Why Tu B’Shevat?
On the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the Jewish people celebrate a holiday called Tu B’Shevat, which means “the new year of trees.” While it is not a biblical feast, this holiday has some incredible significance for the people of God today. You may be wondering why I would participate in a Jewish holiday when I am not Jewish? That is an excellent question that I love to answer to the best of my ability. I am certainly not Jewish, and not striving to be. Although our family may not look like a typical American believer, we are not operating under the law of Moses. As believers, our covenant with God is through the perfect spotless lamb, Jesus Christ, who offers us a covenant of grace. We practice things like Shabbat (Sabbath), the Hebrew Festivals, Hanukah, Purim, and Tu B’Shevat under that law of love and grace. It is a gift for us to be able to see life through the eyes of Israel and connect to our Father in a new way. We love to spend time as a family, talking about the things of God, and inviting the King of Kings into our lives. While we don’t participate in American Holidays like we used to, we are not opposed to others celebrating them. We believe the Lord to guide each person in their walk with Him.
A Birthday for Trees
The celebration of Tu B’Shevat is a day to celebrate trees or nature. The Jewish people celebrate with figs and dates. They also make fancy salads and meditate on the symbolism of trees and fruit at a Tu B’Shvat Seder. Originally, this holiday was just the designated day for the birth of fruits, and was used to calculate taxes. There is this biblical law called Ma’aser, which is like a religious tax on produce.
If I was of the house of Israel, back in biblical times, and had a fruit tree, every year I would total up how much fruit grew, and then I set a percentage of it to give back to God. Determining how much I would owe each year should be simple, right? It would make sense if my fruit grew before Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew New Year), back in 5783, I would include it in last year’s total. And if it grew after Rosh Hashanah, in 5785, I would include it in this year’s total.
That, however, is not how the Hebrew people did it. Instead of using the date a fruit actually grew, they pretended that all of the fruit shares a birthday- the most recent Tu B’Shevat. They count everything from before Tu B’Shevat as being part of last year’s total- and everything after Tu B’Shevat as being part of next year’s total! That seems odd, doesn’t it? You may be wondering why all the trees share a birthday, or what is so special about this Tu B’Shvat, especially for a believer. Does this holiday have any significance to us today? The truth is the date for this is both logical and significant. Below, you will find the logic that is found in the Jewish Talmud (religious text).
In Israel, the rainy season ends right before Tu B’Shevat. That means that by Tu B’Shevat, the soil is wet, and the trees have everything they need to grow strong in the coming year. So, Tu B’Shevat marks the day that the nourishment the trees need to bear fruit is in place. That would be like instead of celebrating your birthday, you instead celebrated the day your mom started giving you nourishment in her womb! Quite a different way of looking at things, isn’t it? This is an important characteristic of God’s chosen peopl, because they knew when to look ahead, and when to look behind. They thanked God for what He was doing instead of waiting until the fulfillment, or fruit, came to show Him gratitude.
When it comes to taxes, many people shudder at the word. Especially here in America where our taxes are ever-increasing with each passing year. But, when you pay taxes to man’s governmental system, it is a lot like a “business arrangement.” When we pay taxes, we expect certain things like paved roads, safe neighborhoods, protected freedoms, and an upright justice system, right? However, when I pay a “tax” to God, it is not because I expect something back. This is because I have learned that our God is not transactional, He is relational.
Today, I give back to God because God is the creator of the fruit, the trees, the land, and everything I own- and so it all belongs to Him. So, when He tells me to give Him Ma’aser, He can do that, because the produce is His anyway. The truth is that if I had an orchard where I grew fruit trees, I might not find it easy to remember that it is God’s orchard, and I’m just His humble steward. It is only natural for us to forget the work of His hand. That is why we must take time to remember! Even if we spent a lot of money or time planting the trees in our lives and tending to them, spending hours climbing up and down ladders in the heat of the sun to gather the fruit. When I put in all that human effort, subconsciously, I am prone to believe that I’m the master of my orchard, and that I’m the person that gets it all done. And when tax season comes around, maybe I would start to think, “I don’t want to give my hard-earned produce away. I earned it! I worked hard, and I don’t like being told what to do with it!”
The one thing that busts this illusion of self-made prosperity is the rain. You see, rain is the one part of the growth of trees that we have zero control over. Despite everything else that I can do for my trees, the nourishment from the rain is out of my hands. Rain reminds all of us that no matter what we think we can do, in the end, we always come back to relying on God.
So, when a new fruit comes in the day after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish people don’t look at it as a newborn, they look at who’s ultimately responsible for this fruit. This fruit is here, not only because of our hard work, but primarily because of God, and the rain He blessed us with. Then we must remember when it fell. It fell last year, in the rainy season before Tu B’Shevat.
Tu B’Shevat is the day when God’s role in the growth of trees is most clear: the day the trees have gotten all their nutritious God-given rain. This thought extends to Jesus, God’s firstfruit. Jesus Christ resurrected on the day of Firstfruits, which is a biblical feast in Israel. Even beyond that, the fruit that Christ produced on the cross was His Church, His Ekklesia. This makes us carriers of what He did in the earth, spreading the good news like a seed spread upon the soil by the help of the wind.
We cannot pretend that we made everything happen by ourselves. That would be arrogant and foolish to not give credit where it is due. We are called by Christ to humbly, and gratefully go and take care of our Ma’aser, or tithe. If you chose to join us on this Tu B’Shevat, as we eat some dates and figs- make sure you take a minute to think of where it all comes from. Remind yourself that fruits don’t grow in that plastic packaging found in supermarkets. Each fruit is a gift of the land, nourished by God. And even consider those figurative fruits in your life. Think of your children, accomplishments, gifts, talents, or achievements. Those all come back to God, the good gift giver. Keep meditating on that. Finally, look for a way to bless someone with what the Lord has blessed you with. As you savor the fruit, let gratitude overwhelm you!
Happy Tu B’Shevat!
Here is a Coloring Page and flashcards for little ones: