15 Shevat 5760
From the Desk of: Rabbi Yehoshua Freilich
29 Tevet 5760
I am writing this dvar torah on Erev Rosh Chodesh Shvat. It has been pouring for the last two days. The Gemara says that by this time of the year the ‘majority’ of rain – rov gishmei hashanah should have fallen.
We have hardly seen any rain this winter. We have added a special tefilla in Shmoneh Esrei for rain during the last two months. B”H since yesterday approximately 100mm has fallen in the Galilee and 50mm in Jerusalem together with some sleet and snow. Unfortunately, we have not seen (the ‘majority’ of) rain for the season. Forecasters say most of the precipitation is yet to come. And now we are getting ready for Tu B’Shvat.
The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah has a machloket between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai. When is Rosh Hashanah for the trees? Beit Shamai said Rosh Chodesh Shvat and Beit Hillel says 15 Shvat. Why do trees need a Rosh Hashanah, or is the Rosh Hashanah for us? Furthermore, what is the reason for such excitement and simcha that is associated with Tu B’Shvat?
On the technical level – Rosh Hashanah L’Ilanot/Tu B’Shvat is the cut off day for shnot maasrot of the fruit trees, Maaser Sheini/Maaser Oni/Shmita. It is the first day of the new fiscal year, that is January 1, April 1 or July 1. But why make a holiday?
Let me share some thoughts with you on this matter. All events whether historical or natural are important to us. Everything that is going on in the world of nature should talk to us on some level. Hashem is speaking to us, and we need to be able to respond. “Hashamayim mesaprim kvod kel umaasei yadav magid harakia” (Tehillim Ch. 19 – study it when you have a chance).
The Shem Meshmuel discusses why this particular time of the year is suitable for the blossoming of the fruit and trees. We are now one third into the year. If we count from Rosh Hashanah – Tishrei, four months have passed. In the world of nature – the “hidden” forces now push themselves through to the surface and reveal themselves in productivity of real blossoms and the first fruit. The Gemara describes how the sap in the tree is ready to push out the fruit and help the trees blossom.
Man is compared to a tree. Parshat Shoftim, 20:9: “Ki adam Etz Hasadeh”. A tree is connected to the ground to the beautiful fruit. It takes raw material from the dirt and creates a most outstanding product. Human beings also take physical objects in this world and transform them into spiritual objects, spiritual fruits – objects of mitzvot. [See Note 1.] Just as in the ‘natural’ world, the ‘action’ begins at this point. So too in the metaphysical world, Jews who have been working on themselves from Rosh Hashanah, can begin to “feel” and internalize real peiros – the effect of the mitzvot. (Even those who have not been working can also begin to feel this.) But let us go a step further.
Let us look (focus) at a fruit tree and see what lessons we can learn from it. Firstly, look at the intense activity that goes on inside the tree – real hard work to bring up all the water and other nutrients through the … pully – elevator system to its destination, in order to transform all the ingredients until we get to the final product nifla’os haBorei. On the outside we see a beautiful tree with its delicious fruit to eat, beautiful leaves which give shade when you get too hot and a strong trunk to lean on when you get tired. What chasdei HaShem! Man must also work hard on himself inside, constantly working on his middot and character. On the other hand, to the outside world he must all be kulo chesed with a smile for all. As the Chovot Halevavot brings down – Chosid – daagah belev vezahalato al panav – zehu haadam. The pious man has worry in his heart but a shine on his face.
Secondly, it takes a long time until a tree grows to maturity. It needs a lot of investment of time and effort to produce the beautiful fruit. For man to reach his fruition, it also takes a lot of effort and time.
Thirdly, It’s winter and the tree seems to be dead. But HaShem introduces nitrogen and whatever other elements needed to regenerate the tree. We also have low periods in life when we seem to be dead – (natural) but we also have the necessary ingredients, Torah and Mitzvot and stength to pull us back up. Sometimes we must just try harder.
Finally – fruit is considered the king of the food-growing world with its most beautiful forms, majestic shapes together with its naturally sweet tastes. Think of the last delicious apple, pear, or orange that you ate. We just finished eating a most magnificent Pamella. (Do you know what that is?) Leave out all the exotic fruits. These are part of the cheap luxuries we have in this world. HaShem could have gotten away without giving us these extras. We could have managed with some bread, water and a couple of vegetables. This is a true demonstration of Hashem’s love and generosity. Many times it is the small unnecessary gifts in life that truly show a person’s true love and affection for another. (Was it flowers, a postcard, a walkman or a tchachke?) [See Note 2.]
When we make brachot over fruits that we have on Tu B’Shvat this should be a true expression of the special and glorious relationship with Hashem. Ashreinu! It may be cold and rainy outside, but internally we should be able to warm ourselves up. The Minhag of making brachot on fruit during this cold season should warm us up. It should be done with tremendous Simcha, feeling the special connection with Hashem. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l points out, one can many times feel more simcha when performing a minhag than a mitzvah. The chavivus comes because I don’t have to do it – but because I want to do it.
May our thinking about the lessons of the tree and the eating of the fruit spur us on to higher levels of Simcha in our avodat Hashem.
Tu B’Shvat Sameach. Aleh Vehatzlach!
Rabbi Yehoshua Freilich
PS: Some of the ideas were inspired by a shiur that I heard from Rav Noach Orlowek.
Note 1: The Shem Meshmuel says that each third is important. Man is divided into three parts – the first third of his body ends at the heart.
Note 2: Tosafot in Tr. Brachot 38A point out on the words of “Boreh nefashot rabot vechesronan al kol mah shebarata..” are necessities and “al kol mah shebarata” refers to luxuries like apples.