Tu B’Shevat is the New Year for Trees.   This holiday marks how in the nature, the tree journeys from being stagnant to producing fruits.   However, just as the tree journeys from stagnation to redemption between Tu B’Shevat and Passover, so do the Jewish people.

According to Leviticus 19:23-25, “When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years, it will be forbidden and not eaten.  In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the Lord.  In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.”  Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat, is the New Year for Trees according to the Mishnah. In the Mediterranean region, the period between Sukkot and Tu B’Shevat is a time where the tree absorbs water so that it can grow but does not yield any new fruit.  It is only after these four months that the tree is nourished enough in order to start producing fruit and this is what we celebrate on Tu B’Shevat.

However, just as a tree in the nature journeys from stagnation to being fruits between Tu B’Shevat and Passover, so does the Jewish people during this crucial period of time. The Jewish scholars stress that this holiday not only marks when we can eat the fruit from a tree but also speaks about humanity for the Book of Deuteronomy compares man to a tree. Like a tree, a human creates strong roots via their faith and commitment to G-d while also producing many fruits, namely the Torah and the mitzvoth (good deeds).   Thus, on his important day, the Jewish people transition from stagnation to commemorating our liberation and redemption from the Egyptian slavery.

During these winter months, our lives are stagnant.  We left behind us the bright lights of the Hanukkah menorah. At the same time, the weather is cold, rainy and dreary in Israel.   In Europe and America, there is even snow, sleet and freezing below 0 degrees C temperatures but the reprieve that Hanukkah offers our souls during this depressing season is over. However, starting around Tu B’Shevat, we get another holiday that helps to bright up the darkness that surrounds our lives.

In the middle of this winter doom, we feast on the seven fruits of Israel.  We either plant new trees or pay money to Jewish organizations in order to plant trees on our behalf in Israel.   Sephardic Jews even have a special Tu B’Shevat Seder in honor of this holiday, a tradition that has also spread among the Ashkenazi community in recent years.   At around the same period of time, we start getting ready for Passover.  We read from the Book of Exodus.   We begin koshering our homes for Passover. And as Passover gets nearer, the weather brightens up and the days start to get longer.   No longer are we hovering in the darkness from a very early hour. For the Jewish people, Tu B’Shevat thus marks the beginning of our commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption and liberation from the Egyptian bondage.

As Jews prepare to commemorate the exodus out of Egypt, in the nature, Tu B’Shevat marks this transition for the sap in the trees begins to rise at precisely this time.  Also, around this period of time, we have the bird migrations in Israel.   As the Prophet Jeremiah stated, “The stork in the sky knows her appointed times and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe their time of migration.” The bird migrations that occur around this period of time in the Land of Israel, which serves as a bridge between Europe, Africa and Asia, also symbolizes the exodus out of Egypt for just as the Jewish people crossed numerous borders in order to obtain liberation and redemption in the Land of Israel, so too the birds travel across the world in order to find greener pastures for themselves. Thus, as the Jewish children sing, “The almond tree is blooming; and the golden sun is shining; birds atop each roof proclaim the festival; Tu B’Shevat is here, the festival of trees.”

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Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, which is run by Mendi Safadi, Israeli Communication Minister Ayoob Kara's former chief of staff. In addition, she is a counter-terror analyst at the Islamic Theology on Counter-Terrorism, a think tank run by British Pakistani dissident Noor Dahri. For over 6 years, she is a Middle East based journalist, covering radical Islam, terrorism, human rights abuses in the Muslim world, minority rights abuses in the Muslim world, women's rights issues in the Muslim world, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Jewish Diaspora, anti-Semitism, international affairs and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground breaking book that was endorsed by former Israel Consul General Dr. Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara.