Tu B’Shvat, the Holiday of Planting

Afula, 16.02.2022

Soon we will celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shvat (the 15th day of the winter month, Shvat).

This is an odd holiday at first glance – it doesn’t seem connected with anything that the Creator commanded. But if we look more closely, we will see that this observance has spiritual layers which can add new depth to our faith.

We begin with something that the Creator commanded the people of Israel to do as soon as they reached the Land of Promise: they were to plant all kinds of fruit-bearing trees (Lev. 19:23-25). “Now when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food….” When we come to this land, it is praiseworthy to plant it with edible growing things.

Planting is actually a godly occupation. Remember that the Creator Himself planted the Garden of Eden, before setting Adam there to tend and keep it. Everything connected with planting is holy. The Lord of all the earth asks His people, those who love Him, to behave as He does. Planting in the Land of Israel is one way we can fulfill the command, “You shall follow the LORD your God.” (Deut. 13:4)

Thus, when the Land of Israel yields produce, we offer up to Him some of it – the work of our hands. At least two Appointed Times are dedicated to this: “You shall keep the Feast of the  Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field.” (Exod. 23:16)

Just as trees yield fruit, human beings also do. It is written in Deut. 20:19: “For is the tree of the field a human…?” But in the original Hebrew, this can also be read as a statement: “For the man is a tree of the field….” The second idea is confirmed by other Scriptures that use the same parallel. For example, the one who trusts the Creator “will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season….” (Ps. 1:3)

A tree is connected to the earth by its roots. Its survival is not guaranteed by its branches, leaves or fruit – only deep roots can nurture it, keep it stable in a storm, and give it long life. Where are your roots planted, and how deep do they go?

Prophecies about planting have an especially deep meaning for believers in the Creator who love the Jewish nation. GOD says that Israel in the last days “will rebuild the desolated cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit.” And at that time, the LORD will be settling His returning people, giving them deep roots: “’I will also plant them on their land, and they will not be uprooted again from their land which I have given them,’ says the LORD your God.” (Amos 9:14-15)

The traditional sign that it’s time for Tu B’Shvat is the first blooming tree in the new growing season, which is the almond tree. This tree’s name in Hebrew is related to the word that means “diligent” or someone who puts “great effort” into their work. A Bible study on the almond tree will reveal its spiritual symbolism in the holy Lampstand (Exod. 37), the rod of Aaron (Num. 17), and the Creator’s “diligent watching” over His word to perform it (Jer. 1:11-12).

In addition to giving a tree to predict the approaching spring, the Creator also set apart a particular region as the place that will announce the end of Israel’s exile in the same way: “But as for you, mountains of Israel, you will grow your branches and bear fruit for My people Israel; for they are about to come. For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you will be cultivated and sown.” (Ezek. 36:8-9) This mountainous region is today called Judea and Samaria, the heartland of modern Israel. Anyone driving through these areas can confirm that the once-barren mountains are literally bursting with growth and fruit – including vineyards that are winning international wine competitions! The word of our GOD stands forever.

But long before the awakening of the “mountains of Israel,” a longing arose among the exiled Jews in the 19th century to return to the Land of their forefathers. They looked at the fruitful fields, orchards and gardens in Europe, Asia and the Americas… and they realized that they would only be satisfied by the fruits of their homeland… a place they had never even seen. These agricultural pioneers came to a land of dust, sand and swampy mud, and they began to plant things. On Tu B’Shvat in 1884, they planted 1500 fruit trees in the Galilee. Thus, every year from then until now, Jews of all ages across the country have planted new trees on the 15th of Shvat.

In the days of the Messiah, when Israel will be fully redeemed, remarkable trees will spring up along a river that flows out from the holy Temple (Ezek. 47). “And by the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month because their water flows from the Sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.” (v. 12) This new Garden of Eden will be for all the nations, and those who love the God of Israel “will stream to it.” (Isa. 2:3)

Being among planted trees is a fascinating experience for the senses. You can hear the rustling of the leaves in the wind, and it sounds like a song or a prayer. Some Scriptures hint that the trees and other growing things really are capable of giving thanks to the Lord of all the earth (see Isa. 55:12). According to Psalm 148, we are urged to join the trees, and all created things, in universal praise to our Maker!

In that context, the following story from the Holocaust may not be so strange as it might first sound.

A young girl in one of the concentration camps told an older woman, “I know I’m about to die, and I accept that as God’s will. Before I came here, I was pampered and didn’t take spiritual things seriously. But, do you see that tree over there?” She pointed to a tree growing outside their hut. “It has been my very best friend during my time here. I have talked with it lots of times when I was lonely.”

Her friend looked at her, wondering what to say. “Did the tree answer you?”

“Yes, it did,” said the girl thoughtfully.

“What did it say?” the woman asked with real curiosity.

“It said, ‘I am here… I am here… I’m alive, with eternal Life.’”

I close this letter with a prayer that the Lord and Maker of Heaven and Earth will plant within us eternal Life, through His living Word, so that we will be the tree whose “leaf does not wither” (Ps. 1:3).

Be blessed from the Most High in Zion and Jerusalem

Mordechai ben Yakov


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