by: Ilse Strauss
Monday, 10 February 2020 | Sundown last night signaled the start of Tu BiShvat, a special holiday tied uniquely to the Land of Israel. On Tu BiShvat, the people who call the Jewish state home celebrate the new year for the fruits of the trees.
For most of us living in Western society, new year celebrations come once every 12 months on December 31. Yet things are different in the Jewish state. In fact, the Hebrew or biblical calendar features a full four New Year’s Days, each with its own distinctive purpose.
The first new year is known as Rosh HaShanah, literally “the head of the year,” and serves as the start of the civil calendar. The second falls in early spring during Passover, and celebrates redemption from slavery in Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation. The third falls in late summer and is known as the new year for animal tithes.
But then there is a fourth, called Tu BiShvat, on which the people of Israel mark the beginning of the “new year” for trees. This particular new year celebration has both practical and religious purposes. Leviticus 19:23–25 instructs that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years. During the fourth year, the fruit yield from any tree belongs to God. Yet in the fifth year and after, the fruit is for the enjoyment of the people.
Practically, Tu BiShvat is thus for the purpose of calculating the age of trees, as each tree in the land is considered to have aged one year on this day. From there, the playful saying that Tu BiShvat is the birthday for trees in Israel.
Like all new year celebrations, Tu Bishvat comes with the promise of renewal, rebirth and growth in nature. Known in international media as Israeli Arbor Day, many across the country celebrate this day by planting trees or taking part in activities to raise environmental awareness.
The new year for the fruits of the trees is also an opportunity for joyous celebration. On the eve of Tu BiShvat, families and friends gather around festive dinner tables groaning with the abundance of fruits native to the Jewish homeland. Dishes made from the seven species—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, described in Deuteronomy 8:8 as abundant in the Land—all serve as firm holiday favorites.
Tu BiShvat falls on the 15th day of Shevat, the 11th month in the Hebrew calendar, which translates to either January or February in the Gregorian calendar. Traditionally, these are the coldest months Israel, when winter winds and rain continue to lash the Land of Promise. People and nature alike, it seems, are still inclined to hibernate until the sunny days of summer.
Yet Tu BiShvat is about a promise. It is the first whisper of the end of a dreary winter and the earliest hint of new life stirring—even if the signs remain yet unseen. This is the season during which the trees all over the Land of Israel will awaken from their winter sleep and bloom to new life—even though buds may not be visible yet. On Tu BiSvat the Jewish people celebrate the promise that the dreary skies will give way to sunshine, that the Land of Israel will continue to produce in lavish abundance and that destruction will be turned into a flowering harvest.
This year on Tu BiShvat a group of Bridges for Peace volunteers once again joined forces with the throngs of Jewish people planting trees across the country. Selecting spots of biblical, historical and national significance in Judea and Samaria—the biblical heartland of the Jewish people—the team planted shrubs, fruit and fir trees, specially selected and purchased by Bridges for Peace volunteers, on the hills of Judea.
While our efforts lend a helping hand to the Jewish people in beautifying the Land of Israel, each tree was also planted as part of a prophetic action of partnering with God in the unfolding of His plans and promises.
The Bible warned that when God exiled the Jewish people from Israel, the Promised Land would become a wasteland, “I will bring the land to desolation, and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished at it. I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste” (Lev. 26:32–33).
God remained true to His Word, and Israel became the bleak desolation of His warning. Yet God also spoke promises of restoration. When He returned the Jewish people to the land of their fathers, the desert would “blossom” (Isa. 35:1). He would make “make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord” (Isa. 51:3). Moreover, the land that lay desolate would “blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6). In Amos 9 and Ezekiel 36 His promise is of vineyards, gardens and the produce thereof. The list goes on.
That is exactly what we see happening before our very eyes. Today Israel is a land of lush produce, forests, orchards, grape arbors and olive groves. Some 150 years ago the land was barren and desolate. Israel is the only country in the world that registered a net gain in trees during the 20th century. Moreover, even with half her landmass a desert, the Jewish state is considered one of the largest exporters of fruit and vegetables worldwide.
Historians and experts refer to what happened in the Promised Land as an “agricultural miracle.” Miraculous, yes. But ultimately the proof of a faithful God fulfilling His promise—lavishly, abundantly and in full.
Posted on February 10, 2020
Source: (Bridges for Peace, February 10, 2020)
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