In the beginning:
"And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to his kind, upon the earth." And it was so… And God saw that it was good."
In biblical times:
Our fathers were farmers who appreciated nature as their lives depended on it. They celebrated the changes of the seasons, with bikkurim -first fruits to the Temple, terumot- leave-offerings and maasrot- tithes.
In the middle ages:
In the 15th century, when the Jews of Spain were expelled, those who settled in Zefat continued the traditional celebrations of Tu biShvat. The students of the famous kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria formulated the symbolic Tu biShvat Seder – prayers and readings centered around a meal. By eating fruit, our ancestors identified with their land. They added to the fruit, the drinking of wines and the singing of songs and compiled a new Tu BiShvat Haggadah Seder named Etz Pri Hadar- The Glorious [Citrus] Fruit Tree.
In the land of Israel:
In 1892 Ze'ev Jawitz and his pupils planted trees in the Zichron Yaakov region and in 1908, the Teachers' Federation and the KKL-JNF institutionalized this practice. Today, thousands of adults and youth go forth on Tu BiShvat to plant trees throughout Israel, to feel with their own hands their ties with their land, the tradition of their fathers and their country:
"When you shall come into the Land, you shall plant all manner of trees…"
Around the world:
The custom of planting trees spread among the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, becoming another symbol of the strong connection between the Jews in the Diaspora and in the Land of Israel.
Celebrating Tu Bishvat today:
As well as eating fruit, drinking wine and singing, we celebrate the Tu BiShvat Seder by reading portions of the Bible that mention the Land of Israel and her fruits; thanking God and all His endeavors for us; reviewing specific mizvot - commandments - relevant to the Land of Israel; eating from the Seven Species mentioned in the Torah; and welcoming the New Year for Trees with the blessing "Shehechiyanu" – Renewal – over fruits we have not yet eaten.
On Tu Bishvat in the Land of Israel in Contrast to Wandering in the Desert
Tu Bishvat is the New Year for trees. It marks another year that the trees were planted firmly in the earth. Planting expresses our being rooted in our homeland. Living on the land, in the Land of Israel, is different than the forty years of wandering in the desert in two major ways: Firstly, we are no longer in an interim state, which is neither here nor there. We know exactly where we belong – we are not torn by longings for the past, and we are not waiting for some better future. And secondly, living in Israel, we are no longer limited solely to intellectual and abstract means of expression – we can also express our physical abilities – tilling the earth, planting trees, and protecting our homeland’s eco-system and its magnificent natural beauty.
What We Can Learn from the Carob Tree
Over time, carobs became very identified with Tu Bishvat. To this day, Jews in the Diaspora eat carobs from Israel on Tu Bishvat as a means of experiencing their connection to the Land of Israel. Here is an interpretation of a Talmudic legend that teaches us what we can learn from the carob tree. In tractate Ta’anit, the Talmud tells us about Honi Hame’agel, who was befuddled all his days by the biblical verse: “When God returned the exiles to Zion, we were as dreamers.” Honi could not understand – this verse refers to the Babylonian exile, which lasted seventy years. Can a man dream for seventy years?
Once he was walking on the road, and he saw someone planting a carob tree. Honi said to him: This tree that you are planting, when will it bear fruit? The man answered: Seventy years from now. Honi retorted: Do you think you will be alive seventy years from now? The man responded: When I was born, I found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted trees for me, so too, I plant for my children.”
Honi understood the biblical verse as referring to the exile. When we returned to Israel, the entire time of the exile seemed like a dream. This is what Honi could not understand: How could seventy years be like a dream? Life goes on, things happen both to individuals and to a people.
Honi received his answer from the man who was planting the carob tree. Since the carob tree bears fruit seventy years after it was planted, the planter will not eat of its fruit. Even so, he toils and cares for it. From his answer, Honi understood that the time of exile is not just a time of waiting. Just like the carob – from the time it is planted until its fruit is ripe, it is busy. Roots delve deep in to the earth, and branches reach for the skies. Complex botanical processes are taking place until it reaches the stage when it is ready to bear fruit. At that point, it becomes clear that everything that went on during the past 70 years was absolutely necessary. Honi learned from the carob tree that planting has intrinsic value, even for someone who will not eat of its fruit. The process that eventually leads to the fruit bearing time has great value in and of its own.