By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
Tu B’Shevat, Tu B’Shevat,
I like you a lot.
No tears, no fasting.
Only wonder at G-d’s plot.
Tu B’Shevat, degraded, diminished, and deluded by Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach, as we all know, is the New Year of Trees. It’s one of the holidays, as we all know, that is not in the Torah, but found its origins in the Talmud.
The New Year of Trees, we call it. Why? Because in Israel the fifteenth day of Shevat signaled the end of winter. Trees bloomed with joy. Here in the U.S, the trees are black and Bubbe falls on the icy front porch stairs and fractures her hip, but in Eretz Yisrael, spring reigns.
Originally, this exotic holiday had to do with tithing, which is a euphemism for taxes. It was the modern equivalent of April, in measuring what percentage of the fruit went to government or maybe charity. Jerusalem in 200 B.C.E. or Washington, D.C. in 2016 – government is government.
Tubee is celebrated over a wide range. Some send a fruit bowl to friends – others have Passover featuring the fruits of Israel. Others plant a tree. My friend, Herb, eats an apple and feels he has fulfilled a mitzvah.
All this is nice, but to this heretic, missed the point. To me, Tubee is a solemn declaration of the power of G-d and therefore his existence and reign over what we loosely call nature, which spans the orbit of Jupiter to the potential of an acorn.
Someday, when I’m the Head Rabbi of America, I shall issue a presidential edict that on Tubee every parent must take his child into the back yard and plant a tree seed. (Maybe several to ensure success.) What better way to convince a child of the power of the Almighty and to demonstrate the mystic force that enlivens Oak trees, puppies, all the animals of the zoo, and your loving parents. This is a feat that makes the Red Sea parting strictly minor league.
When that acorn, lifted by a power we still don’t understand, clears his home – the earth – the heavens welcome him. There is a magic in seeds we still don’t understand. You might even call it soul – that invisible, undetectable power in the human body. It hides from the microscope and every other human apparatus. It is ethereal, yet transcendental to the physical elements of the body. (By the way, don’t use this seed demo to the kids if you live next to a yard full of squirrels – you’ll only feed your fellow creatures, which come to think of it, is also a mitzvah.)
The ancient pagans had it all wrong, but given their level of knowledge, you must give them a smidgen of credit. They barely missed the mark. They knew there was a magic that fueled the world. But they worshipped the tricks, not the master magician. They worshipped the grove of trees on the hill – not He who turned a half-ounce seed into a ten-ton Oak tree. The Egyptians bowed and said prayers to the mother cat that fed, cleaned, and instructed the litter. They ignored the Master Creator, who hardwired this behavior into her essence.
They above may be of slight interest to some. But in all seriousness, there’s nothing more important to your child – most of whom are growing up in a secular world – than to demonstrate the presence of a Master of the Universe. Keep it simple. Together, plant a seed on Tu B’Shevat. Ten years later, you can say, “I told you so.”