The Modern Relevance of Tu B’Shvat

As I looked out the window  this morning at a stark, cold day defined by wintery rains and snow in some parts of the country, it might take some reminding that in fact it is Tu-B’shvat. 

Despite finding itself smack in the middle of the winter, more often than not Tu’Bshvat in Israel succeeds in being a day of sunshine and spring-like weather.  My childhood memories include numerous such days when I was blessed to head out with friends into the Israeli wilderness and experience first-hand the joys of this holiday.

This year, the weather might be robbing me and my children of that opportunity, yet I all the same feel like Tu B’shvat has a modern-day relevance that deserves to be remembered and appreciated wherever on earth we find ourselves.

As we all know, TuB’Shvat in Jewish tradition is the “birthday of the trees.”  One of four such “birthdays” brought down in the Mishna, this day signals the rebirth of these plants which give us shade, fruit and – as modern science has also revealed – literally give us life.

But, admittedly, not just because of the weather, but simply because the fast-pace of modern day life makes a “birthday for the trees” feel like an ancient and strange custom, some might fear that Tu’Bshvat has lost its meaning.

For some years, I may have felt that way as well until I was privileged to participate in a ceremony last week in the Knesset of Israel, which restored meaning to the holiday and reminded me that this is a day that certainly deserves commemorating.

Hosted by Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, which I am proud to represent, organized a Tu B’Shvat seder.  Similar in design to the far better known Passover Seder, this event also features four cups of wine while taking participants through texts associated with the land and our produce.  In place of matzah and marror, this seder featured the fruits of the land which we ate after learning about their meaning and their connection to our tradition.

Tu Bshvat Seder Knesset

Beyond introducing most of the participants to a new ritual and becoming more connected to the holiday, the event reminded us all of the miracle of the presence of the Jewish people in our ancient homeland- which we have succeeded in developing into a modern leader of innovation and progress. 

Speaker Edelstein addressed the seder with comments that struck me as relevant for all aspects of how we live our lives. 

He conceded that as politicians and national leaders, the focus is often on issues like security, defense and the national budget.  But by coming together for events like these and eating and blessing the fruits of the land, we are reminded that there is far more to life than those issues.  And indeed, if we forget those more “basic” aspects of our world then perhaps we will be forgetting the real meaning of our lives.

For me, that was a key message of why Tu B’Shvat needs to be commemorated. 

It is not simply because we thank God for giving us the trees and nature and the beauty which surrounds us.  But it is because we need to remember that the world is built of so many complex factors and we mutsto be appreciative both of the ones we confront each and every day and those which might only become noticeable once a year.

Tu B’Shvat is an ancient- and modern- reminder of that reality. 

That even as our lives have become faster and more technologically-based, without the “basics” of nature and the environment, where would we be?

So, even if the weather outside is dreary, or the snow accumulates, we can never forget the beauty and inherent importance of this holiday.

Tu B’Shvat Sameach.

About the Author
Yakov Gaon serves as the Executive Vice President of Tzohar responsible for the development and foreign affairs for the organization. He previously served as a hi-tech executive. He lives in Shaalavim with his wife and children.
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