TU B’SHEVAT - NEW YEAR FOR TREES (A TIME FOR TURNING OVER NEW LEAVES?)
Trees are of vital importance to Eretz Yisra’el - the land of Israel.
In Deuteronomy 6: 3-12, G-d promised to bring His people out of slavery, through the wilderness and into the land of Promise and He spoke to them of the type of place He would lead them into..
3Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them; that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the L-RD, the G-d of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4"Hear, O Israel: The L-RD our G-d is one L-RD; 5and you shall love the L-RD your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; 7and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 10"And when the L-RD your G-d brings you into the land which he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, with great and goodly cities, which you did not build, 11and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant, and when you eat and are full, 12then take heed lest you forget the L-RD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Directly after declaring that vital all-important prayer known as the "Shema", He told the Hebrew people to be thankful when they came into that land, the land "flowing with milk and honey".. to be grateful to Yahweh Jireh (Genesis 22:14)- the L-rd, G-d the provider. He had pledged the land to Abraham and his offspring as an eternal covenant promise forever, and told His people 0ver 400 years before the event that they would dwell in a good land, a beautiful land - even thought it was inhabited by the Canaanites and other tribes, G-d promised to give it to His people. There was one proviso - one clause that the Israelites had to obey: Deut 6: 12 says:
"take heed lest you forget the L-RD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." - in other words, don’t forget where you’re from and Who brought you here.. The land that the Israelites would end up in would have ready-built houses, wells and cisterns already dug, trees planted and vineyards already bursting with fruit. G-d is not stingy. He is not short on blessing.
There’s a special word for this kind of blessing - when something is given without being earned, without having worked for it.. "grace". It’s the unmerited favour of G-d and goes hand in glove with another word: the Hebrew word: "ches’ed" translated as loving-kindness, or mercifulness. The book of Lamentations 3: 22-23 says: "G-d’s compassion is new every morning"; He promised a land to His people. And after over 400 years of slavery, and 40 years of wanderings.. He was true to His word.
Over the years the peoples were dispersed, through persecutions in virtually every generation, and yet He promised to bring His people BACK to the land. Eventually after the terrors of Shoah, the holocaust, May 1948 saw the Declaration of the State of Israel. We are now in the Year of Jubilee - 50 years since that time.. And in 1967 it was finally possible for a Jewish man to stand at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and pray.
In the years since resettlement, many people have returned to Eretz Yisra’el, remembering the command in Nehemiah 2:18 : "Let us rise up and build." For over a century many have returned quietly, settling on Kibbutzim or collective farms, rebuilding, planting, cleansing the land, draining swamps by innovative use of Eucalyptus trees, irrigation and land management.
Through intense hard work, often costing lives there has been a literal fulfilment of the promise through the prophet Isaiah chapter 41: verses 17 - 20 of a complete change in the landscape of the land of Israel. Roses are blooming in the desert; wells are filling with clean fresh safe water for the countless people who had been without drinking water for generations. Many would say that G-d has been faithful even in the face of many difficulties. Like the prophet tells us G-d says:
17When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the L-RD will answer them, I the G-d of Israel will not forsake them. 18I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.19I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together; 20that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the L-RD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Wherever you go in the land, you will see planting, reforesting, clearing of land, planting.. if you go to work on a Kibbutz you will be harvesting fruit, tending vines, planting, cutting, binding, caring for fruit, vegetables, plants.. and when you walk into Tesco, or Sainsburys to pick up your Jaffa oranges, Avocados, bananas, dates or figs you will be part of the prophecy of Isaiah 27:6 which has been fulfilled in your own life-time:
Tu b’Shevat, known as the "New Year for Trees" has been celebrated for years by Jews across the world with tree planting festivals; one of the most important groups involved in arranging finances for the planting of trees in Israel is the JNF - the Jewish National Fund. On Tu b’Shevat children in Hebrew classes world wide receive gifts of fruit such as oranges, and sometimes nuts, raisins, dates and other vine-fruit sent by the JNF as a token of thanks for the work they have done in raising awareness of the need to continue the planting work. The children collect money through the year in blue and white collecting boxes, sending their money to the JNF.
There are places in Israel where famous people are remembered by the trees planted in their memory. One such place is the "Avenue of Righteous Gentiles", where there is a tree planted to the memory of Oskar Schindler. Many others are remembered there. In Gethsemane, the place of the Olive Press, where tradition says that Jesus spent His last night on earth before His betrayal, there are olive trees that are off-shoots of the very trees that were there at His time, some 2,000 years ago. Trees may be planted in the names of an individual, or a group - in fact the JSOC can organise the planting of trees on our behalf through the JNF.
The planting of trees is considered a blessing - a good deed - a "mitzvot" - as it prolongs the life of the land, brings future prosperity and provides for the well-being of those who have little. Trees are planted for fruit, for drainage, for shelter.. but rarely simply for "decoration". Once-barren deserts now sustain life, not just vegetation, but animals which had fled the arrid wastelands have now returned. It is evident that G-d’s promises to His people Israel, the offspring of Abraham are being literally brought to fruition.
"HE SHALL CAUSE THEM THAT COME OF JACOB TO TAKE ROOT:
ISRAEL SHALL BLOSSOM AND BUD, AND FILL THE FACE OF THE WORLD WITH FRUIT."
SOME SCRIPTURES IN WHICH G-D PLEDGED TO GIVE THE LAND TO HIS PEOPLE:-
GENESIS 13:14, 24:7, 26:3, 50:24, EXODUS 6:8, 13:5, 13:11, 32:13, 33:1, NUMBERS 11:12, 14:16, 32:11, DEUTERONOMY 1:8, 1:35, 6:10, 6:18, 6;23, 7:8, 8:1, 9:5, 10:11; 11:9; 11:21, 19:8, 26:3, 26:15, 28:11, 30:20, 31:7, 31:10, 31:20-22, 34:4, JOSHUA 1:6, 5:6, 21:43, JUDGES 2:1, 1ST CHRONICLES 16:15-19; NEHEMIAH 9:15, PSALM 105: 8-11, JEREMIAH 11:5, 32:22, EZEKIEL 20:28, 20:42, , 47:14
Jsoc the Jewish Society Canterbury Christ Church College - Gerry Cohen-Stone 3rd February 1998 (01843 - 230751 : e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org(