I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
This week we’ve celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the holiday of trees, which began as a technical-legal-halakhic occasion, became a celebration of locally-grown fresh fruits, then to a day of tree planting, and over the years evolved into a festival regaling the environment and preservation of nature. Out of respect and appreciation to our friends the trees and to Israeli agriculture, this week’s Newsletter is dedicated to Tu B’Shvat. Chag Sameach!
The origin of the day (not yet a holiday) is in Tractate Rosh HaShana, which discusses various dates that determine the period for taxation, shmitta, tithes, etc.
The four new years are… On the first of Shvat, the new year for the trees, these are the words of the House of Shammai; The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof
In order to determine the beginning of the year from which tree tithes are taken, the scholars of the Mishna examined nature and concluded that by the month of Shvat, most of the seasonal rains have already fallen. From this point on, as the days get longer and spring gets closer, the ripening of the fruit on the trees begins. But beyond its significance to this halakhic calculation, Tu B’Shvat had no particular festival status, only that it carried similarities to those mentioned in succession, Rosh Chodesh Nissan or Elul.
Yet the letter of the law doesn’t always cancel the instinctive feeling that something is happening during this season, and that the flowers and tiny fruits budding on the trees are a reason to celebrate. Remnants of liturgy found in the Cairo Genizah, dating from the era of the Geonim (sixth-tenth century), teach us of special prayers for Tu B’Shvat, in which wishes for a bountiful year for the trees were expressed, and it seems like Tu B’Shvat was actually a special day and holiday.
With the Crusader conquests, Jewish settlement was dispersed, and many of the holiday customs disappeared. And yet, festive traces remained with the stubbornness of folksy customs that perhaps get even stronger from a distance. Thus remained the custom of the Ashkenazic communities to desist from reciting Tachanun or fast on Tu B’Shvat (as is customary for other festive days). Evidence from the 16th century indicates a custom associated with the city of Safed to eat fruits (fresh, not dried!) on Tu B’Shvat. Rabbi Yissachar Sossan, a Moroccan scholar who immigrated to Safed, mentions this in his book Avor Shanim: “And the Ashkenazic Jews, may God protect them, tend to honor the day with various fruits of the trees.”
And still, it was probably minor little customs here and there, not a true holiday. The person who resurrected Tu B’Shvat, making it an actual holiday, was a Kabalist from the 17th century, the anonymous author of Chemdat Yamim, who emphatically declared this about Tu B’Shvat:
And it is a good custom to increase fruits on this day, and to praise and sing of them, as I have taught all the friends amongst me [the group of Ha’Ari Kabalists]. And though in the words of the Rabbi [Ha’Ari] this custom is not apparent; in any case, I think it is a wonderful tikkun in the visible and the hidden. For as the Yerushalmi writes… “May the humble hear and rejoice- said Rabbi Ivon: Whoever has seen varieties of fruits and not eaten will have to explain himself…” And the reason for this is that in the same way he who enjoys this world without blessing is called a thief, such is he who sees fruits and various sweetnesses and has not eaten or blessed them… And in order to correct this, this day is proper to eat various fruits and bless them with intention, for a Mitzvah that is done at its time is pleasant…
He then proceeded to prescribe a seder of eating 30 species from the fruits of Israel, as well as texts to read and study during the feast. This seder, determined by the author of Chemdat Yamim and printed in a special book called Pri Etz Hadar, became common among the Jewish communities of Italy, Turkey, the Balkan countries and the Oriental countries, from Bukhara to Morocco. The chapter relating to the Tu B’Shvat seder was printed in a special book called Pri Etz Hadar (the Fruit of the Citrus Tree), and has been reprinted many times. The heart of this holiday for Jews in Eastern countries is a spirited, festive meal resembling the Passover seder, to which you invite relatives and neighbors, prominent guests and poor scholars, abounding with light, a decorative table and song. Various communities added distinctive customs and recited poems and special liturgies written by local liturgist, emphasizing the fruits of Israel and specifically the seven species with which the country was blessed.
These festive meals connected the Jewish communities in the Diaspora to the rhythm of nature in Mideastern Israel, and gradually raised the level of yearning and longing: “Over the meal of Eretz Yisrael fruits, on the fifteenth of Shvat, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asked his student Rabbi Yitzchak Meir to speak on current issues. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir began his dissertation with a long-winded debate around the Talmudic topic of Rosh HaShana for the Trees. He posed questions and gave answers, compared and analyzed. Said Rabbi Mendel: Were we in the Land of Israel, it would be enough to go out to the field and gaze upon the trees in order to understand the simple meaning of Rosh HaShana for the Trees, not by long-winded debates.” (Yalkut HaChochma)
In the 1880’s, with the renewal of the Jewish settlement in Israel, the need arose to find new content for this day, perhaps to proclaim: Now that we’re here, it is not enough to eat from the fruits of the land left to us by our forefathers (and Arab farmers), it’s time to plant new fruits. On Tu B’Shvat 1890, teacher and writer Ze’ev Yavetz led his students from the school in Zichron Ya’akov to a festive planting, and thus dictated the new character of Tu B’Shvat: a holiday of planting, not merely Rosh HaShana of the Trees. In 1908, the Teachers’ Union formally proclaimed Tu B’Shvat to be the holiday of planting. Later, the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) adopted this date.
