New Year of the Trees
In ‘Tu Bishvat, Butterflies’, I have depicted a Jewish woman planting a sapling, a newborn fruit tree on the Spring Festival of Tu Bishvat. Next year at this time, it will have it’s first birthday.
Due to Jewish Law (Leviticus 19:23-25), no fruit may be taken from this tree for the next three years. After that, it’s fruit may be eaten. So, this is the same for all trees, and the counting begins on Tu Bishvat.
Unlike today, at the time of The Temple, fruit from trees in their fourth year was given to a HaShem as a burnt offering, and in the fifth year the fruit could be eaten (and not the fourth).
Why the Butterflies?
I have painted the butterflies on the woman’s scarf coming alive and flying/dancing about with joy. They know that they need trees and plant life to survive.
Why do we Plant Trees on Tu Bishvat?
We are told, in The Torah, that when we enter the land of Israel, we must plant trees. In Israel we do this especially on Tu Bishvat. By our planting we will be following the example of Our Creator, who, as it is written, ‘planted a garden [of trees] in Eden’.
I love trees, and I view them like people. Each one is unique, with individual characteristics, yet they often form sociable clusters.
In my art work, above, ‘My Street, Three Trees’, the trees seem to be related to each other, rather like a close-knit family of Father, Mother and Child.
A man is a tree of the field
The Talmud teaches us that the life of man is from the tree.
It is our job to protect the trees, as they transform the earth from a barren mass into an environment capable of supporting us, as well as animals and other forms of life.
‘When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?’ (Deuteronomy 20:19)
Living in Be’er Sheva I am surrounded by these beautiful trees, and I am always amazed at the different shapes and sizes of them. These majestic trees are part of my every day surroundings, so I have every opportunity to observe them all the year round.
In Judaism the palm represents peace and plenty.
The date palm is tall and straight (Song 7:8–9), and the righteous are compared to its straight trunk and evergreen foliage (Ps. 92: 13).
Like honey the Torah is very sweet to the one who can grasp some of its profound wisdom, and it is the ‘food’ which sustains the soul. This is the theme of my painting, above, ‘Torah in the Negev’.
The Seven Species
The seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised are listed in The Torah: “…a land of wheat, barley, [grape] vines, fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and [date] honey” (Deut. 8:8)
A few of my paintings which include some of the Seven Species
Tu Bishvat Seder
Over the years I have enjoyed many Tu Bishvat Seders. I love tasting the different fruits, and saying the blessings over each one. Of course, it is also good to drink the four cups of wine. At the Seders there are usually discussions on the inner meanings of each fruit tasted, and songs are sung, making the Seder very festive.
Rather like the Passover Seder, it was devised by the 16th Century Kabbalist, ISAAC LURIA. He taught that eating 10 specific fruits and drinking four cups of wine in a specific order can bring one closer to spiritual perfection.
This, I think, is a very nice idea.
Above is a Sketch I did some years ago (2011), when at a Tu Bishvat Seder in Nachlaot, Jerusalem. I lived in Jerusalem before moving to Be’er Sheva In 2012.
Trees: Our National Treasure
Today many Jews celebrate Tu Bishvat by donating money to the JEWISH NATIONAL FUND. This is an agency that plants trees in Israel, and I myself have trees planted through this Fund.
So, there is no doubt that trees, our life-support system, occupy a special place in Jewish thought and that we must be careful to preserve them and not destroy them.
What a shame that so many trees in different parts of the world are needlessly cut down.
Sadly, at this very moment, this is happening in Sheffield, England, and this is only one of so many places.
Let us, as Jews, use the opportunity of Tu Bishvat to refocus on God’s creation and to increase our appreciation and sensitivity for the good land and good trees He provides for us.
If we care for the environment, hopefully we can be a positive example for the rest of the world.
Let us use the special day of Tu Bishvat as one of the ways to be ‘A light unto the Nations’.