Tu b'Shvat 5781

Holiday #9 (288)

Tu B'Shvat 5781

Jan., 26-27, 2021

From Ascent Quarterly From the Chassidic Masters

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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'asorot–tithing [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.)


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 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'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 well.

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 of them.

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 days.

[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 Yisasschar-

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-



Tropical Oranges in a Russian Winter Orchard

[see s686 for source citation and biographical notes]

Once 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!

They immediately 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 the journey.

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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