Israeli produce is the best. Convince me otherwise!
As a child, I used to go with my mother to the local marketplace in my hometown (Afula). We’d buy the freshest, juiciest, just-picked produce from our local farmers.
Now, compare that to produce sold at ShopRite: so much of the produce on the shelves is from Florida, California and even from out of the country. In many cases, it is ripening while being stuffed in shipping containers on the boat…
Today we are celebrating “Tu Bishvat”, the day known as “The New Year for the Trees”. So many have the custom to enjoy fruits on this day, especially fruits from the special “seven species of Israel”.
Yet many don’t know that this entire holiday is about the special Mitzvot associated with Israeli produce. What’s more, even those who don’t live in Israel, have many opportunities to fulfill these Mitzvot!
So here is a short overview of the Mitzvah of Terumah and Maaser.
While still in the desert, G-d commanded the Jewish people that upon entering Israel, they should separate a portion from the harvest before enjoying it. The portion would be distributed among the Kohen, Levi, the poor, and some should be eaten by the owner in Jerusalem.
Today, these portions are not being distributed or eaten in Jerusalem, but the Mitzvah to separate them still remains.
If you live in Israel and you buy your fresh produce in a typical supermarket, most likely that supermarket carries a Hechsher (Kosher supervision) which takes care of fulfilling this Mitzvah.
If you live outside in Israel and buy Israeli produce (Costco, for example, often carries carrots from Israel), you should assume that the Mitzvah has not been fulfilled, which is great! Since you have the opportunity to do the Mitzvah yourself.
The process itself is quite simple. Here is a link to an article that guides you step by step on how to separate the Terumah and Maaser:
THE TU BISHVAT CONNECTION
The holiday of “Tu Bishvat” is considered “new years to the trees”. Why would trees need to have a new year? Because the law requires that the Maaser (separation) of each year be done separately. And the 15th of Shevat is the day when the new “tree-year” begins.
Judaism places a great emphasis on gratitude. Even before we enjoy the fruits (and the vegetables…) of our labor, we should show appreciation to G-d for his blessings.
Additionally, giving a portion of it to the Kohen and Levi, who are dedicated to serve G-d in the temple, reminds us to pay more attention to the important things in life.
Happy Tu Bishvat! May our lives be filled with blessings, and may we always remember to share our blessings with others!