MEANING OF TU B'SHVAT
The 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat is the official "birthday"
for trees in Israel. Calculating the years of a tree is necessary for
several mitzvot of the Torah: ma'asorottithing [of each year's
fruit]; orlah-forbidden fruit of tree's first three years; reva'i-[redemption
of] fruit of tree's fourth year; shmittah-the Sabbatical year.
Tu b'Shvat is considered
the beginning of the year for trees because it is the mid-point of winter:
the strength of the cold becomes less, the majority of the year's rains
(in Israel) have fallen, and the sap of the trees starts to rise. As a
result, fruit begins to form. (Fruit already ripe is known to have been
nurtured by the previous year's rain.)
TREES AND THE JEWS
If Tu B'Shevat is the "New Year for Trees, why doesn't it fall on
the first of the month like Rosh Hashanah? 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
Shevat. The academy of Shammai concluded that they all begin on the first
day, but the academy of Hillel decided that in Shevat, 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'Shevat in the middle of the month, and what
is the connection between the new year for trees and our tasks on this
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'Shevat 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 great influence 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.
The three festivals
of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, like Tu B'Shevat, come 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
The planting, taking
root, growing and harvesting involved in any crop is like G-d's relationship
with the Jewish people. The verse "I planted in the land" (Hoshea
2:25) hints that sowing a seed is like G-d's implanting each Jewish soul
into its physical body and animal Nefesh, and the soul's subsequent refinement
Sowing the seed is
also like the descent into exile. In our generation, when it has been
said that the Mashiach will come, the great darkness is like the darkness
underground where the seed is growing, which will bear an abundant harvest
when Mashiach 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 mitzvot. 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'Shevat, and why it is in the middle of the
month? First, Tu B'Shevat, like the three festivals, is in the middle
of the month because it complements them. The crops associated with the
three festivals represent mitzvot, and the fruit of Tu B'Shevat 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 reminds us that all Jews are kings and
sons of kings. May we experience the coming of Mashiach speedily in our
[Translated and adapted
from Mamarim Miluket, v.5 by Yehoshua Metzinger]
"A land of wheat and barley, and (grape)vines, and figs, and pomegranates:
a land of oil-olives and (date-) honey" [Deut. 8:8]
Rabbi Elazar would
eat less and save money in order to be able to eat all the new fruits
on Tu b'Shvat.
We have a tradition
from our fathers to pray on Tu b'Shvat that G-d should make available
for us a kosher and especially beautiful esrog in time for Sukkot. -Benei
After Sukkot we fry
the esrog that we used for the Four Species, and on Tu b'Shvat we eat
it. --Likutei Maharich
"...Man is a
tree of the field..." (Deut. 20:19)
A tree is constantly growing and so must we...a tree produces fruit and
so must we...On Tu b'Shvat we must renew personal growth, just as the
trees on Tu b'Shvat begin to draw moisture from the earth.
ROOT = connection to source = faith
TRUNK = main body = Torah study & observance
FRUIT = results = positive influence --from Likutei Sichos
While eating fruit
on Tu b'Shvat, reflect on the sin of Adam and Chava, that they ate forbidden
fruit, and intend to rectify it. -Rabbi Yitzchak Luria-
To eat many different
fruits on this day and to recite various passages and praises while doing
so...is a wonderful spiritual anchoring
. The flow of G-d's beneficence
is called in Kabbalah the Tree of Life--the roots, above in G-d,; the
fruit, here below. By eating fruit on this day we rectify and increase
this flow. -Pri Etz Hadar-
BBAAL SHEM TOV TU
B'SHVAT STORY (s568)
Tropical Oranges in a Russian Winter Orchard
for source citation and biographical notes]
the Baal Shem Tov was traveling during the winter in Russia with
one of his close disciples, Rabbi Moshe Shoham. Being that the country
roads in Russia were usually covered with snow during the winter, they
were traveling in a sleigh.
It became the 15th
of Shvat, and they realized that they had no fruit with which to celebrate
the holiday. So the Baal Shem Tov told his wagon driver, Alexei, to drive
the sleigh off the main road and into the fields.
They went for a short
distance and came upon a field that not only was not snow-covered, but
had in it an orchard of oranges. Moreover, not only was it not cold there,
but the climate was tropical!
went over, picked some of the oranges, and joyfully made the blessings,
including the shehecheyanu one for enjoying a fruit for the first
time in a year, to celebrate the holiday.
Rabbi Moshe Shoham
also took a few oranges back to the sleigh, to have for later. All this
time, he did not even wonder how it was possible for an orange orchard,
which requires a tropical climate, to appear suddenly in the Russian countryside
in the middle of winter. In fact, oranges do not grow in Russia at any
time of the year! But being that he was often in the company of the Baal
Shem Tov, he was so used to seeing wonders that this miraculous event
did not even cause him to marvel.
As they started to
walk back to where Alexei was waiting with the sleigh, Rabbi Moshe regretted
that he had not taken several more oranges.
They got onto the
sleigh and started back to the main road. When they reached the main road,
the Baal Shem Tov announced that he wanted to rest briefly before continuing
Rabbi Moshe immediately
decided to take the opportunity to return to the orchard. He followed
the path of the sleigh tracks to the field, but when he reached it, there
was no orchard!
And when he returned
to the sleigh, the few oranges he had picked and put in the sleigh had
also disappeared. When he asked the Baal Shem Tov about this, the Baal
Shem Tov told him, "When I felt unhappy about having no fruit and
not being able to celebrate Tu BeShvat, I brought-- by mystical means--
an orchard from the Land of Israel here. But since the whole point was
to perform a mitzvah, not for personal benefit, the orchard and
the few fruit you had taken disappeared afterward."
Chag Samayach - Have a joyous holiday!
The ASCENT staff
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