January 2018

     We wished each other a happy new year back in September at the time of the high holidays, and we can now wish the same on January 1 for the secular new year.  But we have 2 more opportunities, coming up, to extend this greeting!  The first of these two comes at the end of this month, just six weeks after Chanukah is over, in the Hebrew month of Sh’vat.  It is called Tu B’Sh’vat, the holiday of the trees.  It is a kind of Jewish Arbor Day which marks the first day of spring in Israel. 
    Tu B’Sh’vat, or the 15th of the month of Sh’vat, exemplifies the Jewish people’s strong link to the land of Israel.  Many people take this opportunity to do a mitzvah by planting a tree in Israel through a donation in honor of, or in memory of someone special.   In addition to planting trees, we eat foods associated with the land, such as dates, almonds, grapes, figs, and olives, to mention a few.  We also conduct Passover-like seders celebrating the themes of this festival of trees.
    In Israel, largely waterless, trees were regarded as special gifts of God.  There are many symbolic illusions to trees in the Torah, and trees are represented as symbols of goodness and nobility.  We are familiar with at least one of the references in the liturgy of our Shabbat service: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”  (Psalm 92)
    So, when else could we wish people a happy new year?  The month of Nissan  is considered the first month of the Jewish sacred year, when we observe Passover, and that is another time we could say “happy new year.”  Therefore, we actually have four new years, four chances to start anew and give blessings to others.  Be sure not to miss these opportunities!  
L’hitra’ot, until next time!