January 24, 2005

Tu Bishvat

Tonight is Tu Bishvat (ט"ו בשבט) - the 15th of the month of Shvat. The Hebrew equivalent of Roman Numerals uses the first 10 letters of the alphabet for the numbers 1 to 10, the next nine letters are used for 20 to 100, and the last thee letters are used for 200, 300, and 400. According to this system, you would expect 15 to be 10 + 5, but this combination happens to spell a name of God, so instead 9 + 6 is used. The ninth letter of the alphabet is tet (ט) and the sixth letter is vav (ו), and if you pronounce tet-vav as a word, you get: 'Tu'. What looks like a quote between the tet and the vav, called gershayim (גרשיים) in Hebrew (literally, the dual of geresh, which is: '), is the way numbers and acronyms are written - the gershayim being placed between the second-to-last and last letters (geresh is used for abbreviations).

Tu Bishvat is the New Year of the Trees:

אַרְבָּעָה רָאשֵׁי שָׁנִים הֵם
בְּאֶחָד בְּנִיסָן רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לַמְּלָכִים וְלָרְגָלִים
בְּאֶחָד בֶּאֱלוּל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לְמַעְשַׂר בְּהֵמָה
רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמְרִים בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרֵי
בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרֵי רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לַשָּׁנִים וְלַשְּׁמִטִּין וְלַיּוֹבְלוֹת לַנְּטִיּעָה וְלַיְרָקוֹת
בְּאֶחָד בִּשְׁבָט רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לָאִילָן כְּדִבְרֵי בֵית שַׁמַּאי
בֵּית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ

Arba`a rashey shanim hem
B'ehad b'nisan rosh hashana lamlakhim v'largalim
B'ehad be'elul rosh hashana l'ma`sar b'hema
Rabi el`azar v'rabi shim`on omrim b'ehad b'tishrey
B'ehad b'tishrey rosh hashana lashanim v'lashmitin v'layovlot lanti`a v'lay'raqot
B'ehad bishvat rosh hashana la'ilan k'divrey beyt shamay
Beyt hilel omrim bahamisha `asar bo

There are four New Years (heads of years)
On the first of Nisan the new year of kings and of the holidays
On the first of Elul the new year of tithing animals
Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say on the first of Tishrey
On the first of Tishrey the new year of (counting) the years and the sabbatical year and of the jubilee of planting and of vegetables
On the first of Shvat the new year of the trees according to the school of Shamay
The school of Hillel says on the fifteenth of the month

Rosh Hashana 1:1

The halakha follows the school of Hillel in this case (as it usually does), so the New Year of the Trees is on the 15th of Shvat - it is at this time that we can really feel the coming of spring. The daffodils and crocuses have past, but the most emblematic sign of spring, the blooming of the almond trees, has just begun. I have to say that I love Israeli seasons. The weather is always better than my native Boston. Though the summers here are long, they are dry (at least where I live, though not along the coast) - not hot and humid. Spring and fall are milder and more pleasant, and winter: just when I feel like it's about to begin - it's spring!

In the spirit of the day, I will relate a story from the Talmud, about Rabbi Yishaq, who describes his relationship to his student, Rabbi Nahman, comparing it to a tree, and wants to bless him:

אמשול לך משל למה הדבר דומה
 לאדם שהיה הולך במדבר והיה רעב ועיף וצמא
 ומצא אילן שפירותיו מתוקין וצילו נאה ואמת המים עוברת תחתיו
 אכל מפירותיו ושתה ממימיו וישב בצילו
 וכשביקש לילך אמר אילן אילן במה אברכך
 אם אומר לך שיהו פירותיך מתוקין הרי פירותיך מתוקין
 שיהא צילך נאה הרי צילך נאה
 שתהא אמת המים עוברת תחתיך הרי אמת המים עוברת תחתיך
 אלא יהי רצון שכל נטיעות שנוטעין ממך יהיו כמותך
 אף אתה במה אברכך
 אם בתורה הרי תורה
 אם בעושר הרי עושר
 אם בבנים הרי בנים
 אלא יהי רצון שיהו צאצאי מעיך כמותך

Emshol l'kha mashal l'ma hadavar dome
L'adam shehaya holekh bamidbar v'haya ra`ev v`ayef v'same'
Umasa ilan shepeyrotav m'tuqin v'silo na'e v'emet hamayim `overet tahtav
Akhal mipeyrotav v'shata mimeymav v'yashav b'silo
Ukhshebiqesh leylekh amar ilan ilan b'ma avarekh'kha
Im omar l'kha sheyihyu peyroteykha m'tuqin harey peyroteykha m'tuqin
Shey'he silkha na'e harey silkha na'e
Shet'he emet hamayim `overet tahteykha harey emet hamayim `overet tahteykha
Ela' y'hi rason shekol n'ti`ot shenot`in mimkha yihyu kamokha
Af ata b'ma avarekh'kha
Im b'tora harey b'tora
Im b`osher harey b`osher
Im b'vanim harey b'vanim
Ela' y'hi rason sheyihyu se'se'ey m`eykha kamokha

I will tell you a parable about what the thing is like
Like a person that was walking in the desert and was hungry and tired and thirsty
And found a tree whose fruits were sweet and and shade pleasant and true water passes beneath it
He ate from its fruits and drank from its water and sat in its shade
And when he was going to leave said: O tree, O tree with what shall I bless you?
If I say to you may your fruits be sweet, your fruits are already sweet
May your shade be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant
May true water pass beneath you, true water already passes beneath you
But: May it be willed that all the seedlings that sprout from you be like you
Even so you, with what shall I bless you?
If with learning, you already have learning
If with wealth, you already have wealth
If with children, you already have children
But: May it be willed that the children of your loins be like you

Talmud Bavli Ta`anit 5B

Posted by David Boxenhorn at January 24, 2005 05:40 PM
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My oldest daughter (kindergarten) stopped me before we took her to school this morning; she ran out ot out front yard and stood in front of our tree. She stood for second, and then said "Happy Birthday" to it. She is so sweet my teeth hurt!

Posted by: Isaac B2 at January 24, 2005 08:55 PM Permalink

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