However, over the years things have somewhat shrivelled, and a cynical note has begun to creep into the holiday mood. Many times, the festive planting does not result in a forest but rather in new plantings, same place, one year later. Azaria Alon writes, “Looking back, we can only blame ourselves, the Keren Kayemet and the Teachers’ Union, for the fact that Tu B’Shvat is not a holiday for nature but a holiday of planting. Let’s search the songs and ads for a word about what will happen to the plant after it is planted, about our commitment to the tree after we leave the planting site.” (Remember Salach Shabati?)
And so, when new content for the holiday was required, the SPNI (upon the initiative of one of the very first activists, Avraham Bumi Toren from Kibbutz Ma’abarot) suggested that Tu B’Shvat become the holiday of nature.
According to an old Arab tale, man and animal tremble on rainy days, and crave pasture space. Allah, in his great benevolence, sends down to them from the skies three cinders. The first cinder- the cinder of air, comes down on the seventh of Shvat and warms up the air. On the 14th of Shvat, Allah will send down from the skies a second cinder, the cinder of water. Upon its descent, the water will warm up, penetrate the trees and make them bloom and produce fruit. The farmer then counts seven more days, and Allah then sends down his third cinder, the cinder of earth. This is when the earth warms up and is covered with soft grass. Said Rabbi Hai Gaon, “It seems that Tu B’Shvat is Rosh HaShana for the Trees, adjacent to the “second cinder” day, termed in Arabic “Aljamra Althania,” which is when the trees get wet and start to drink, and it is close to the 15th of Shvat, so it is Rosh HaShana of the Trees.” (Yom Tov Lewinsky, Sefer Ha-Moadim)
This period of time in which nature shifts from cold winter to renewed growth, is expressed as the start of major blooming, budding, the awakening of various birds for nesting and reproduction, and winter wildflowers grow gently and courageously in the cold weather. Going out into nature to view its world has become the new content of the holiday. Another facet of Tu B’Shvat originated with the popular campaign of the 70’s to save the wildflowers of Israel, stressing the rule not to injure, pick, or uproot the rare wildflowers.
The month of Shvat is really a time of wonderful renewal, and not only because the rains will stop, but actually because they are still continuing during Shvat, enabling the growth of new shoots, buds, and blossoms. This is also the month of foaling amongst the goats and sheep flocks. Now of all times, when it’s still so cold outside, the baby lambs and kids (goats) are being born, because the world around them is full of greenery to eat. One look at the Chubeza vegetable beds illustrates this green outburst (and with it the need to constantly weed…), highlighted by wild grass that can make do with the little rain it’s gotten so far.
These days, perhaps because we are gradually disconnecting from nature, many people are moving to the city. Here the abundant green turns to cement with only a few shoots able to break through the pavement cracks, and Tu B’Shvat has become the holiday for the environment, in a general sort of way, and specifically in matters of recycling and educating about damage control. Not that this isn’t good–it’s creative and interesting and beneficial. But I feel a little ache in my heart as we get distanced farther away from my childhood memories of walking in my boots and coat to the planting site, digging my fingers into the freezing earth, taking the plant out of its black plastic jacket and placing it gently into the hole my father dug with a great big shovel. True, it is important to continue to attend to this tree, to care for it and cultivate it, but a recycling workshop in honor of the occasion lacks the sensual experience of planting and touching the earth.
So, if you won’t actually be planting trees this year, try refraining from limiting yourselves to recycled creations made in your warm house, but actually go out to nature, to mushroom or wild herb-collecting or simply a nice hike in the clean air amidst all the green and blossoming. For one minute, actually touch and not just look: push your hands through the fragrant wet soil, lie on a green carpet of nature and feel the soft leaves, look up into the sky and see shapes in the clouds, hug a tree (seriously!) – I truly recommend going on a little walk, even close to home, find a tree that needs a hug and simply spread your arms around it, feel the roughness of the trunk, notice its stability (and perhaps sway in the breeze), look up, notice the treetop (is it in foliage or green and swaying gently?) and simply surrender to this embrace-connection.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has prepared humorous guidelines for this worthy endeavor!
Wishing everyone a chance to go out into the blossoming flower-dotted nature that surrounds us. May we know how to enjoy all the renewal, change and movement that this season brings. To extend our roots and simply “be….”
A happy Tu B’Shvat to all,
Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Orin and the Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Our boxes are muddy and wet these days, thanks to the rainy days in our field. Sorry about the excess mud…
We packed the wet greens without plastic wrap. Once they reach your kitchen, please dry them and store them in either a plastic/glass container or seal them in plastic wrap.
You are welcome to check out the handy Chubeza Guide to Storing Vegetables on our website.
Monday: Potatoes, daikon/ fennel/turnips, cauliflower/broccoli, Swiss chard/spinach/ tatsoi/ broccoli greens, Jerusalem artichoke/green fava beans/peas, bunch of fresh onions, bell peppers/cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce/baby greens (mesclun)/arugula.
Large box, in addition: Kohlrabi/beets, parsley/coriander, celery/celeriac.
FRUIT BOXES: Red or green apples, avocado, clementinas, oranges/red grapefruit/lemons, bananas.
Wednesday: Potatoes, daikon/fennel/turnips, cauliflower/broccoli/kohlrabi, Swiss chard/spinach/tatsoi, Jerusalem artichoke/green fava beans/peas, bunch of fresh onions, bell peppers/cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce/baby greens (mesclun)/arugula.
Large box, in addition: Beets, parsley/coriander, celery/celeriac.
FRUIT BOXES: Red or green apples, avocado, clementinas, oranges/red grapefruit/lemons, bananas.