New Year for Trees
By Charles E. McCracken
For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. ISAIAH 55:12
Almost 50 years before the rebirth of the modern state of Israel, delegates at the 5th Zionist Conference in Basel, Switzerland (1901) established the Jewish National Fund for the purpose of purchasing land in what was then-called Palestine. It is a fascinating story of the incredible vision of men that brought the dream of a modern Jewish homeland to fruition through the resolve, perseverance and sacrifice of God’s ancient people.
Among of the very first undertakings, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) purchased land with the objective of planting olive groves in honor of Theodore Herzl, Israel’s visionary. Over the past 100 years, more that 240 million trees have been planted in Israel. Israel is the only country in the world to have entered the 21st century with a net gain of trees.History, however, documents that not all have demonstrated love and concern for the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hadrian, the 14th emperor of Rome, is notoriously credited with using the Latinized moniker of Israel’s ancient enemy—Palaestina (Philistine) to rename the Jewish homeland. He also publically burned a Torah; and, in an attempt to eradicate Jewish identification with the land, the Romans systematically cut down whole forests making Israel virtually uninhabitable.
Suffering under centuries of Ottoman rule, the land became a veritable wilderness. When visiting the Holy Land in the late 1800s, Mark Twain observed, “desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.”(1)
Through the tenacity of the Jewish people, much has changed since Mark Twain’s visit almost 150 years ago.
In the 1950s, following Israel’s war of survival/independence, the JNF began an extensive “afforestation” program that continues to the present day. Because of the efforts of the JNF, in places where few thought trees could survive, forests are thriving and positively impacting the ecosystems of Israel.Today, it seems obvious that we (most Christian tourists) are witnesses to the precursor of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 35 where the arid lands of Israel once again bloom like a rose.
Each year, children in Israel have a break from school to help their families plant trees on the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat known as the “New Year for Trees.”
From sundown last night through sundown this evening, Tu B’Shevat is celebrated with tree planting and enjoying the fruit of trees. The name simply means the 15th (Tu) of (B’) the Hebrew month (Shevat)—Tu B’Shevat. It also marks the beginning of the agricultural year for the purpose of biblical tithing.
On Tu B’Shevat, it is customary to either sample a fruit one has previously never eaten or to enjoy the “Seven Species” that grew in abundance in the land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, olives, dates and figs (Deut. 8:8).
The focus on trees is a recent development that began in 1890 when a rabbi took his class on a field trip to plant trees. Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz’ tree planting initiative was embraced by the Jewish Teacher’s Union, then by the Jewish National Fund, and since that time, has blossomed into a beautiful tradition that continues to this day.Interestingly, the holiday is also seen as an opportunity to encourage the cultivation of strong roots of faith and commitment to God.
A popular psalm used for the occasion describes the righteous man as,
a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Ps. 1:3).
The 92nd Psalm echoes, The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon (Ps. 92:12).
If you’ve never celebrated Tu B’Shevat, you can bless Israel by planting trees through the Jewish National Fund at the link below. Use the day as a reminder that God created trees for the health of the planet and that we need to develop deep spiritual roots by reading the word of God. Then, take time to indulge in a new fruit or enjoy the Seven Species!
1) Mark Twain quotes, Jewish Virtual Library.
Jewish National Fund
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. With 40 plus years of ministry experience, Rev. McCracken is known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth that makes his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.