By: Romi Morales
Tu BiShvat and the Culture of Discussion and Debate
In its origins, Tu BiShvat emerged as a date that our sages set to mark the beginning of the agricultural cycle (The “new year for trees”). This date, was highly important at the time, since it indicated which fruits should be set aside as a part of the tithe, and therefore, given to those who needed it the most. Faced with this challenge, two approaches emerged: on the one hand, the house of Shammai proposed that the chag be celebrated on the 1st of the month of Shvat, while the house of Hillel proposed to begin the festivity on the 15th of Shavt. After considering both proposals, our sages decided to embrace the house of Hillel’s approach, which is the accepted position we continue to follow to this day1. This dispute teaches us various important lessons as educators of Tnuot Noar.
On the one hand, the example of Hillel and Shammai conveys to us the importance of developing independent and critical thinking, while examining the dilemmas that arise from reality. In this case, we notice how the culture of discussion and debate enriches the analysis, allowing a much more complex understanding of the environment in which we live. In light of the importance of these elements, our education is based on the values of the right to doubt, dialogue and self-expression among others. These values encourage the chanich to express and defend his ideas and perceptions, even when others think in an entirely different way.
In addition, our sages also teach our Tnua’s leaders several significant lessons. This example, emphasizes that when it comes to making decisions that affect all the Tnua’s members, we must base our judgment not on issues of ego and power, but rather on the values, ideals and principles of our movement.
This good judgment guarantees that the decisions being made, are ethical and aligned with our educational organization, and therefore include our members in their entirety.
Tu BiShavt and Am Israel as a Creative Source of Judaism
As previously mentioned, Tu BiShvat emerged as a date that our sages set to mark the beginning of the agricultural cycle. However, Am Israel has broadened the essence of the chag, granting it new meanings: caring for nature and profound love for the land of Israel. To these meanings, Am Israel added new customs and traditions. While our sages in Safed created the tradition of conducting a Tu Bishvat “seder”, a few hundred years later, a teacher with his student created one of the most typical customs of this chag in Israel: planting trees, demonstrating yet again the creative power of Am Israel in regards to our Judaism.
As a Juvenile Jewish movement, we fervently believe in the ability of our madrich to ensure the continuity and enrichment of the traditions, customs and legacy of our people. Through the hadracha, a unique educational process, the madrich stands as a dignified link of a valuable and millennial chain and places the Tnua as the ultimate platform to recreate important Jewish rituals, which will encourage the flourishing of the Jewish and Zionist identity among our chanichim.
Tu BiShvat: Man, tree, planting and educating
In our Jewish sources, the human being is compared to the tree. But why? What do we have in common? What are the messages that this comparison sends us as educators of Tnuot Noar?
In order to grow, the tree needs various indispensable elements: the seed must be planted in a fertile, rich and nutritive ground in order to mature. In addition, in order to develop, it needs to be watered frequently and receive sunlight. Finally, some argue, that trees also need care and affection to grow strong and radiant. By guaranteeing these conditions, we will witness the transformation of this small seed, until becoming a strong and healthy tree, ready to share its sweet fruit with us.
Likewise, in order to grow, the chanich needs a “fertile ground” – an enriching environment which allows him to reach his full potential. Without a doubt, the Tnua is a clear example of this type of contexts: rich in values, ideals and principles that are the ultimate base for the process of personal and collective growth and will accompany the chanich from his first steps in the Ken and for the rest of his life.
Similarly to the way in which water irrigates the tree, the madrich drenches the chanich with formative experiences that will provide him with the concrete tools in order to grow as a “whole human being”. Just as the sun shines on the tree, so does the personal example of our madrich, who with his actions illuminates the path they walk together, strengthens the desire of the chanich to dream big and encourages him to stay at the forefront, always benefiting with his actions the environment in which he lives. Finally, and not less important, in a world which tends to praise “cybernetic links” and “screens”, we acknowledge the uniqueness and singularity of the connection between the madrich and the chanich, where affection is expressed in terms of time, dedication, play, limits, content and identity formation. In other words, in educational terms.
In the same way, there are similarities between the rituals of planting and educating. A person who decides to plant assumes a task that requires attention, effort, dedication and care. This task may not seem different from other tasks we perform on a daily basis. However, a person who decides to plant knows that his efforts will not bear fruit in the short term, and still chooses to take the responsibility. The one who decides to educate acts similarly. In a world based on the “now”, our madrichim are the ones who lovingly and dedicatedly plant the necessary seeds in the hearts of our
chanichim, for a Jewish, Zionist, Humanist, liberal, proud and strong identity to blossom in them. As Tnuot Noar, we are highly committed to the mission of strengthening the roots of our chanichim, so when they “go out to the world” there will be no storm that will manage to uproot them. We assume the task of educating our chanichim, since exercising responsibility, while thinking about future generations is an ethical and moral task and reflects the most honorable values of our people and Tnua.
Chag Tu BiShvat Sameach!
1 The house of Shammai proposed to declare the beginning of the year of the trees on the 1st of Shvat, since on this date it was possible to see the flowering of the fields in the plains, the Shomron (the Samaria area) and the valley. However, Hillel suggested waiting until the 15th of Shvat and claimed that the renewal of nature does not occur uniformly in all points of Israel. Hillel argued that the flowering of the trees begins on the coast, continues in the Shomron and only then reaches the mountains. Our sages opted for the proposal of the house of Hillel, in order to include all the inhabitants of Israel in the same way.