Searching for Trees on Tu Bishvat

Tu Bishvat is also called the Birthday of the Trees. Trees, and agriculture in general, pop up all over the Tanakh (Bible). Although there are many different words for trees, such as אילן (ilan) or specific names of trees like ארז (erez - cedar), we are going to concentrate on the word “etz", or “עץ”. In this activity, we will look at how, why and where trees are mentioned in the Tanakh.

Without looking anything up, how many times do you think the word “עץ” appears in the Tanakh? Write your guess on a piece of paper and save it until later in the activity or give it to your teacher (with your name on it).

Now to find out the answer. Type “עץ” into the search bar on Sefaria. If you can’t type in Hebrew on your computer, click on the keyboard icon to the right of the search bar and use it to type in Hebrew.

The huge number that you see is the number of times that עץ appears in the entire Sefaria library! It’s pretty big! But what if we want to know how many times עץ appears in the Tanakh only? How can we do that?

The Tanakh is made up of many books, which are divided into three sections. In fact, the word “Tanakh” is an abbreviation or acronym of the three sections.

Go to the Tanakh page. Notice that the books on the page are divided into the three sections. Use the button with the A or א in it to switch between Hebrew and English.

Write the name of each of the 3 sections in Hebrew and English on a piece of paper. Highlight the first letter of each word in Hebrew. Do you see the relationship between the letters and the word תנ״ך (Tanakh)?

Use Sefaria’s filters to choose the categories or books that you want included in your search for “עץ”. Since we want to include all of the books of the Tanakh in our search, click on “Filters” and check the “Tanakh” box.

How many times does “עץ” appear in the Tanakh? How close was your guess to the actual number? In your class, whose guess was closest to the actual number?

We have now determined that the Tanakh talks a lot about trees! Where and why are trees mentioned in the Tanakh? Are all the words found in one big tree story or do they pop up all over the Tanakh?

Using the filter menu and the Tanakh page,

  1. Count the number of books in the Tanakh that contain the word “עץ”.

  2. Count the number of Tanakh books listed on the Tanakh page. (Note: Books in the Tanakh can be counted in different ways so we are going to count the number of entries on the Tanakh page.)

Does it seem like “עץ” appears in a lot/half/most of the books? Is it what you expected?

Now that you have played with the numbers, it’s time to look at some verses that include the word “עץ”.

  • From the search results page, find a verse that interests you.

  • Working in a group of 3-4 students, create a Jamboard. Each person in the group can take a page to work on. If you need help with Jamboard, watch a video.

  • On your page:

    • Copy and paste the verse from Sefaria. Be sure to include where the verse comes from in the following format - (Name of book, chapter number: verse number). Ex. (Shemot 5:2)

    • Explain what the tree is doing in the verse. Is it there to teach a lesson? Is the section about agriculture? Is it a character in a story?

    • Explain why you like the verse.

    • Write 3 adjectives to describe the tree in the verse.

    • Add a picture of a tree to illustrate the verse.

    • Find a fun tree fact and add it to the board.

  • Read through the Jam with the group. Each person can show and explain their page.

  • Share your Jams with the class.

Trees are mentioned throughout the Sefaria library. A story from the Talmud about Choni the Circlemaker is very popular on Tu Bishvat. Enjoy this short video about Choni and trees.