Fifteenth of Shevat - "Tu B'Shevat"
First, as to the word "Tu," pronounced "too" in the name "Tu B'Shevat." "Tu" is constructed from the Hebrew letters "tet" and "vav." "Tet" is the ninth letter in the Hebrew alphabet; "vav" is the sixth. Nine + Six = Fifteen. Also, "tet" is a consonant, making the "te" sound; "vav" is a vowel, which when sounded with the "shoorook" vocalization, sounds like "oo."
This is the Rosh HaShanah for trees. Again, as mentioned above in connection with the "First of Elul" Rosh HaShanah, the significance is primarily in connection with "Maasrot," tithing, or taking tenths. The dates of ripening of different agricultural species, say wheat, on one hand, and apples and oranges representing the "fruit-of-the-tree" group, are different. Also, since one may not calculate the "tenth" for a given year using produce from a different year, it is important to know the calendar definitions of ripening which apply to the various species.
Our Sages have designated the 15th of Shevat as the boundary, for trees, between one year and another, since most of the rains of the previous year, in the Land of Israel , have already fallen. A certain percentage of the fruit has reached the stage of "begun to ripen." This is defined as from the time of blossoming until the fruit has reached one third of its full growth . Fruit which have reached this stage are attributed to the previous year. Any new blossoming of fruit after this day is a result of the blessings of the new year .
Special Note: The earliest-ripening fruit is the "shekadiah," the "almond," in honor of which the following famous song was composed:
"HaShekadiah Porachat," The Almond has blossomed
"VeShemesh Paz Zorachat," And the Sun is Shining Brightly
"Tzipporim Me'Rosh kol Gag" Birds from Every Roof-Top
"Mevasrot et Bo HaChag" Welcome the Arrival of the Holiday !
A Weekday Rosh HaShana
Although the 15 th of Shevat is called Rosh HaShanah, the designation applies only to the matter of tithes that are due from fruit of the trees. Work is not prohibited, and there are no required festive meals, and no special prayers added to the regular prayer services. Nevertheless, the day is invested with a festive sense. Tachanun is not said. Eulogies are not delivered for the dead, and if it falls on Shabbat, Av Harachamim is not said (since Av Harachamim recalls the souls of the dead.) It is customary to eat a new fruit from the Land of Israel of which one had not yet partaken the present year, so that the "bracha" or "blessing" of SheHecheyanu may be said.
The reason for the festive mood of the Rosh Hashanah of trees is that the 15th of Shevat recalls the praise of the Land of Israel , for on this day the strength of the soil of the land is renewed. With reference to the fruits of the trees and the produce of the soil, the Torah praises the Land of Israel : "A land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey" (Devarim 8).
Another reason for the special observance of the 15 th of Shevat is that the time of Rosh Hashanah for the trees is also a time of prayer and judgment concerning the trees. Whenever any of His creatures begins to grow, G-d surveys its entire future. So it is proper, at such a time, to pray that the new creature or being might prosper.
The Torah has compared Man to a tree of the field; hence this day also recalls the Divine judgment upon man. For such is the character of the people of Israel , that they rejoice on a day of judgment . Whatever the decision is, let all see that "there is a law and that there is a Judge." The Torah is the law, and G-d is the Judge.
Tu B'Shevat (literally the 15 th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat) is the New Year for Trees. Farmers in Israel have to set aside a small part of their crops for holy purposes. The new crop starts each year on Tu B'Shevat. In Israel , people plant trees on Tu B'Shevat. In the Torah, the Land of Israel is praised for seven special crops: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, dates, pomengrates. We have a custom to eat these foods on Tu B'Shevat to remember the Land of Israel and its praise. Also, one should try to eat a new fruit he has not tasted in a long time, so he can recite a special blessing on it.
Every time a Jew eats food, he recites a blessing over it to thank G-d, the Creator of all, Who has given us this food. Different types of food have different blessings. For products from wheat, barley and other grains, the blessing is Mezonos. Fruit from trees, like the special fruits of the Land of Israel , has another blessing, Ho-aytz. There are other blessings for other types of foods. After eating your meal, you recite another blessing, either Al Hamichya, Borey Nefashos or Birkas Hamozon depending on what you have eaten, thanking G-d again.
Tale of Trees in the Talmud
Once a man walking in the desert was tired, hungry and thirsty. He found a tree with sweet fruits, bountiful shade, and a stream of water flowing by it. The man ate the tree's fruit, drank from its stream and relaxed in its shade. When he was refreshed and ready to leave, he said, "Tree, tree, how can I bless you? If I were to bless you that your fruits should be sweet, they are already sweet. If I should bless you with plenty of shade, you already have shade. A stream already flows by you, so I can't bless you with water either. I can only bless you that all the trees planted from your seeds should be just like you."
One of the famous Sages from the Talmud was named Choni Hamagel. Once, he was walking on the way, and he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him "How long will it take for the tree to bear fruit?". The man answered "Seventy years". Choni then asked him, "And are you sure that you will live seventy more years and eat the fruit?". The man responded, "I found this world planted with carob trees. Just as my fathers planted those trees for me, so too, I must do the same for my children after me."
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