Saturday, January 26, 2013

Appreciating the Essence of Food on Tu B'Shevat

Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, Director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, wishes you a Happy New Year for the Trees. On Tu B'Shevat (15 Shevat), this year celebrated on January 26th, we celebrate the Trees. Tu B'Shevat marks the beginning of the spring.

The holiday is identified by the special grains, wheat and barley, and fruits, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, which the land of Israel is known for. Rabbi Buchwald points out how intriguing it is to him that Judaism celebrates food. Not just that Jews enjoy eating, but the fact that Judaism gives special honor to these seven species. So much so, that they require special blessings at the end of a meal. This blessing is known as a bracha acharona, an abridged grace after meals. If you eat one of these seven items, you recite a special grace. There is even an order of importance to these seven items. For example, if we are eating more than one, we must know which item to eat first so that we make the proper blessing. Blessings in general are among the most complicated laws of Judaism. In fact, in Europe, when a town was looking for a new rabbi, they would test him by setting out exotic foods in front of the candidate and see if he would make the proper and correct number of blessings.

Food is important to us, not just for sustenance. It needs to be taken seriously. Tu B'Shevat helps us remember the essence of foods. For example, strawberries may be seen as a healthy snack, but then we see how fertilizers are used today to produce a crop. We may think they are healthy but what impact did they have on the environment? A pound of beef may require hundreds of pounds of grain to feed the cow. And what about the water and fertilizer to produce that grain? So we really should take our food seriously. This is what Tu B'Shevat reminds us. We are reminded that food is a gift from God. Learn about the essence of the foods and remember to bless God for every morsel that we eat.

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