Tu B'Shvat is the New Year for the Trees. On this day begins the new year for the reckoning of Terumos, Maaseros, and Orlah. The Mishna states (Rosh Hashanoh 16a), that the world is judged on four different occasions. On Pesach concerning the grain harvest, on Shavuos concerning the fruits of the trees, on Rosh Hashanah the world passes before him..., and on Succos concerning the rainfall.
In addition to the fact that we learn that there is a special Rosh Hashanah for the trees (Rosh Hashanoh 16b), we learn also that Shavuos, which is the time of for the fruits of the trees, is also the celebration of the Giving of the Torah. We need then to explain exactly what is this connection between Tu B'Shvat and Shavuos.
In the Talmud in Tr. Brachos (35b), R' Levi asks about what seems to be a contradiction. It is written in Tehillim, 24:1, "The earth and all that is upon it belongs to Hashem." Yet in Tehillim 115:16 it is written, "The Heavens; the Heavens belong to Hashem, and the earth to the family of man. R' Levi solves the problem: The first verse is talking about before one makes a brachoh, the second verse is after the brachoh.
In other words, the intention of the entire creation, of which man is the zenith, is so that he can use it to serve and praise his creator, as it is written, " Yisrael was Holy to Hashem, they were the first fruits of his harvest...", (Jeremiah 2:3). Therefore a Jew who takes a fruit and makes a brachoh on it with proper intention and concentration, praises and glorifies HaShem who created that fruit. Therefore the earth becomes mans as well since he fulfills his purpose for being created. However if a person should take the fruit and not bless on it, and not praise HaShem with it and thereby not fulfill the will of his creator, he has no permission to benefit from the creation; it wasn't for him that it was created.
In Parshas Shoftim the Torah states, "for the man is a tree of the field". The is the source for the well known comparison between the man and the tree. This idea has many aspects and explanations.
It can be explained that just as a tree is constantly producing fruits, ideally, so should a man be constantly producing fruits. And what are the fruits of a man? They are his children, his offspring. It is understood, that just as the farmer is concerned and takes many special precautions to insure that the fruits come out just right, so should the man be concerned that his offspring come out right. That means right for Hashem as well as for his fellow man.
The main battle between the potential for holiness and that which opposes it, takes place on this front. As the Torah relates in Parshas Bo (Shemos 10:8-11), Pharaoh asked Moshe Rabbenu, "And whom are those that will go..(to sacrifice to your G-d in the desert)?" Moshe replies, "We will go with our children and our elders, with our sons and our daughters etc." Moshe emphasizes to Pharaoh that they won't go out of Egypt without taking the younger generation along. Without the children, there is no purpose in leaving. Pharaoh howeve, intends on keeping the children as hostages. He answers immediately, "It will not be so, let the adult men go alone. Only the adults will go, but the youngsters will stay behind".
We also find this same idea of the importance of the education of the younger generation described in Parshas Vayelech (Deut. 31,7-13), in the Hakhel event. "Gather together the people, the men, the women, and the children". The is one of the final Mitzvohs that Moshe command the Jewish people before his death, the gathering together of all the people, the young and the aged, on the first day of Chol HaMoed Succos, the culmination of the Shmittoh year. A short introduction is need to understand the concept of Hakhel.
The Talmud in Tr. Chagigah (3a), relates the following story. Rebbi Yochanan ben Beroka and Rebbi Elazar ben Chasmo were going to greet Rebbi Yehoshua in Peki'in, a Gallilean town not far from Sfas. Rebbi Yehoshua asked them, "What chiddush, (new, novel idea) was formulated today in the Beis HaMedrash?" They answered him, "Rebbi, we are your disciples and from your waters we drink." (The meaning being that their Rebbi should relate to them new Torah thoughts, and not the other way around.), "Nevertheless", he replied. "there is no Beis Medrash without some chiddush! Who was giving the lesson this Shabbos?" "Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah", they answered. "And what did he expound on?" "He spoke about Hakhel", the students answered. "He explained that the verse calls for the men, the women and the children to gather together. The men come to learn Torah, and the women come to listen. What then is the purpose of bringing the children? To bestow a reward upon those that bring them!" Exclaimed Rebbi Yehoshua joyously, "Such a precious jewel you have and you wanted to hide it from me?!"
