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You may still be hearing "Happy New Year" wishes, as it is still January. In two weeks, though, it really will be a new year for trees, on the 15th of Shvat.
This post was adapted from one written by Rabbi Chaim Brown
Tu B'Shevat is the day designated as the New Year for the trees. The first part of the name is made up of two hebrew letters: "tes", which has the value of 9, and "vav", which has the value of six, to designate the number 15 for the date of the holiday. The new year for the trees marks the cutoff point for the tithes of fruit; it is rather like a fiscal year, which is not necessarily synonymous with a calendar year. One does not take the tithe from the actual tree, but from the fruits that grow on the tree. So why is Tu B'Shevat not called Rosh HaShana l'Peiors-- the new year for fruit -- not Rosh HaShana l'Ilanos, the new year for trees?
Anyone who has gone apple picking out on Long Island or in upstate NY in the early fall can remember the bright sun beating on the orchard and the sweet apple aroma. If you wander in the same orchards in the early spring months, you will likely still feel the winter frost blowing through the barren trees. Yet the farmer knows that it is during those crucial early months that pollination of his crops must occur if the ripe apples of the fall are to blossom. The roots of the tree are neither attractive nor visible, but without them, the tree would not get the nutrients needed for the blossoms to grow and ripen to the magnificent red apples of the fall.
"Man is like the tree of the field" (Deutoronomy 20:19) . We tend to judge people's character by the superficial evidence that attracts us - their appearance, dress, smile, looks. We are looking at the apple tree in the fall, with the red shiny fruit grabbing all our attention. Yet, that fruit will not return next year or the year after unless the tree itself is healthy and well cared for. Rosh HaShana L'ilanos tells us that the fruit may catch our eye, but long lasting growth and fulfillment is in the quality of the tree itself.