“There are four heads of the year… on the fifteenth of Shvat for the trees…” Mishna, Tractate Rosh Hashana, 1:1
As our home revolves around the Sun, the Jewish calendar is circular as well. How does one year have four beginnings? A circle does not have any beginning, nor does it have an end. Wherever you decide to begin counting cycles of a revolving wheel, that is the point you look for when looking to count the next cycle.
Trees are reborn at this time of year.
In Israel this is the time of year when you first begin seeing the first buds on the almond trees, the first trees to bloom. It is always exciting, after months of the grey gloomy rainy season, to see the first color appearing on the trees, which spot the landscape of the Judean Mountains. No doubt, that is the reason why this is the time of year the Rabbis chose to begin the counting of the tree’s year.
In Deuteronomy 20:19 it states “Man is like the tree of the field.” This is the reason given for why it is forbidden to cut down a fruit tree in order to build siege weapons for attacking a city.
In the Talmud, tractate Taanit page 5b it tells the following story:
A man was traveling through the desert, hungry, thirsty, and tired, when he came upon a tree bearing luscious fruit and affording plenty of shade, underneath, which ran a spring of water. He ate of the fruit, drank of the water, and rested beneath the shade.
When he was about to leave he turned to the tree and said: ‘Tree, oh, tree, with what should I bless you?
“Should I bless you that your fruit be sweet? Your fruit is already sweet.
“Should I bless you that your shade be plentiful? Your shade is plentiful. That a spring of water should run beneath you? A spring of water runs beneath you.”
“There is one thing with which I can bless you: May it be G-d’s will that all the trees planted from your seed should be like you…”
This parable is brought to answer a question dealing with giving blessing to people. One can find many more comparisons drawn between man and trees throughout the Jewish tradition.
It’s no wonder that we have a day to celebrate the tree!