By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
"Tu B'Shevat has arrived, the holiday for the trees ..."
Tu B'Shevat (literally, Fifteenth of Shevat) is one of those Jewish
holidays that means very little to many Jews. Most don't even know that it
is called a Rosh Hashanah (one of four), or why.
Halachically, Tu B'Shevat is the day of the year that separates the
previous year from the upcoming year with respect to fruits grown on trees,
since most of the rains have already fallen in Israel by then. As a result,
any trees planted at that time are sure to take root in the already
rain-saturated ground. Therefore, this is the day the rabbis designated to
determine the fruits of the previous year's crop, for purposes of tithing.
For this reason, Tu B'Shevat is a day of judgment for the trees, to
determine how bountiful they will be in the upcoming year based upon the
merits of the Jewish people.
Tu B'Shevat is also a day that bespeaks the praise of the Land of Israel,
and it is therefore imbued with a festive sense. Work is not prohibited,
but there is a tradition to eat fruits of the Land of Israel, especially of
the seven species for which Israel is praised (they are: wheat, barley,
grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates).
Conceptually, Tu B'Shevat means much more, especially coming in the weeks
of Shov'vim (see Parashas Bo). As the Pri Tzaddik points out, it is not
called the "Rosh Hashanah for the trees," but for "the tree" (singular);
whenever the word "tree" is used, it always refers to Torah, which is
called "Aitz Chaim," the Tree of Life. What is this supposed to allude to?
Most people are aware that there were at least two trees in the Garden of
Eden: the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Life. What
many are not aware of is that, really, there had only been one tree before
Adam ate the Forbidden Fruit: the Tree of Life.
But the Torah speaks about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil before
the sin as well? Yes, says the Zohar-but before the sin, it existed merely
as a branch off the Tree of Life itself. Only once Adam ate from the Tree
against God's will not to did the "branch" break off and become an
independent tree and source of knowledge.
Rectification of creation means re-unifying the Tree of Knowledge of Good
and Evil with the Tree of Life; Moshiach comes once they are one, just as
with the reunification of God's Ineffable Name (see Rashi at the end of
Parashas BeShallach). We do this primarily by learning Torah and doing
mitzvos, which serves to remove the veil of nature from over G-d's hand and
make His Presence clearer.
Therefore, Tu B'Shevat is not simply a non-holiday, to be marked merely by
the consumption of carob. It is a time of deep contemplation, of developing
a spiritual unity with Torah and Eretz Yisroel. Like on Purim after it, the
festive mood of Tu B'Shevat is to help us elevate our consciousness to tap
into God's master plan for creation, and find our place within that plan.
In doing so, we bring the Tree of Knowledge closer to unification with the
Tree of Life.
Not only this, the Pri Tzaddik (how appropriate-his name means: Fruit of
the Tzaddik!) points out, but the Jewish people are referred to as "apples
hanging on the Tree in the orchard," the Tree here referring to G-d
Himself. Therefore Tu B'Shevat is also the celebration of the unique and
intimate relationship the Jewish people have with their G-d, and a day to
pursue that closeness.
Having said all of this, I wish you Chag Samay'ach, and a fruitful day!
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at both Neve
Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) and Neveh
Rabbi Winston has authored fourteen books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
Parsha, you may enjoy many of his books. Visit the Project Genesis
bookstore - Genesis Judaica,
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