Islam and Judaism are in total agreement when it comes to appreciating God’s trees.
Prophet Muhammad said:”If the Hour (of judgment) is about to be established, and one of you was holding a palm shoot; let him take advantage of even the last second before the Hour is established to plant it.” (Reported by Ahmad and Al-Bukhan on the authority of Anas in Al Adab Al-Mufrad, see also Sahih Al- Jami’ Al-Saghir, No.1424)
And Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught, “If you should be holding a sapling in your hand when they tell you the Messiah is coming; first plant the sapling, then go out and greet him.” (Avot d’Rebbe Natan 31b)
Also, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said, three things are of equal importance: earth, humans, and rain. Even in our technologically advanced society draught devastates the lives of millions: as Rabbi Levi ben Hiyyata said: … without earth there is no (nourishing) rain, and without rain, the (nourishing) earth cannot endure, and without either, humans cannot exist. ~Genesis Rabbah, 13:3
Why a new year for trees and not vegetables?
Vegetables have only one cycle of growth and decay in a year. Vegetables fulfill their whole lifespan within one year. Trees live for many decades, offering their fruits and nuts for many generations of birds, insects and other living beings like humans.
And there are some species of trees that live for centuries, recycling the air we all need to breathe, and reminding humans of the importance of long term thinking and being. The holiday of Tu Bishvat highlights the perennial rejuvenation and blooming of trees (nature); and also the constant reform and renewal of religious life (culture).
Human beings are likened to trees in the fields (Deuteronomy 20:19) and a tree is a good metaphor for family (a family tree) Just like the tenacious trees on hillsides and flood plains, human beings need to be deeply rooted to survive rough times.
Like trees, human beings are capable of withstanding many adversities with deep roots (religious values and traditions) and a solid, healthy trunk (a close community). At the same time, they need to have flexible leaves and branches (to change and reform).
The state of the roots impacts directly on the state of the trunk, leaves and branches. The state of the roots determines both the future of trees and human beings. Healthy roots facilitate the blossoming of next year’s fruits and sprouts.
The Tree of Life is first mentioned in Genesis (2:9), as being with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Moral Knowledge enables humans to discern, distinguish, and decide between right and wrong (free will and reason).
The Tree of Life adds an emotional, spiritual, and experiential aspect as a greater trans-humanistic context to our moral life. A tree is not just an object whose products (lumber, fuel, fruits and nuts) are useful.
The tree in the Garden of Eden was a co-dominance tree. That is when a tree that should be single-stemmed like a Mediterranean Cypress, Pine, Fir, Spruce… usually evergreens) splits into two distinct stems, usually in a V shape. It’s common among the conifer trees in Israel and the Levant.
The Qur’an and the Torah are like a V-shaped tree sharing the same Semitic roots; with each trunk receiving sunlight from the same sun.
One stem was the Tree of Life sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus), and the other stem was the Tree of Moral Knowledge. The common tree roots drew nourishment from God’s earth for the Tree of Life; and the leaves on the Tree of Moral Knowledge were nourished by God’s sunlight.