On the fifteenth of Shevat,
When the spring comes,
An angel descends, ledger in hand.
And enters each bud, each twig, each tree
And all our garden flowers.
Well, as that full moon tonight reminds us, the 15th of Shevat (Tu Bishvat) is here, but not much is in bloom yet. Tu Bishvat, as the New Year for Trees, was set during the early rabbinic period of Judaism, mainly to determine the taxation on the produce of the trees of the Land of Israel. (For a rundown of other modern and more spiritual and environmental interpretations that are a bit more meaningful to us than taxation of fruit, as well as its significance in the State of Israel, see the links at My Jewish Learning.)
Why set this date on the lunar calendar as the point at which to divide years for purposes of assessments on fruit trees? Probably because it is around this time that the sap is surging in the trees and they are beginning to “wake up” from their winter slumber. More specifically, it is traditionally said to be the time of year when the almond trees begin to blossom in the Land of Israel.2 Almonds always are among the earliest blooming deciduous fruits,3 and thus are indeed a good harbinger of the days soon to come when all our garden flowers.
Granted, Ladera Frutal is a long way from Israel, but it is at almost precisely the same latitude as Jerusalem, and with a similar “Mediterranean” climate. But this little ‘Garden Prince’ almond tree, planted just under a year ago, seems unaware that winter is here, let alone that it is about time to wake up from winter.
And it was indeed pretty wintry today, by local standards, with light rain showers and a high of only about 56.
Tu Bishavt is early this year, relative to the solar cycles that presumably have more to do with when the trees begin to bloom than do the ancient rabbis’ choice of a tithing date. And, with the first day on the Jewish calendar that marks the arrival of spring being too early this year, so would the festival of the height of spring–Pesach–were it not for the fact that the rabbis anticipated this problem and decreed the occasional leap year. We will have two months of Adar this year, lengthening the gap between Tu Bishvat and Pesach.4 That is, this is a leap year on the Jewish calendar just as it is on the Gregorian solar calendar.
The leap year will mean that next year Tu Bishvat will come a more sensible seven weeks after the winter solstice, rather than barely over four, as this year. Seven week after–that is, approaching mid February–we can expect lots of trees in bloom here. Maybe even the ‘Garden Prince.’
Also recommended: An excellent post by Yair.
- An Israeli poet. He goes on to explore the imagery of when the garden is in full flower and the angel’s “ledger will be full” it is a harbinger of the Messianic Era. [↩]
- And Tu Bishvat is exactly six full moons after another of those seasonal turning dates on the agricultural calendar of ancient Israel: The nearly forgotten Tu B’Av. That minor festive day is at the time of the blooming of the white squill in the Land of Israel, and also is when the olives begin to fill with their oil. [↩]
- Yes, I know that almonds are nuts, but the almond that we eat is the kernel of a fruit that is not itself useful, but is very similar otherwise to an apricot or peach. In fact, some apricots have edible kernels, too (and they are delicious!). [↩]
- The other date on the calendar that marks the end of winter, Purim (15 Adar), would normally be exactly halfway between the “surging of the sap” at the waning of winter and the liberation feast of the full flowering of spring at Pesach. However, in a leap year, Purim falls in II Adar and thus is two months (that is, full moons) after Tu Bishvat, thereby remaining one month before Pesach. [↩]