Tu B’Shevat is tomorrow: the Fifteenth of the month of Shevat.1 It is one of the harder Jewish holidays to pronounce, even for grown-ups. The Toddler blurbles something like “Shot.” Thanks to the PJ Library —long may it prosper— he’s been reading a board book about Tu B’Shevat, so he already knows it is a day to plant trees. He’s got a small acorn and a big acorn ready to go. The small one is just a random acorn with no cap, so I can’t identify it even with the nerdiest of tree books on our shelves. The big one is a Bur Oak, the kind with the fuzzy collar on the acorn top, and so big it looks fake. I don’t know if either seed is viable, but we’ll try. The squirrels will no doubt dig them up as soon as we go back inside. We have an disproportionate number of squirrels per square foot here, and they live to sabotage my every gardening attempt and to terrorize me in general.
I am thinking about using the Birthday theme as an excuse to bake a cake. Since trees cannot eat cake, I will.
Right now the Toddler is downstairs for his nap, not napping. I try to wear him out with outside play and then stuff him full of lunch, but he just doesn’t nap anymore. I used to get three solid hours of peace during each day: three hours of solitude to waste or work. Nowadays, I get this routine: first he cries a bit, then talks, sings, whines, yells, and works himself up to crying again. This takes about 45 minutes and then I surrender and get him out. Meanwhile, my nerves are so shot I can’t get a thing done except look at the clock to see how much time is left in my 45 minute “break.”
Anyway, back to the topic. Tu B’Shevat was a minor holiday for ages, but the Kabbalists revived it with a shot of symbolism and a seder of its own. The Birthday of the Trees lends itself quite naturally to any and all Green efforts, and it is a lovely way to combine a real Jewish holiday with a real Jewish mitzvah: taking care of the earth. We can bag a two-fer from the mitzvah department: Bal Taschit and Tikkun Olam.2
A sweet home observance is to eat fruit (especially the five kinds noted in the Torah) that one hasn’t tasted yet this year.3 This qualifies the fruit for an additional blessing. Besides the regular one for “fruit of the tree,” it gets the Shehchianyu as well: the blessing that expresses gratitude for being alive to this moment in time. We say the Shehchianyu at firsts of all sorts: like the first day of Hanukah or Sukkot, the first time a baby walks, the first time a once-a-year mitzvah rolls around. Or, the first time a black man is sworn in as the President of the United States.
1 Tu means fifteen, from the hebrew tet, which is the ninth letter of the alef bet, and the hebrew vav, which is the sixth letter. Nine plus six equals fifteen. Wouldn’t ten plus five be a more logical way of getting fifteen? Yes, but we can’t use it because it spells one of the names of God, which is forbidden. The B’ of B’Shevat bit means “of.” Tu B’Shevat.
2 Bal Taschit literally means do not destroy, but we use it to encompass recycling, reusing, and taking care of things in general.
Tikkun Olam means repairing the world. Scholars roll their eyes at how this term has trickled down to we masses who use it to describe efforts to help the planet and the people on it. We masses, however, have taken to it, and it works.
3 Figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and grapes (Deut. 8:8).