We of course know that January 1st is our secular new year, when we make the move from 2013 to 2014. But in the course of this month we will also celebrate a second new year, beginning on the evening of January 15th, when the festival of Tu B’Shvat begins.
Now I know what you are thinking (or at least I think I do), you are wondering how can Tu B’Shvat be the new year, if we celebrated Rosh Hashanah back in September, which everyone said was the Jewish new year. Well the answer is that they are both new years, and actually we have two further new years in our Jewish calendar. According to the Rabbis of the Mishnah there are four new years: On the first of Nisan, it is the new year for the kings and for the festivals; on the first of Elul, it is the new year for the tithing of animals; on the first of Tishrei (Rosh Hashanah) it is the new year for years, and on the fifteenth of Shvat (Tu B’Shvat) it is the new year for the trees.
We celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the primary new year, because it is on that day that we make the move in terms of counting years (we are currently in the 5774th year of the Hebrew calendar). However, there are other points in the calendar when new years are celebrated and marked, and yet none of them coincide with our secular new year of January 1st.
In part this is because we are comparing 2 calendars which operate according to different ways of counting time, our secular calendar counts time according to the passage of the full four seasons, or according to a full revolution around the sun. In contrast our Hebrew calendar counts time according to the cycles of the moon, with each moon corresponding to a complete lunar cycle of new moon to full moon, to new moon again.
With four Jewish new years and a separate secular new year we might consider that the positioning of these moments is less important than the fact that we have them. What becomes clear from all of these new years is that there is something important in counting the passage of time. It is important for us as individuals, but it is also important in a communal context whether it is in our Jewish or secular worlds. And I wish all of you Happy Tu B’Shvat – have a wonderful celebration of the new year for the trees.