Tu B’Shvat occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. It is called “Tu” because the numerical value of the Hebrew letters tet (9) and vav (6), equal 15. According to the Mishna, there are different New Years in the Hebrew Calendar (not unlike our use of a calendar year, fiscal year, school year, etc.). Rosh Hashanah, for example, is the New Year for our counting of years. Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for determining the age of trees.
Every Tu B'Shevat is considered a year. What happens to make this date a new year? Our ancient rabbis explain that it is on this date (approximately) that the fruit of the trees begins to form, as the rainy season is coming to a close and the sap in trees has risen.
If a tree is planted even one week before Tu B'Shevat, it is considered to be one year-old. According to Torah, after the fourth Tu B'Shevat from when the tree was planted, we are permitted to eat its fruit!
Like many agricultural-based holidays, Tu B’Shvat is a celebration of our land and the potential for growth, abundance and gratitude.
There are wonderful customs on Tu B’Shevat. The most common is to eat many different fruits. We eat the seven species described in Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. We try to be particularly mindful of the earth. One way we do this is to pause and say a blessing before eating the fruit. The blessing is: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Borei pri ha-aitz. After eating from the Seven Species, we say Baruch Atah Adonai, Al Ha'aretz v'al Ha'Peorot. And if we eat just one seasonal fruit that we have not eaten during the past year, we mark the moment with the shehechiyanu blessing.
In the 16th century, Jewish mystics in Safed developed a Tu B'Shevat seder that echoes our Passover seder, including the four cups of wine. The focus of the Tu B'Shevat seder is the spirituality and symbolism of fruits, in particular the location of their pits, shells and seeds. Parts that can be eaten represent kedushah, or holiness. Parts that are inedible represent the ways our world – and our hearts – can become tainted. Lastly, the shells are the protection for the holiness inside. By eating fruit with a spiritual intention, we open ourselves up to the Divine blessing that flows through our bodies and own lives.