Tu B’Shevat: New Year of Trees
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
When you come to the land and you plant any tree, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the L-RD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit. -Leviticus 19:23-25
There are four new years... the first of Shevat is the new year for trees according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel, however, places it on the fifteenth of that month. -Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1
The 15th of the Hebraic month of Shavat is like the Jewish Arbor day, or the Jewish Earth Day. It is considered the New Year for Trees. It is common in warmer climates to plant trees on this day, especially in someone’s honor. If the climate was still too cold money would be collected to by trees to plant later in the spring.
“Most Jewish sources consider 15 Shevat as the New Year both for designating fruits as orlah (that is, forbidden to eat, because they have grown during the first three years after a tree's planting) and for separating fruits for tithing. (Some sources, however, consider 1 Tishrei to be the new year for orlah and 15 Shevat for tithing.) This date was selected "because most of the winter rains are over" (Rosh Hashanah 14a), the sap has begun to rise, and the fruit has started to ripen. Fruits that have just begun to ripen--from the blossoming stage up to one third of full growth--are attributed to the previous year, whereas fruits that are more mature on 15 Shevat apply to the upcoming year. As with vegetables and grains, fruits that budded during one "fiscal year" could not be used as tithes on those that budded in another year.” -- How Many New Years? By Michele Alperin
There is a Midrashic legend about what occurs in the month of Shevat.
“In the month of Shevat, G-d throws down three burning coals to warm the earth. On the seventh of Shevat the first coal falls, to warm the air. On the fourteenth of the month the second falls, to warm the water in the trees. On that day Arabs say: “Today water has entered the trees.” On the twenty-third of Shevat, the tird coal is thrown, to warm the soil.” – Hai Gaon
Jill Hammer in her book “The Jewish Book of Days A Companion for All Seasons says:
“Fire within water, the elements of this season, is the heat inside trees, a heat that will bring flowers and fruit to the world.”
Other customs on Tu B’Shevat is:
“…to eat a new fruit on this day, or to eat from the Seven Species (shivat haminim) described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of Israel. The Shivat Haminim are: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey) (Deut. 8:8). You can make a nice vegetarian pilaf from the shivat haminim: a bed of cooked bulgar wheat or wheat berries and barley, topped with figs, dates, raisins (grapes), and pomegranate seeds, served with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar (grapes) and pomegranate juice.” -- http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday8.htm
The Great Kabbalist Isaac Luria brought about a custom similar to Passover that is still observed my many in the Orthodox and Chassidic communities. One drinks four cups of wine on Tu B’Shevat. White wine, white mingled with red, red wine mixed with white and the fourth cup is simply red wine. These four cups represent four fruits and the four worlds mentioned in the Kabbalah. Fruit with rinds, symbolizes the earth and body, thus the world of Assyiyah. Then you have fruit with pits, representing emotion pointing to the world of Yetzirah. Next you have fruit that is whole edible, skin and all referring to the mind and thus the world of Beriyah. Finally there is fragrant fruit representing the world of Atzilut. There have even been a type of seder and Haggadah made for this holiday!