Today is Rosh Chodesh Shvat, 15 days until the new year of the trees.
One of the things I love about this time in the Jewish calendar is that it really is a spiritual turning point in the year. According to Shammai, Rosh Chodesh Shvat is the new year of the trees, the time that sap starts to rise (Hillel’s position, which is the accepted practice, is that the new year of trees is on the 15th of Shvat). Tradition also marks today as the beginning of Moses’ final speech to the Israelites 37 days before his death on the 7th of Adar. This speech makes up most of the Book of Deuteronomy, called in traditional sources the ”Mishneh Torah,” or the “Repetition of Torah.” This day marked the beginning of a big Torah-learning convention that lasted over a month.
How does this time mark a turning point in the year? The significance of the new year of the trees in the agricultural society 2000 years ago in Israel was that any fruit that was beyond a certain point of development on 15 Shvat would be considered part of the tithe for the past year and younger fruit would be tithed in the coming year. The sap that starts to rise now will nourish this new fruit that will ripen over the coming months. The first of these fruits would be offered at the Temple in Jerusalem on the Shavuot holiday.
A spiritual process follows this agricultural process. Moses’s speech calls on us to rededicate ourselves to Torah study during these dark winter months. Slowly the days are getting longer and we will soon be engaging in the spiritual processes of Purim and Passover. The juices of Torah will hopefully rise in us through these holidays and give us new Torah ideas to offer as first fruits on Shavuot, the time of our receiving Torah.
May the slowly lengthening days and increasing light of this season awaken in you increased energy and motivation to nurture your spiritual life.