This Sunday evening we enter Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of Shevat – a semi-festival popularly imagined to be a New Year or birthday for trees. The reality is somewhat less romantic – this is the end of an ancient agricultural tax year. Reflecting a prohibition on fulfilling the tithe on an old crop by taxing a new crop, the Sages eventually affixed the 15th of Shevat as the day after which a ripening fruit was accorded to the next year’s ledger books for tax purposes.
Indeed, there is little sign that there was any substantial observance of Tu B’Shevat throughout the classical Rabbinic period. Hillel and Shammai would probably have reacted to the suggestion with the same surprise with which we might greet a proposal of fireworks and champagne on Erev April 5th (Rosh HaShanah l’Tax).
But with the flourishing of the Kabbalah of Sfat in the 16th century, Tu B’Shevat comes into its own – growing its own liturgy of seders and piyyut, becoming a festival of yearning for the Land of Israel – the actual, soily, dusty Land; a celebration of its 7 species, and the rich miracle by which seeds perennially germinate into fruit; a recommitment to the idea that we can repair the world, and heal the indwelling Divine presence, just one fruit tree at a time. And so our modern Tu BiShvat is born. And, personally, I rather prefer it to classically dry observance of an agricultural tax form.
I’d particularly like to draw your attention to the next Shabbat Beiteinu – Friday night services followed by a communal meal in our new Home on Stanmore Hill, on February 10th. Please email Rabbi Anna if you would like to attend. Also, on Tuesday March 14th, we will be joined by Johnny Benjamin, his father, Michael, and representatives from JAMI to discuss the experience of facing, and caring for someone struggling with, serious mental health challenges. Johnny and Michael are inspirational speakers – who have been on an incredible journey – and will be well worth hearing.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom