February 8 is Tu B’Shevat. The date (the 15th day of the month Shevat) is the new year for trees. Historically, it was the day designated to separate last year’s produce from next year’s produce. Over the last 150 years, it has evolved into a holiday celebrating the reclamation of the land of Israel.
Perhaps you remember the stickers which each indicated another 25 cents collected to plant a tree in Israel. Perhaps you remember collecting dimes to insert into cardboard holders for the same purpose. Or perhaps you remember the “blue box” in the kitchen, emptied when the JNF representative appeared. And maybe you remember when dried carob – boksar – was the only product of Israel we ate on the holiday.
Those trees are still being planted, even if the cost and method of collection have changed. You can support the Jewish National Fund on the World Wide Web or by a local phone call. And when you visit Israel, you can get your hands dirty planting a tree of your own on the hills overlooking Jerusalem.
The planting of trees is but one of the ways that conservation and environmental concerns are being practiced in Israel. Tu B’Shevat has been undergoing yet another transformation as a time to focus on our responsibility to the earth, most sacred in the Promised Land, but sacred as well in our own back yards.
The roots of a tree have metaphoric meaning for us as Jews. Sunk deep into the soil of Israel, they secure the place as well as the nourishment of the tree. Every seed which falls from that tree maintains some connection to the soil in which it was first nurtured.
Torah says the first human being grew in a similar way – formed from the earth and connected to the land. Each of us is a seed dropped from that first tree. When we sink our roots, we reconnect with our source, and are reminded of our dependence on the land for our sustenance.
Plant a tree or two in honor of Tu B’Shevat. You will teach yourself many lessons and do a good thing for the Land of Israel. And remember that those same lessons and good things are just as important on the 15th of Iyyar, Elul and Cheshvan.