Jonathan Muskat

Tu BiShvat: Celebrating the Return to our Homeland

The holiday of Tu BiShvat is an interesting holiday in that it is not recorded in the Torah and the Mishna simply refers to it as the New Year for trees. What this means is that I have a requirement to separate maasrot, or to tithe my produce that grows during the year.  The beginning of the fiscal year for calculating maasrot is Tu BiShvat.  Any fruits that have blossomed before Tu BiShvat belong to the previous year for purposes of tithing and any fruits that have blossomed after Tu BiShvat belong to the next year for purposes of tithing.  I wonder why the date to calculate tithing is the date that the fruit begins to blossom and not when the fruit actually ripens.

It seems to me that Tu BiShvat is not focused on the development of edible fruit in general, but it’s focused on the the fruit of the Land of Israel.  The mitzvah of separating maasrot highlights the uniqueness of the growth of fruit in Eretz Yisrael. When we mark the day of Tu BiShvat, the fruit is not really edible.  It’s just begun to grow.  However, this growth is a fulfillment of settling the Land of Israel and developing the land and it’s a sign of God’s Divine Providence on the land.  But more than that, it is even the sign of the final redemption.  In fact, the prophet Yechezkel states that during the final redemption, “v’atem harei Yisrael anp’chem titenu u’perychem tis’u l’ami Yisrael” – and you, o mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel (Yechezkel 36:8).  In Masechet Sanhedrin 98b, Rav Abba cites this verse as a proof that trees blossoming are a clear sign of the redemption.

Celebrating Tu BiShvat by reciting special prayers or eating special fruit or planting trees is not about the farmer who is praying for his livelihood; rather, it’s about the Jew who pours out his heart and prays for the signs of the final redemption and celebrates those signs of that redemption that he sees right now.  As such, Tu BiShvat is yet another example of a day in the Jewish calendar which has become more and more easy to celebrate now with the return of Jews to our homeland, to Eretz Yisrael and with the tremendous growth of Eretz Yisrael.

Chaim Yoav Rabinovitch, an Israeli activist, wrote about celebrating Tu BiShvat on Polish soil:

“I was a six year old boy, and the communist government had just completely closed the gates to Eretz Yisrael. On Tu BiShvat eve, the Jewish community managed to get a box of oranges from Eretz Yisrael and the oranges were not cheap. One snowy evening, my father returned from work and decided to take me with him to purchase the longed-for orange. When we returned home, we put the orange in a big bowl, that was placed in the center of the table. The Jewish neighbors came to look at the orange from Eretz Yisrael, and I was beaming with pride. I invited my friends to my home, to show them the ‘orange from Eretz Yisrael’. On Tu BiShvat eve, we sat at home around the table for a festive family meal. Father blessed ‘Boreh Pri HaEtz’ and ‘SheHecheyanu’, and then did something that should never be done. He took a knife and cut the orange from Eretz Yisrael. And I, a small Jewish boy, burst out crying. How could you cut the only orange from Eretz Yisrael, in which I was so proud? My father also added the prayer that was customary in the Diaspora on the night of Tu BiShvat: “May it be Your will, God our Lord and the Lord of our forefathers, that you should take us joyfully up to our Land, to eat of its fruit and to be satiated with its goodness.’ I remember that my mother burst out crying then. So big were the longings to leave Exile.  I found comfort in the orange peels, which I kept in a special cardboard box. The peels began to rot, but I guarded them very carefully. A few months later, using bribery, we got the long-sought-after permit to leave Poland, where our family had lived for 800 years. I wanted to take with me the orange peels from Tu BiShvat, but Mother explained to me that in Eretz Yisrael we would have many oranges, so the skins remained on Poland’s defiled land. If I have immense love for my forefathers’ land today and to its landscapes, and if not once I have risked my life for it, the origin of it all is probably also in that orange from Eretz Yisrael.”

As we recite special prayers, have a Tu BiShvat seder, eat special fruit or plant a tree in Eretz Yisrael, let us remember that now is the beginning of the fiscal year for calculating maasrot, but more than that, this is the day that we pray for and celebrate continued growth in our homeland, as a sign that the geula, the final redemption, is approaching speedily in our days.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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