Getting to Know Our Community
Why do Jews celebrate Trees?
Tu B’Shevat begins at sundown on Sunday, Jan. 16 and ends at sundown on Monday, Jan. 17. Tu B’Shevat, is Hebrew for the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat.
In ancient times, Tu B’Shevat was a date on the calendar that helped Jewish farmers establish exactly when they should bring their fourth-year harvest of fruit from recently planted trees to the Temple as first-fruit offerings.
Why is it that trees have been so specifically dignified by the Jewish people?
Beginning with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, the first book of the Torah, trees represent a fundamental part of life. (See Below: “What is the “Tree of Life in different cultures?”)
For environmentalists, Tu B’Shevat is an ancient and authentic Jewish connection to contemporary ecological issues. The holiday is viewed as an appropriate occasion to educate Jews about their tradition’s advocacy of responsible stewardship of God’s creation, manifested in ecological activism
For many Jews, planting trees has become an important part of supporting the land of Israel. As the country changed from desert to fertility, nothing was more important to this success than the continued focus of creating arable land for the Jewish people.
If you look at the many logos of Jewish organizations, you will often see a tree that symbolically represents the stewardship of nature that is evident in the lush portions of the State of Israel and it’s emblems.
What is the Tree of Life in different cultures?
The tree of life is a fundamental archetype in many of the world’s mythologies, religious, and philosophical traditions. It is closely related to the concept of the sacred tree.
Various trees of life are recounted in folklore, culture and fiction, often relating to immortality or fertility. They had their origin in religious symbolism.
Here are short descriptions of how the Tree of Life occurs in many historical parts of the world:
The Assyrian tree of life was represented by a series of nodes and criss-crossing lines. It was apparently an important religious symbol, often attended to in Assyrian palace reliefs by human or eagle-headed winged genies, or the King, and blessed or fertilized with bucket and cone.
In the Avestan literature and Iranian mythology, there are several sacred vegetal icons related to life, eternality and cure, like: Amesha Spenta Amordad (guardian of plants, goddess of trees and immortality),
In Chinese mythology, a carving of a tree of life depicts a phoenix and a dragon; the dragon often represents immortality. A Taoist story tells of a tree that produces a peach of immortality every three thousand years, and anyone who eats the fruit receives immortality.
The tree of life first appears in Genesis 2:9 and 3:22-24 as the source of eternal life in the Garden of Eden, from which access is revoked when man is driven from the garden.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The tree of life vision is described and discussed in the Book of Mormon. According to the Book of Mormon, the vision was received in a dream by the prophet Lehi, and later in vision by his son Nephi, who wrote about it in the First Book of Nephi.
In Dictionnaire Mytho-Hermetique (Paris, 1737), Antoine-Joseph Pernety, a famous alchemist, identified the tree of life with the Elixir of life and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The Celtic god Lugus was associated with the Celtic version of the tree of life.
Germanic paganism and Norse mythology
In Germanic paganism, trees played a prominent role, appearing in various aspects of surviving texts and possibly in the name of gods.
The tree of life appears in Norse religion as Yggdrasil, the world tree, a massive tree (sometimes considered a yew or ash tree) with extensive lore surrounding it.
The “Tree of Immortality” (Arabic: شجرة الخلود) is the tree of life motif as it appears in the Quran. It is also alluded to in hadiths and tafsir. Unlike the biblical account, the Quran mentions only one tree in Eden, also called the tree of immortality which Allah specifically forbade to Adam and Eve.
Etz Chaim, Hebrew for “tree of life,” is a common term used in Judaism. The expression, found in the Book of Proverbs, is figuratively applied to the Torah itself. Etz Chaim is also a common name for yeshivas and synagogues as well as for works of Rabbinic literature. It is also used to describe each of the wooden poles to which the parchment of a Sefer Torah is attached.
The tree of life is mentioned in the Book of Genesis; it is distinct from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were driven out of the Garden of Eden. Remaining in the garden, however, was the tree of life.
Jewish mysticism depicts the tree of life in the form of ten interconnected nodes, as the central symbol of the Kabbalah.
The concept of world trees is a prevalent motif in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cosmologies and iconography. World trees embodied the four cardinal directions. Depictions of world trees, both in their directional and central aspects, are found in the art and mythological traditions of cultures such as the Maya, Aztec, Izapan, Mixtec, Olmec, and others.
In a myth passed down among the Iroquois, The World on the Turtle’s Back, explains the origin of the land in which a tree of life is described.
Arbor Day, also a day to celebrate trees in the United States, is celebrated on the last Friday in April, although some states observe it on dates that better coincide with the local area’s planting times. For instance, Hawaii celebrates Arbor Day on the first Friday of November, and Alaskans celebrate it on the third Monday in May
The World Tree or tree of life is a central symbol in Turkic mythology.It is a common motif in carpets. In 2009 it was introduced as the main design of the common Turkish lira sub-unit 5 kuruş. Tree of life is known as Ulukayın in Turkic communities. It is a sacred beech tree planted by Kayra Han.
In the sacred books of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma), Puranas mention a divine tree Kalpavriksha. This divine tree is guarded by Gandharvas in the garden of Amaravati city under the control of Indra, King of gods.
The concept of the tree of life appears in the writings of the Baháʼí Faith, where it can refer to the Manifestation of God, a great teacher who appears to humanity from age to age.
Sources: Wikipedia, www.myjewishlearning.com