Praised are You, the Eternal, our God and Universal Ruler, who created a universe lacking in nothing and who has fashioned good creatures and good trees that give pleasure to people.
We recite this blessing when we see the first blossoms in spring.
Tu BiShvat (literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat) is the New Year of the Trees or the Birthday of the Trees. Tu BiShvat, an ancient Jewish “Earth Day,” reminds us that caring for the earth is a central tenet of Jewish tradition. Tu BiShvat is a minor holiday with roots that extend back 2000 years. In ancient days in the land of Israel, for tax purposes, Tu BiShvat marked the fiscal new year for fruit trees; it later evolved into a celebration of fruit and the trees that bear them.
The Torah tells us: “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it… you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down.” (Deuteronomy 20:19)
This quote is the basis for the mitzvah, commandment, of Bal Tashchit, do not destroy. Bal Tashchit expands this concept beyond wartime: if during a war we are to protect natural resources, how much more so should we protect our resources in times of peace!
Early in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, we read, “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it (l’avdah) and tend it (ul’shomrah).” (Genesis 2:15) The Hebrew root avad, “till,” also means to work and serve God—directly linking the earth with God’s creation. The root shamar, “to tend,” can also be translated as to guard, or watch over, reminding us that the land does not belong to us, it is entrusted to us.
Tu BiShvat has become a day to renew our commitments to the land, an opportunity to take on a new responsibility of environmental awareness through actions like recycling, planting, or using environmentally friendly products.
Jewish tradition can help us be shomrei adamah, guardians of the earth,by encouraging us to stop and to appreciate the world.
Stop and appreciate each week by celebrating Shabbat. Shabbat is modeled after the days of creation: after six days of work, the seventh day is a chance to stop and appreciate the creations of the world. We can attune ourselves to the cycles of the seasons, to nature’s role in Judaism and to a reflection of God’s image in our actions.
Stop and appreciate each day and each experience by reciting Birchot Hanehenin— blessings of enjoyment. These blessings remind us not to take the world for granted, but to recognize the gifts we have been given and appreciate their source.
Stop and appreciate each meal by tasting new fruits on Tu BiShvat, especially fruits associated with the Land of Israel: dates, figs, olives, grapes, pomegranates. Learn about Kashrut, keeping Kosher, which encourages us to be more conscious of animal life and the sanctity of all life.
Stop and appreciate the cycle of the year by planting...a parsley seed in preparation for Passover; a lima bean in a clear plastic cup—watch the roots and sprouts develop; an avocado pit or other annual that can be cultivated indoors until spring.