As if to tell us that, in the words of Albert Camus, “in the midst of the winter I came to know that there was in me an invincible Summer”, TubiSh’vat comes at the time when in Israel, the winter rains are slacking and the trees start filling themselves with the sap of new life.
In Safed, in the sixteenth century, the mystics conceived the idea that on the 15th. of Sh’vat the Tree of Life, the tree of the Ten Sefirot, renews the flow of life in the universe. Planting a tree on this date assumes special significance. We are asserting our faith that the tree will sustain new life and that its fruits will feed and delight us.
The TubiSh’vat vegetarian seder celebrates the bounty of creation and brings us closer to the miracle of Creation. The fifteen fruits that we eat contain within them the seed of the new fruit, just as we welcome the new generation that will follow us and continue our work of repairing the world.
A story is told in the Talmud about Honi, the Rainmaker: He was also known as Honi the Circle Maker because, by drawing a circle and stepping inside of it, he would recite special prayers for rain. Sometimes he would even argue with God during a drought, and the rains would come. He was very wise but, when he saw something that puzzled him he would ask questions to satisfy his thirst for knowledge.One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?"
The man replied, "Seventy years."
Honi then asked the man, "And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?"
The man answered, "Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees."
The idealistic settlers of what was then Palestine understood that planting trees and drying the marshes was a sure way to restore the land and bring it to the splendor of previous centuries. Presently, Israel is the only country that has entered the 21st. century with an increased number of trees. Every TubiSh’vat the Israeli children plant trees, a practice that has extended to the Diaspora.
In Isaiah 65:21-22 we read ”They shall not build for others to dwell in, or plant for others to enjoy. For the days of My people shall be as long as the days of a tree.
Let us honor the “giving trees” that give us nourishment, shade, a home for the birds that delight us with their singing and, mostly, unconditional friendship.
Martha E. Lichtenstein