Beshalach 5779 - Rosh Hashanah
This coming Monday is Tu B'Shevat – the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat. It is the New Year for trees. According to the Mishna, this is the date which marks the passage of one year to the next - with regards to trees. Arboriculturists mark the age of a tree from the date of its planting. At the end of 12 months it has concluded one year, etc.
In Judaism the year of a tree is also 12 months. With one exception: the year in which the tree is planted. Providing there is ample time for the tree to develop (30 days), the first year draws to an end on the 14th of Shevat. The 15th of Shevat is the beginning of the next year in its life, irrespective of how many months had actually elapsed.
Does it really matter, I hear you ask? It most certainly does. There are various Mitzvot associated with the tree and its produce. This includes Orla - the fruit of a tree's first three years, which are forbidden to be consumed; Reva'i - the fruit of a tree's fourth year, which could only be consumed in certain conditions, and Shemita - the Sabbatical year. There is also an annual tithe that must be offered from the produce. In all these examples, the date marking the advent of a new year is the 15th of Shevat.
The date of 15th Shevat was determined due to the natural growth of the tree. At this time of the year, the mid-point of winter, the intensity of the cold has reached its peak and begins to gradually ease (very subtly), while the majority of the year's rains (in Israel) have fallen. Now, the sap begins to rise, spreading and permeating through the tree, causing the initial ripening of the fruit, a clear sign that the new fruit is arriving.
Next week, I will focus on a valuable lesson from trees. In the meantime, celebrate on Monday! One of the prevalent customs associated with this day is the eating of 15 types of fruit, ranging from apples, oranges and bananas to something as small as almonds. One should also try to obtain a 'new' fruit, i.e. a fruit or vegetable which is being consumed for the first time during that season.
RABBI MENDEL LEW