Of all the Jewish holidays, I particularly like this little-known holiday, the little forgotten one of January, the discreet, the timid one, the one which in the heart of winter makes no noise, the one about which we speak little, unknown to the general public, the modest one, the one whose name, existence or importance we don’t even know, the one we even neglect, thinking that it is less essential, this is the reason why I would like here for once to pay homage to him. Maybe I’m sensitive to this celebration because I was born at the end of January, maybe it’s because I’m a vegetarian, and I like plants and trees. In front of my window I contemplate time passing through the branches of a large chestnut tree. Each season brings its color. Gloriously green in summer, agitated with birds and sonorous leaves, adorned with a thousand shades of gold in autumn, mute, bare and brown in winter, I see it shivering hoping for the spring when it becomes colorful, animated and gossipy.
Last Sunday therefore took place the feast of Tu B’Shvat, which means “the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat” and which celebrates the renewal of nature, trees and the fruits of the earth. A simple and cheerful celebration, a celebration of rebirth, Tu B’Shvat is above all a gustatory celebration since it is prescribed to eat fruit, and nothing else; no fasting, no agape, no synagogue or grand pardon, no holidays, just the tasting of 15 fruits, including those called “the seven fruits of Israel”: olives, dates, grapes , figs and pomegranates, wheat and barley, thanks to which it is possible to subsist because they are found even in the heart of the desert. These natural dishes are tasted after a blessing which reminds us of their importance and their origin from the tree, which man must take care of before the approach of spring and the renewal of nature.
This is the time when plants are pruned so that they can regrow, grow and provide food for humans. This is when nature buds. In the Bible, the analogy is made between the tree and the man who rises from his roots: he can only soar towards heaven and nourish the world with his works if he is anchored in the earth. Man is compared to the tree of the field (Dt 20,19), he is part of nature, while being the conductor, the demiurge and the master who can choose to exhaust it, to sacrifice it by consuming it excessively and ending up destroying it, or else making it bear fruit, living and persevering by having a respectful relationship with the world, that is to say by taking care of the fruits of the earth, respecting the rhythm of the trees and the renewal of the seasons. For example, the law of the chemita commands resting the land every seven years before resowing it. Or again, it is forbidden to destroy trees in time of war: “If you are stopped for a long time at the siege of a city that you are attacking to make yourself master of it, you must not however destroy the trees by carrying on them the strike: they are the ones who feed you, you must not kill them. Yes, the tree of the field is man himself, you will spare him in the works of the siege” (Dt 20, 19).
Unlike other holidays which commemorate essential historical or memorial events, such as Hanukkah and the war of the Jews against the Seleucids, or Passover, the liberation from slavery in Egypt by Moses, Shavuot, the reception of the tables of the Law, discreet Tu B’Shvat celebrates only the trees. Strangely, I relate it to Yom Kippur, which only sanctifies forgiveness, because this celebration is not attached to a particular event either. It is also a bit of forgiveness that we must ask of nature and of the world for not having respected them. And that is why I am struck by its topicality, even if it is ancestral. It has taught us for millennia that it is essential to take care of the earth, because without the earth the future of the world is compromised and therefore that of man as well.
That’s why Tu B’Shvat is the most ecological and universal holiday, which is for everyone. It is a messianic feast that carries an essential message. It is about nothing less than the fate and destiny of human beings in the world. Thus this discreet celebration is as important as the others because it is the condition for the survival of the human species. As Isaiah, the inspired and mystical poet who best described the messianic times, reminds us: “I will put in the desert the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle and the olive tree. I will put in the barren places the cypress, the elm and the boxwood, all together. That they may see, know, observe and consider that the hand of the Lord has done these things, that the God of Israel is their doer” (Isaiah 41:19-20).
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