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Shabbat and Trees

January 17, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, January 17, 2014.

Shabbat and Trees

Yesterday was Tu Bishvat… The New Year of the Trees! This day, the 15th day of the winter month of Shevat has been a semi holiday which has evolved over the millennia. Originally, it was a kind of tax day calculating the age of trees and the beginning of the forming of fruit in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel (Click here to learn more about that from my January 3rd Shabbat Message) Over the years, however, it branched out (so to speak) and developed so many symbolic activities. It is a day on which the “seven species” of produce mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 are eaten from “a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey (date honey). Almonds too figure in the menu, since almond trees are the first trees to blossom in Eretz Yisrael.

In the Sixteenth Century, the Kabbalists of Safed attached great mystical significance to this day. An enigmatic passage in Deuteronomy 20:19 tells us: “For a human is like the tree of the field.” Humans are like trees. And... perhaps the very idea of the “Tree of Life” created for the Garden of Eden, and which, according to the mystics, reaches from earth to heaven (some say the roots are in heaven and the branches on earth) is the source of Godly energy flowing into our world. In fact, the Jews of Safed developed a Tu Bishvat Seder, modeled after the Passover Seder. There are four cups of wine, representing four mystical stages of creation, and fruits that grow in Eretz Yisrael are eaten. 

How great that this Tu Bishvat is a day away from Shabbos! Since tradition demands that we eat special food on Shabbat, and food with fruit is a special tradition of Tu Bishvat, try to make this Shabbat Dinner, on the Shabbat following Tu Bishvat, full of fruit, bridging the Shabbat and the Season.

Shabbat Shalom... and a belated Tu Bishvat!