I remember as a young girl planting pine trees in Finland. It was sometimes a summer occupation. A new forest was planted to replace a cut down one. For every tree cut, a new one was planted, that is the law in Finland. The forest was part of everyday life, so natural and so plenty of it.
Coming to Israel, I realised, a forest cannot be taken for granted. It is a miracle Israel has any forest at all, with such low annual rainfall. According to the World Bank data,.the Finnish forest cover 73% of the land area. Israel has a forest area of only 7.6%.
Israel does not have that many trees, but we have a holiday to celebrate the few trees we have . It is called “The New year of the Trees” or Tu B’Shvat, starting Tuesday evening, January 30. This day has become a date when a tree starts a new year.
Why do we need to know how old a tree is? In Judaism, the first three years after a fruit tree is planted is like the “forbidden fruit”. The fourth year is holy and in Temple times the produce was brought to Jerusalem. Today we eat from the forth year. This process is called “orlah.”
If we want to know the age of a cut down tree we can count the rings inside. Every year a tree grows a new ring.
We celebrate Tu B’Shvat by planting trees, but also by having a festive Tu B’Shvat seder/meal. In honor of the day we eat of the seven kinds of produce for which Israel is praised in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates. If we want to go all out and follow the tradition started by 16th century Kabbalists in Tzfat, we will also drink four cups of wine.
If we are going to plant a tree on Wednesday, the 15th of Shvat, let’s hear what Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai said . He was a student of Hillel and survived the destruction of the Second Temple. “We are standing there with a sampling in our hand, suddenly we are told: Look, Moshiach is here! We should first plant the sapling and then go out and welcome Moshiach.” Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B’Shvat!