It needs to be understood, just what was this "precious jewel" that Rebbi Yehoshua so rejoiced over. This precious jewel is actually the foundation and the key to the education of the younger generation. This is Hakhel, the bringing of the children. From this will come a reward to the parents who bring them. The tragedy of the Jews in the United States (in particular) and the rest of the Western world after the Holocaust was, that Jews who were observant, committed and G-d fearing people, were not careful the protect and to educate their children, and were largely unsuccessful in passing on their beliefs and heritage. The result is generations of their grandchildren who know nothing about Judaism. The parents didn't bring the children! They didn't bring them to the Shul, to the Shabbos table, to the Talmud Torah, to the weddings and the brisses. The children were left to discover America on their own, and the parents forfeited the reward promised to them!
Now we can understand why Hashem, when he created the world, created the trees with the bark and the fruits having the same taste! (Genesis 1:11, and Rashi there) A man is a "tree of the field". The lesson is clear. The fruits of the tree should have the same taste as the tree itself! The parent must insure that his fruits, his children, have the same taste, the same path in life as the parent himself. Look at the way a tree produces fruits. First, the tree brings forth blooms. As the bloom withers, the tree is setting the fruit, and only then does it begin to grow. Each fruit in turn will produce its own seeds which will be capable of producing a tree which can bring forth identical fruits. Of primary importance is the bloom and the setting of the fruit, (in Hebrew: çðèä), for this is the beginning of the fruit. So the parent must begin to train and nurture the child in the ways of Judaism from the time that he first blooms forth, while he is still very, very young. If the blooming period is successful, then certainly the period of the growth of the fruit will be successful and the fruit will surely be delicious, bearing the same taste as the tree which brought it forth.
(Ed. note: This is the connection between Tu B'Shvat and Shavuos. Tu B'Shvat is the New Year for the trees. Any tree that has bloomed before Tu B'Shvat is considered to be bearing fruit from the previous Jewish calendar year. A tree that blooms on or after Tu B'Shvat is therefore bearing the fruit of the current calendar year. On Shavuos the world is judged concerning the fruits of the trees. How are they judged? If the fruits are the children and the trees are the parents, and Tu B'Shvat is the New Year upon which hinges the bloom of the trees, then it is clear that the factor which is being judged is that which Shavuos comes to teach us. The Torah. Was the bloom and setting of the fruits accomplished with the objective of instilling into them the values of and love for the Torah? If so then the judgment will surely be favorable, and the fruits will mature and ripen retaining the same delicious taste as the tree from which they came.)
There is another aspect to the idea of "The man is a tree of the field". It is that the fruits of a person are the Mitzvohs and Ma'asim Tovim that he does. (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Noach) As the stage of planting is to the fruit tree, so is the effort exerted in performance to Mitzvohs and Ma'asim Tovim. As the harvest is to the fruits, so is the performance of mitzvohs in the best possible way to Mitzvohs and Ma'asim Tovim. This then is what we say each day in davening after Bircos HaTorah: "These are the things that a man eats the fruits of in this world, but the capital (original investment) remains for him in the world to come". When a person does mitzvohs and learns Torah, he harvests and enjoys his fruits. Not only this, but just as fruits must be eaten while they are still fresh and before they begin to rot in order to enjoy their taste and to benefit from their nutrients, so too must mitzvohs be done "fresh", with simcha, with enthusiasm and with kavannah.
(Ed. note: Furthermore, mitvos can only be done in this world. In the next world, one enjoys the benefits of his 'investment', but can no longer continue to invest. This is another corollary to the idea of doing the mitzvohs while they are 'fresh'. It is referring to this world, before the time for doing them has ended.)
The above also explains the custom of eating the Esrog from Sukkos on Tu B'Shvat, the day which is auspicious for davening for a beautiful and kosher esrog for the following Sukkos. The Talmud in Tr. Succah (35a) is trying to discover the identity of the"pri etz hadar", (Lev. 23:40) that the Torah wants us to take on Succos. The Talmud understands the the Torah is talking about a tree whose fruit and bark have the identical taste. The Talmud also brings a verse concerning Orlah that says, "...and when you plant every kind of fruit bearing tree..." Don't we know that the tree must be a fruit bearing tree to have a prohibition of Orlah? Rather it is a further proof that there is such a tree whose bark and fruit have the identical taste. (Although the pepper tree could fit this descrition, it is ruled out for other reasons.) This hints to us that there is a continuation from the tree which is the 'father', to the fruits which are the 'children', and that the taste is the same. The values of the Torah and Yiras Shamayim, if present in the fathers, will surely be found in the children. Moreover it is brought further on the the same passage, (Succah 35a), that one of the identifying signs of the esrog is that the fruits remain on the tree for a number of years. This hints at the same idea that the children, the 'fruits', are connected at their source to the ways of the fathers. In this way the fruits will truly be, as the esrog is described, a 'pri etz hadar', a beautiful fruit of a tree.
