Kabbalah/Chassidut

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Fruit Trees and the Jews

By Yehoshua Metzinger

 

If tu b'shvat is the "New Year for Trees, why doesn't it fall on the first of the month like Rosh Hoshana? One would think that any new year would begin at the beginning of a month. The sages Hillel and Shammai identified four "heads" of the year: Nissan, Elul, Tishrei and Shvat. The academy of Shammai concluded that they all begin on the first day, but the academy of Hillel decided that in Shvat, the 15th day should be the start of the year for trees, which is the opinion we follow today. Why should we observe Tu B'Shvat in the middle of the month, and what is the connection between the new year for trees and our tasks on this day?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the answer is hinted at in the traditional teaching that Jews are compared to the moon and also to trees. Tu B'Shvat is in the middle of the month when the moon is full. Just as the moon is constantly in a cycle of waxing and waning, so the Jewish people experience times of power and times when they occupy a more humble position. Trees are compared to people in the verse,"…man is the tree of the field" (Deut. 19:19). This is particularly true if the man is a Torah scholar, who has a commanding presence like a large fruit-bearing tree. The fruit corresponds to his Torah study, the result of his efforts.

If you look at the calendar, you will notice that the three festivals -- Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot -- like Tu B'Shvat, are in the middle of the month. In addition to their historical themes, these three festivals also mark the conclusion of the harvest of specific produce: barley, winter wheat, and the summer crops respectively. Since every physical phenomenon has a spiritual component, this harvest is not only for the gathering of grains, but is also for enjoying ripeness in the spiritual realm as well.

The planting, taking root, growing and harvesting is like G-d's relationship with the Jewish people. The verse (Hoshea 2:25), "I planted in the land," hints that sowing a seed is like G-d's implanting each Jewish soul into its body and animal soul, and the soul's subsequent refinement of them.

Sowing the seed is also like the descent into exile. In our generation, when it has been said that the Moshiach will come, the greater darkness is like the darkness underground where the seed is growing, which will bear an abundant harvest when Moshiach comes. We will then see that, just as a few seeds put into the ground result in many plants, so too our descent into exile is for a greater ascent in the time of the redemption.

Sowing seeds is also like the fulfillment of mitzvos. Once a seed is planted, it breaks apart and releases growth potential. In other words, it ceases to be what it was and becomes something greater. When a Jew fulfills a mitzvah, it is because G-d has commanded him to do so. He lets go of his ego and his inclinations and becomes something greater than he was before.

Similarly, when a Jew learns Torah, he becomes smaller and greater at the same time. The knowledge he brings to Torah is like nothing in comparison to the greatness of the Torah itself. To be an effective student, he must approach his teacher with a mind free of preoccupation in order to properly receive the words of his teacher. At the same time, the Jew learning Torah experiences intellectual pleasure from the greatness of the Torah. He toils in the Torah like a servant, but, at the same time, he experiences pleasure because he brings pleasure to the king.

What does this have to do with the nature of Tu B'Shvat and why it is in the middle of the month? First, Tu B'Shvat, like the three festivals, is in the middle of the month because it complements them. The crops associated with the three festivals represent mitzvos, and the fruit of Tu B'Shvat represents the fruit of Torah study, since man is like a tree and the fruit is the pleasure of his Torah study. Bread is more necessary than fruit, which is sweet and is usually eaten for dessert or a snack, which gives us pleasure.

Eating fruit reminds us that we should learn Torah with joy and pleasure, since we are giving pleasure to G-d. It is also an important day to learn and spread the inner dimension of Torah, wherein is found the greatest sweetness and pleasure of Torah. The fact that the full moon occurs on the holiday reflects the fullness and joy of the holiday and to remind us that all Jews are sons of kings and kings until the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

 

[Excerpted, translated and adapted from Maimarim Miluket v.5.]

 

Yehoshua Metzinger of Nahariya, a former counselor at Ascent, is now married and living in Jerusalem.

 


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