Tu B’Shevat—The New Year for Trees!

 

In 1901 almost 50 years before the rebirth of the modern state of Israel, delegates of the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland established the Jewish National Fund to purchase land in what was then-called Palestine. It is a fascinating story of the incredible vision of men that brought the dream of the modern Jewish homeland to fruition through the resolve, perseverance, and sacrifice of God’s ancient people.

Among the very first undertakings, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) purchased land to plant olive groves in honor of Theodore Herzl, Israel’s visionary. In the 1950s, following Israel’s war of survival and independence, the JNF began an extensive “afforestation” program that continues to the present day.

Over the past 100 years, more than 240 million trees were planted. In places where few thought trees could survive, forests are thriving and positively influencing the ecosystems of Israel. Israel is the only country in the world to have entered the 21st century with a net gain of trees.

 

THE DESOLATION OF THE LAND

History, however, documents that not all have demonstrated love and concern for the God-given land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hadrian, the 14th emperor of Rome, is notoriously credited with using the Latinized moniker of Israel’s ancient enemy—Palaestina (Philistine)—to rename the Jewish homeland. Hadrian also publically burned a Torah. The Romans systematically cut down whole forests in an attempt to eradicate Jewish identity with the land.

Some 2000 years later, it was no exaggeration when Mark Twain wrote, “A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.” (1) Twain’s candid description of Palestine was a firsthand observation while visiting the Holy Land in 1867. The land of Israel had become a veritable wilderness suffering under centuries of Ottoman rule.

Through the tenacity of the Jewish people, much has changed since Mark Twain’s visit more than 150 years ago. The high regard for the land among God’s Chosen People and conservation efforts evident in Israel today trace back to the early chapters of the Torah where man was assigned the responsibility of stewardship of the earth (Gen. 2:15).

 

PLANTING TREES – NURTURING THE LAND

Enemies persist in ecological and agricultural warfare against Israel to the present day. For the past nine months, Israel endured an aggressive eco-agro-terrorism campaign. Wheat fields destroyed only days before harvest—orchards torched as fruit began to ripen—vineyards cut-off at the root just prior to grape picking, along with the sabotage of agricultural equipment and farming implements—have cost Jewish farmers hundreds of thousands of shekels in lost income (cf. Judges 6:3-6).

Attacks are not limited to those originating in Gaza. In the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, farmers have been forced to contend with such assaults for five decades since the Six-Day War. (2)

There is an interesting prophecy in the book of Isaiah, however, that predicted the reforestation of Israel.

 “For you [Israel] shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).

Forests Near Bethlehem. Copyright © 2010 Charles E. McCracken Archives

Today, it seems obvious that we are witnesses of precursors to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 35 where the once arid lands of Israel again bloom like a rose.

Each year in Israel, children have a holiday from school to help their family plant trees on Tu B’Shevat, also known as the “New Year for Trees.” The name simply means the 15th (Tu) of (B’) the Hebrew month (Shevat)—Tu B’Shevat. The day also marks the beginning of the agricultural year for the purpose of biblical tithing observed annually (Lev. 19:23-25).

Sampling a new fruit or enjoying the Seven Species—wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, olives, figs and dates—that grew in abundance in the land of Israel in biblical times is customary (Deut. 8:7-10).

Tu B’Shevat is celebrated as an opportunity to encourage the cultivation of strong roots of faith and commitment to God. A popular psalm used for the occasion describes the righteous man as, “a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither . . .” (Ps. 1:3). Another Psalm echoes, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Ps. 92:12).

Tree planting is a more recent development that began in 1890 when Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz took his class on a field trip for that very purpose. The rabbi’s tree planting initiative was quickly embraced by the Jewish Teacher’s Union, then by the Jewish National Fund; and since that time, has blossomed into a beautiful tradition.

Here are four ways to direct your focus on Tu B’Shevat:

  • Use the day as a reminder that God created trees for the health of the planet. We must be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us.
  • Sample a new exotic fruit or the Seven Species listed in Scripture.
  • Read the first and ninety-second Psalm during devotions. Be reminded that our spiritual roots grow stronger when we dig deeper into the Word of God.
  • Bless Israel by planting trees with Olive Tree Alliance. The terrorist incendiary balloon campaign alone caused more than 1,000 fires that destroyed 3,000 acres of forested land along with 4,000 acres of orchards, vineyards, and crops last summer.

Christians can help restore what was lost through eco-agro-terrorism last year in Israel. Olive Tree Alliance is pleased to announce a new project to plant trees in Israel. Working together we can make a difference for Israel!

Email for more information by using the link, Olive Tree Alliance Israel Project.

 

ENDNOTES:
1) Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1869), chapter 49.
2) If Only Scarecrows Were Enough.
3) Like last year, Tu B’Shevat 5779 coincides with a “Super Moon, Blood Moon” total eclipse visible in the Western Hemisphere and partially visible in the Pacific, Europe and Africa.

IMAGES: Photographic images of the Seven Species and seedling used for illustrative purposes/Public domain/No restrictions/Enhancement MKM Portfolios. Forests near Bethlehem/Charles E. McCracken Archives © 2010.

Copyright © 2019 Charles E. McCracken. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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