We say the following verses from Tehillim 148:7-9, everyday in the Psukei D'zimra. "Praise Hashem from the earth, the sea monsters and all that dwell in the depths. Fire and hail, snow and vapor; stormwinds all fulfilling his word. The mountains and the hills, fruit trees and all cedars." Also, in Tehillim 96:12, it is written, "The field and all that is in it will rejoice, then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy". From these verses we see that there is an idea of a song that the trees and their fruits sing. Even the plant kingdom knows how to praise and glorify its creator. (See also in Perek Shirah the songs that each part of the creation sings to its Creator.)
The Talmud in Tr. Chagigah (14b), relates the story of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai who was riding on the road on his donkey. He saw that R' Elazar ben Arach was riding along after him and eventually overtook him. "Rebbe", he called out, "teach me a lesson of the Ma'aseh Merchavah!" (Ezekiel's Vision of the Chariot which is the forms the basis of a school of Jewish mysticism.) Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai replied, "This is not how you've been taught. We don't teach the Ma'aseh Merchavah to a lone student unless he is exceptionally wise and understanding!" "But Rebbe", he said, "allow me to tell you one thing that I have learned!" "Fine", said Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, and immediately got down from his donkey, wrapped himself up in his Tallis and sat down on a rock underneath an olive tree. "Rebbi, why did you come down off of your donkey?", inquired R' Elazar ben Arach. He answered, "Is it possible that you will expound on the teachings of the Ma'aseh Merkavah, and the Shechina will be with us, with the Heavenly Hosts also in attendance, and I shall ride on a donkey?!?" As soon as R' Elazar ben Arach began to expound on the Ma'aseh Merkavah, fire descended from the heavens, surrounded all the trees of the field and they began to sing praises to Hashem. What did they sing? "Praise Hashem from the earth, the sea monsters and all that dwell in the depths. Fire and hail, snow and vapor; stormwinds all fulfilling his word. The mountains and the hills, fruit trees and all cedars." (Tehillim 148:7-9) An angel arose from the fire and exclaimed, "This is indeed the Ma'aseh Merkavah!" Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai stood up, kissed R' Elazar ben Arach on the forehead and pronounced, "Baruch Hashem, the G-d of Israel who gave a son to Avraham Avinu who knows how to understand, to delve into and to expound on the Ma'aseh Merkavah."
We can see that the Ma'aseh Merkavah together with the Ma'aseh Bereshis instruct us how to praise and to glorify the name of Hashem, the Creator of everything, and they therefore burst out into song.
I have always felt that the main idea of Tu B'Shvat is to realize that even though sometimes an individual will praise Hashem for a miracle that occurred on his behalf, or for instance Moshe who sang praise to Hashem on behalf of the entire people at the miracle of the splitting of the sea and at the well in the desert, there is another song that continually and consistently encompasses and accompanies the whole world and all that is created upon it, as the above story of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and R' Elazar ben Arach demonstrates. This is the central point of TuB'Shevat, to tune into the song of thanks and praise to the Creator that is constantly being sung, as it is written, "then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy". The trees along with all of the creation will sing out in holy praises and thanks to their Creator.
The highest and most sublime song that there is, is reserved for Am Yisrael alone to sing. Even the heavenly angels sing to the Creator only once in a 'lifetime', and even then they aren't permitted to raise their voices in praise until Am Yisrael does so first. (Talmud Tr. Chullin 91b) While the angels get their chance only once in a lifetime, we sing our praises to Hashem three times a day, and that is in addition to the praises which one may offer at any moment of the day when he feels Hashem's closeness and desires to recognize the kindness and the greatness of his Creator. That is the advantage of man over the entire scope of Creation. Man, as the only being with the power of speech, has the opportunity to praise Hashem not just with his being, but also with his own personal song inasmuch as his mind and heart prompt him to do so. This then is the true purpose of the Creation, that we should be able to sing praises to Hashem at all times and to proclaim his greatness. And in that we do pray to Hashem and praise his name, he returns our prayers to us answered, and fills us with his goodness, his favor, and his holiness.
Return to the Nishmas Chayim Parsha and Holiday Archives