"And there are four New Year dates: - The first of Nissan - New Year for kings and festivals - The first of Ellul - New Year for animal tithes. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishrei. - The first of Tishrei- new year for calculation of the calendar, sabbatical years and jubilees, for planting and sowing - The first of Shvat - new year for trees, according to the school of Shamai; The school of Hillel say: the fifteenth of Shvat."
Mishna "Rosh Hashana", Ch.1, Mishna 1
Tu Bishvat, the Jewish Arbor day, once again has come and has once again left. Nonetheless, like most holidays in our cyclical calendar, with Tu Bishvat comes a rather peculiar question.
In the above Mishna from Tractate Rosh Hashana, four new years are mentioned. One for kings and festivals, one for animal tithes, one for Tishrei (the actual new year), and one for trees.
One may expect that a new year would be identified by a point in time that represents the climax or at least when things are starting to mature. Why then is it that on Tu Bishvat, trees don’t start growing nor have they reached full bloom? It seems that this day in the year is simply an arbitrary time to identify and establish a holiday for the trees?
I believe that the answer is, that in reality, Tu Bishvat, is a time when an integral development occurs within trees. Granted, this time might not seem to be vital in the trees growth, but nonetheless as we will see in a moment it is imperative. Tu Bishvat is the time when the sap of the trees begins to run. This early step and seemingly meaningless time period in the growth of the tree is realistically a notable time period. Fore if it wasn’t for this elementary stage in the trees development, than none of the remaining advances could occur that eventually would lead to the tree being in full blossom.
The verse says, “Man is like a tree in a field.” In what way is man similar to a tree? Mankind is comparable to a tree, in that we also came from the ground. This time of the year is not only an essential time for the tree but also for the Jewish people as a whole. Just as the sap stirs within the tree during this season, the nishama of a person (which binds the physical and the spiritual) also stirs within mankind to rile up our senses and reenergize us for the rest of the year.
At this point in the year, the hischadshus and adrenaline rush of starting a new year has already worn out and we anxiously anticipate its end. Tu Bishvat however, is a time that has been designated by Hakadosh Baruch Hu for recharging our batteries and renewing the pristine feeling of starting the year anew.
May we take this new strength that we have been blessed with from the Ribbono Shel Olam and use it to bring Klal Yisrael closer to one another. May we see the building of the Beis Hamikdash, soon in our days, Amen.