Tu BiShvatA Deeper Look into the Jewish Holiday
Today, January 25, 2024 is Tuesday, BiShvat, an important day in Judaism. My intent for writing is to offer up a brief look at what the day is all about and really focus on one aspect of the day. This is in no way an exhaustive study on the topic. I sincerely hope that what is offered up here is fruitful. Yes, the pun is intended!
The name of the day literally translates as the 15th of the month of Shevat. The significance of the day is that it is seen as the “birthday of trees,” specifically fruit trees. The day is typically celebrated with a seder meal somewhat akin to a Passover seder with the focus on eating fruit, in particular, dates and figs are popular. Four glasses of wine or juice are consumed in a progression from light or white wine to dark or red wine, symbolizing the progression from winter to summer. This day’s celebration is not in any way Biblically mandated as are the moedim (appointed or set times) found in Leviticus , Chapter 23. You will find Tu BiShvat discussed in the Talmud and spoken of by the sages. What we see practiced by many today is deeply rooted in 17th century mysticism and not what I would recommend pursuing. Many Messianic believers would see the day and its traditions as Takanot, and therefore to be avoided or ignored.
So first, a little more background to the day and its reason for being celebrated, and then I will give you my final take-a-way on the topic of this Jewish holiday.
The first day of Tishri is considered the New Year, Rosh HaShannah or Biblically correct as Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets). Shortly after this day, the rainy season begins and ends roughly just before or around the time of Tu BiShvat. Why is this important? This is now the time when fruit in Israel begins to ripen and be ready for harvest. This is tied with the rabbinical or Talmudic laws concerning the fruit of the trees and tithing and offerings. The very fact that trees have a birthday is deemed important by the saages is that, the sages state we are not to eat fruit in the first three years that a tree bears fruit, but in the fourth year according to the sages, the fruit is to be consumed in Israel, “with G-d.” Then after that, it is allowed to be eaten anywhere/anytime. This is a bit of a contradiction to the written Torah instructions found in Leviticus 19:23-25, which states that:
“And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as their uncircumcision: three years shall they be as uncircumcised unto you; it shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto Yeh-vah. And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am Yeh-vah your G-d.”
It is worthy to note that the Torah states the fruit may be consumed in the “5th year” not the “4th year” as the sages teach. Second, the teaching of the importance of knowing the age of a tree and keeping track of its birthdays so-to-speak have some significance. The sages say that the fruit in those first “three” years are not the trees’ best work in terms of things like taste. It is in the “4th year” (which should be 5th year by Torah) that they say that the fruit reaches its best, and therefore is worthy of being eaten with G-d, “in the land”.
When it comes to tithing, it is sort of like modern American federal or state laws. We, for instance, use January 1st as a delination of years and then on April 15th, we pay our taxes based on what we received from the previous year. In this case of fruit trees, the previous year’s blessings are evident in the fruit. In fact, the rains that preceded this day are the very provision from the hand of G-d that does for the people what they cannot do for themselves. I get it that man in many ways can do nothing at all to produce fruit by ourselves. It is The Father who created trees in the first place and sustains their life just as He sustains us. But people work with G-d to bring fruit to harvest. By this I mean, people may plant seeds or seedlings and then care for them. They may fertilize, prune, and do other tasks along the way to harvest time where a lot of work is involved in harvesting much fruit. But the one thing man cannot do is bring the rains! It is for this reason there is celebration. The fact that G-d has blessed us once again is reason enough. The tithes and offerings to the priests and to the poor is an act of thanksgiving unto G-d as well as an appreciation for the service of the priests. G-d then gives a portion to the priests for their service. The whole thing is about celebrating the generosity of our Great Creator G-d, and not worshiping the creation itself!
While we who are in Messiah Yeshua are under no obligation to adhere to rabbinical law or tradition, I do say it is good to learn about things such as this day (in Midrashic form), and to look beyond the rules and regulations of men (Takanot) and see the underlying point. The point in the observcance of Tu BiShvat is that it is a day to remember that all that we have, our every blessing, all our food, all our sustainable resources comes from a single source ultimately, our Good, Loving, and Gracious Father in Heaven! This is a reality worthy of remembrance and celebration on this Tu BiShvat and everyday we draw breath frankly. Let this day be a reminder unto all of us to draw nearer to our G-d and Messiah with thankful hearts and open hands.
Shalom! Rabbi Jeff
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