A Reflection on Tu Bish'vat

by Jonathan Slater
Adapted from Mindful Jewish Living

The rationale for Tu Bish'vat is that, according to the rabbis, it establishes the separating point between generations of fruits. That is, fruits that flowered and budded previous to this date constituted one cohort, and those that flower and bud after it constitute another. The practical import is that the fruits in one cohort cannot be used in the calculation of the harvest to determine how much fruit must be segregated out as a tithe offering. This is similar to the way we often use different dates to group things: June 30 to end one fiscal year, July 1 to start the next; November 30 as the cut-off date by which a child must turn five years old to enter kindergarten; and the like.

Tu Bish'vat, then, marks the cut-off date of the previous year. It marks the end of one year, the turning-point of the next. What we have in hand at that moment is the fruit of the year that has passed. It is that fruit that we will count as a cohort, which will be grouped together and tithed as one crop. We do not yet have any fruit from the new crop. Tu Bish'vat, then, brings the past to closure.

But it also marks the future. The classical commentator Rashi explains why this time is appropriate as a turning point. “Most of the rains of the year have passed. This time is the season of mating. The sap has begun to rise in the trees, and they will start to blossom from this point on” (Rosh Hashanah 14a, s.v. ho’il veyatzu rov gishmei shanah). From this perspective, Tu Bish'vat marks the beginning of something, the start of the process of blossoming and producing fruit. The actual process, however, is hidden. the sap that is flowing is only inside the tree; it is not visible in the outside world. Its product will not be seen for some time. Tu Bish'vat celebrates the future, the potential of the moment…

In every moment we are the beneficiaries of the intentions and the work of myriad other people—both those around us and those who came before us. In that same moment, the seeds of the unfolding future are maturing and the sap of the flow of life is rising in us. We are about to move forward into the next moment, to reveal its particular flower, to bring forth its fruit. And we find ourselves balanced between the two. In fact, all that exists in this moment is this very moment. It is no longer the past and not yet the future. It is its own particular experience.