Celebrating Nature’s Gifts: A Conversation with Yifat Levana Raphaeli
On Tu B’Shevat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the Jewish people turn their attention to nature and celebrate trees and their many gifts. During the sixteenth century, the mystics of Tzfat first began celebrating this holiday. Together with family and friends, they hosted Tu B’Shevat seders, sampling different fruits and sharing Jewish wisdom about nature. The tradition continues today in Jewish communities both in Israel and across the world. We spoke to Tzfat-based Livnot U’Lehibanot educator, Yifat Levana Raphaeli, about Tu B’Shevat traditions that we can share with our children, as well as Judaism’s love of trees.
Why are trees so important in Judaism?
Trees are givers of life, and we humans have a very close relationship with them. We rely on each other for our survival. They give us oxygen and we give them carbon dioxide. They give us fruit to eat and we must show our gratitude to them. According to Jewish tradition, we are forbidden to cut down a fruit tree even in a time of war.
Trees also teach us powerful lessons about diversity. While G-d could have made one tree with one fruit, He created countless types of trees and numerous fruits with various tastes and textures. Just as each person has her own melody and song, so too does each tree. We must protect each and every one.
Why do we celebrate Tu B’Shevat in the winter?
It may seem like we should celebrate Tu B’Shevat in the springtime. But instead, we celebrate Tu B’Shevat when most trees are bare. But it is during this time when so many miraculous things happen to trees. Sap begins to make its way up trunks and it’s only a matter of time until trees bloom. During Tu B’Shevat, we recognize nature’s beautiful process.
Why is the simple act of planting a tree considered so meaningful?
One day, Choni, the Jewish sage, came across a very old man planting a carob tree. Choni knew that it took 70 years for a carob tree to bloom. “Do you really think you’ll be around to eat the fruit from this tree?” Choni asked the old man. The old man responded, “Just as I came into the world and found carob trees, I will leave behind a world filled with carob trees for my descendants.” Just then Choni fell into a deep slumber. He slept for many, many years, and when he awoke, he found someone picking fruit from the carob tree. That person was the old man’s grandson.
When we plant a tree, we take part in building the world and supporting life. We may not see the results of our labor, but we are giving a gift to our planet and to future generations.
What are some ways that JWRP sisters can celebrate Tu B’Shevat with their children?
Enjoy a Tu B’Shevat Seder. Gather an assortment of fruit and eat it in a mindful way. Hold the fruit in your hands and appreciate its texture. Smell the fruit and take in its delightful scent. Say a blessing over the fruit, close your eyes, and chew. If the weather is nice enough, spend a few hours outside. Blindfold your child, lead them to a tree, and invite them to touch the tree. Then, take their blindfold off and see if they can find “their” tree again. Tell them that Adam and Eve were placed on earth to care for the Garden of Eden and that it is our responsibility to continue this tradition. Discuss ways that we can contribute to protecting our precious land.
At Livnot U’Lehibanot, we actually celebrate Tu B’Shevat with our visitors all year long. Feel free to do so with your children, too!