Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year - For the Trees!
What's this Tu Bishvat All About Anyway?
Why do trees need a "New Year?" Do they go to synagogue on it? Do they go to Times Square (Lord of the Rings II notwithstanding)? I think not, yet that's what Tu Bishvat is called - the New Year of the Trees!
There is a legal answer, and that is it simply has to do with determining the age of the tree for various ritual laws about first fruits and tithing. After Tu Bishvat, the tree is one year older. But if that's all, why did the Kabbalists institute such a thing as a Tu Bishvat "seder"? And hold it. A seder? That's not even Rosh Hashanah - New Year, that's Passover! I'm totally confused by this.
Well actually, the seder thing gets me thinking. A seder commemorates the exodus from Egypt. It's about redemption. The text of the Passover Haggada is largely based on interpreting Biblical passages relating in brief form the story of the exodus. Where are those passages taken from? Hint - not where you'd expect, in the Book of Exodus. No They are from Deuteronomy, and are the proclamation that the pilgrim makes when he goes up to the Tabernacle/Temple with his first FRUITS! Ahhhh! I see!
The ultimate goal of the redemption was not simply to get out of Africa, er, Egypt (well, Egypt's in Africa), but to get TO the Promised Land. And not just to get to the Promised Land, but to settle there, plant trees and have fruits. The ultimate goal of all that exodus stuff with those plagues, splitting seas, etc... was to live a normal, moral, spiritual life of faith in the Holy Land. Hence, when something as ordinary as the first fruits coming up, we stop and smell the roses. We take them to the Temple and say, "The redemption has been fulfilled. We are at the pinnacle of history!" And we make a seder to mark this fulfillment, just as the Passover seder marks the beginning of the process.
So trees need a New Year for us. We need to stop once a year and realize how miraculous the ordinary is, and infuse it with meaning and direction. After all, Rosh Hashanah is about putting it all in perspective in a big spiritual way. We can do that even on the most ordinary of occasions, and that's what will make us extraordinary people!
Happy Tu Bishvat!