Mark Twain, who visited the Holy Land in 1867, wrote, “Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation… It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.” The contradiction between the things Twain witnessed during his travels and the beauty of Israel today is amazing.
In this restoration, we can see the hand of God of Israel Who fulfills what He has promised in His Word, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 36: 33-36).
Tu BiShvat is an unusual feast, which is associated with the flourishing of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). When we explore of background and origin of Tu BiShvat, we find that in ancient Israel, according to the prescription of the Torah, it was common practice to separate annual tithes from the crops from the fruit trees to give to the priests and Levites who held service in the Temple. The second tithe was given to the poor and to widows. It was forbidden to separate tithes from the crops of one year for the account of the crops of another year. The wise men set the day aside to separate the crops of one year from the crops of another year. Tu BiShvat has become this day on the 15th day of Shevat. The rainy season usually ended on this day in Israel. Rains were highly important for the trees. The fruits that were harvested after that date were considered to be the next year's crops. This made it convenient to separate the tithes.
In 70 AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple, many Jews were forced to leave the land of their fathers. During the years of war and devastation many forests and groves were destroyed. Gradually, the land turned into desert. With the rise of the Zionist movement, a new stage in the history of the feast began. Immigrants who have returned to the land of their fathers found their country devastated and empty. It could barely feed its few inhabitants. The labor of the first settlers was exhausting. They had to conquer the desert and drain the swamps to turn the land into a flourishing garden. Jews planted eucalyptus and forests; they brought water, planted fields and orchards. On the 15th day of Shevat, 1890, Ze'ev Yavetz, who was a school principal, writer and historian, planted trees together with his students. Thus there was a new tradition established in the country to plant trees on Tu BiShvat. The blossoming almond tree became a symbol of the feast from the very beginning of the settlement movement.
Recently, the celebration of Tu BiShvat has gained an additional meaning. It has become tradition for thousands of people, children and adults take part in major tree-planting activities on this day. As a result, artificial forests, parks and avenues appear in Israel.
While celebrating the New Year of the Trees, Jewish people recall what was said in the Torah about fruit trees; one cannot cut them down or even break them, because they give fruit to people.
According to established tradition, on the festive table there should be fruits and grains that grow in Israel (wheat, rye, olives, dates, figs, pomegranates and grapes are mentioned in the Torah). Some believe that there should be seven, fifteen or even as many fifty kinds of fruit on the table!
We have to understand that we live in a unique time of not only physical restoration of Israel, but also a time of spiritual restoration alongside it. Just as the Lord is dealing seriously with His people in both physical and spiritual ways. Last days…