The fifteenth of Shvat is the New Year for the trees, when the tiniest buds of spring emerge from their wintery hibernation. Surely it is a time to reflect on the glory of Nature and appreciate the pleasures we enjoy from its yield. But the New Year for trees has greater significance: This day regulates the array of obligations which the annual gifts of Nature impose on the Jew. In fact, Rav Hirsch explains, the two must go hand in hand — a duty is attached to every enjoyment, in order to imbue the enjoyment with its true taste, to transform it from selfish indulgence to an acknowledgement of Divine love.
On the Jewish field, no seed ripens for the owner alone. At every stage in the process of cultivating food for nourishment we are reminded of our obligations to
When the first ripened fruit appears each year, its owner marks it, setting it aside to be brought as bikkurim to the Beit Hamidkash, where he will verbally acknowledge his thanks to the Almighty for the bounty of the Land.
When the landowner works his land and gathers his produce, he sets aside the gifts to the Kohen and the Levi. He gives ma’aser, a tenth of his produce, to the Levi — providing his sustenance in order that the Levi will be able to devote himself wholly to the service of