Michelle Baruch is a nature photographer and private Israeli tour guide. To view one of her two websites go to www.apricot-tours.com and www.mishmishphotos.com. This is the eighth year running that she publishes a photo essay for Tu B'Shvat on Arutz Sheva.
Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat - January 26, 2013 this year, happens to coincide with the Sabbath on which the Torah portion of B'shalach is read.
This Sabbath is known as Shabbat Shira because it contains the song of praise Moses and the Israelites sang after G-d parted the waters of the Red Sea. It is a custom to put crumbs out for birds on this Shabbat in gratitude for their song, and according to the Midrash, their singing praises to G-d at the Red Sea and many years later, trying to put out the fire that burned the Holy Temple with water carried on their wings.
Tu B'Shvat is the day on which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel begin to blossom, the almond being the first to flower, and a new fruit-bearing cycle is begun. In Jewish law, this cycle is important for calculating when a fruit of a young tree may be eaten (fruits may not be eaten from trees younger than 3 years old), and when fruits are considered produce of the shmittah year (the seventh year during which land must lie fallow).
In the 17th century, celebrated mystic Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of Tzfat instituted the practice of making a Tu B'Shvat seder (ritual meal) in which the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel were praised for their special intrinsic qualities and symbolism. The seder includes the drinking of four cups of wine (a parallel of the Passover seder) and the eating of various kinds of fruits - especially the seven mentioned in the Torah.
"For Hashem, your G-d, is bringing you to a good Land: a Land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in valley and mountain; a Land of wheat, barley, grape, fig, and pomegranate; a Land of oil-olives and date-honey; a Land where you will eat bread without poverty - you will lack nothing there." (Deut. 8:7-9)
While the texts of the original seder were not recorded, modern versions of this kabbalistic Tu B'Shvat seder have been revived in the Land of Israel, and it is now celebrated by many Jews, religious and secular.
Tu B'shvat was a day of longing to return to Zion before the advent of the State of Israel. Jews attempted to obtain fruits from Israel - often carobs or an orange - or at least fruits that reminded them of Israel and the fruits mentioned in the Torah. Hassidim would dress in Sabbath clothes and quote the Biblical verse that compares man to a tree of the field.
Many modern Israelis take the opportunity to praise the Land of Israel. Schoolchildren plant trees the week of the holiday to express gratitude for being able to settle and cultivate the land again.
In fact, as early as 1913, in the pioneering days of modern Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel, the Israel Teacher's Association and 1,500 Jewish students traveled to the Jewish colony of Motza, three miles west of Jerusalem. The students planted trees and exchanged fruits with each other. The Jewish National Fund further cultivated the day as Jewish Arbor Day in an effort to combat the deadly disease of malaria in the swamplands of the Hula Valley. The JNF planted eucalyptus trees in order to drain the malaria-infested areas, saving Jewish pioneers' lives.
Click here for an additional Tu B’Shvat photo essay by Michelle Baruch.
All the photos below were taken at the JNF's Park Canada/Park Ayalon near Modi'in.