidney Antin. I got to know Dr. Antin briefly from my monthly visits to Lambeth House. He always enjoyed seeing the children.

Our condolences to the Glickman family upon the untimely passing of Jimmy Glickman. Jimmy was my neighbor for several years. It was always a pleasure running into him on the street and exchanging greetings. He was also very helpful to us with musical events, even lending us guitars for performances. Stopping in at New Orleans Music Exchange was an uplifting experience. Whether we came by with a Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot or for a music related purpose, Jimmy could not have been nicer. New Orleans will truly miss him.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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