On January 30th, the Chazaq organization and Lander’s College had the pleasure of presenting Rabbi Eli Mansour to the Queens community. The turnout was typical for veteran speaker Rabbi Eli Mansour; 20 minutes in, good luck finding a chair. Rabbi Mansour delivered a masterful presentation of the holiday which isn’t well understood: On the surface, the holiday of Tu’ beShvat seems to be an anomaly. The holiday seems to have little bearing outside of the agricultural world. Our Rabbis labeled it a minor holiday and declared no fasting or mourning on this day. However, the holy Ari says that this day is especially propitious for praying for matchmaking. On a basic level, the idea of marriage connects to fruitfulness. Yet, the Kabbalistic tradition reveals a whole world of thought regarding the fruitfulness represented by this holiday.
The Ben Ish Chai wrote an entire book categorizing all fruits into three groups. Some fruits, like grapes, have neither shell nor pit. These kinds of fruits stem from a higher spiritual realm. Lower level fruits contain pits but no shells, and the lowest level fruits have both shell and pit. The Ben Ish Chai explains that eating ten of each group on Tu’Beshvat can repair aspects of the spiritual worlds.
That being said, is there an application to the holiday which enhances our experience in the physical dimension? For example, on Pesach we draw upon the ability to free ourselves from mental slavery from the holiness of the day. During Sukkot we renew the happiness inherent in our bond with G-d. So, what is the avodah for Tu’beShvat?
This holiday is known specifically as the holiday of Ilanot (trees). In Hebrew, the numerical value of the word Ilan is 91. This number kabbalistically represents G-d’s intimate relationship with the natural order of creation. The avodah of Tu’beShvat is recognizing G-d’s Hand in the seemingly amazing patterns of our surrounding; the surroundings which we usually take for granted.
G-d designed nature to be largely predictable. Predictability usually denotes a lack of Providence, until you look deeper. For example, when a scientist predicts a solar eclipse 30 years in advance, you may think that it’s just natural order. But the opposite is true. Order proves a Manager; it is chaos which denotes a lack of Providence. The personal growth most available on this day is the ability to find G-d through nature.
The cycle of a fruit tree seems like the most predictable thing. You always have a tree per every seed, with a very predictable growth period. But is it really so simple? What do we take for granted in the tree’s growth process? The Gemarah says that when we recall in our prayers G-d’s rain, a key ingredient to virtually all plant life, we recall it with language emphasizing G-d’s strength/ force. But isn’t torrential rain destructive? Why is the prayer for rain in the language of strength/ force?
The Mekubalim explain that Divine Judgments (a synonym for force/strength) always refer to limitations, borders, confinement and structure. Something that flows abundantly is in the realm of Chesed/ abundance. Rain is made of water, which if allowed to flow freely, would flood the earth and destroy plant-life. So G-d takes the water and constricts it into drops. That’s why we bless rain with the language of strength, since it is bound as small pellets. Focusing on the design of a raindrop should demonstrate to us the Hand of G-d in nature, which is the lesson of the holiday.
Tu’beShvat falls out during the cold season. Science tells us when things freeze, they contract. When things heat up, they expand until they become gas. In high altitudes, water follows this rule; when cold, water contracts until it becomes dense enough to fall as rain.
However there is a phenomenon in nature which allows our oceans to teem with fish. When water hits 39 degrees at a lower altitude, instead of contracting like all other liquid, it begins to expand until freezing point where it turns to ice. The miracle behind this is that since ice is expanded water, it floats on the water, allowing everything underneath to survive. Without this ice would sink to the bottom of the ocean, pile up, and eventually destroy aqua-life. Recognizing this amazing design makes one more aware of the Providence which directs the natural world. Another example is the stem of a simple apple. The stem is the perfect umbilical cord of the fruit. It sustains the fruit as it hangs from the tree with a steady flow of nutrients, until it becomes ripe and falls to the ground, for consumption. As the legend goes, Newton famously observed gravity by being the target of such an incident. What he should have also observed is why the apple fell when it did. Can even the most modern technological sensors today reveal to us the perfect ripeness of a fruit, without fail? There are countless details in our world which demonstrate the perplexity and amazing synchrony of G-d’s Hand.
The avodah of our holiday is to reveal G-d in our every-day life. In Kabbalistic thought, marriage represents the coupling of G-d’s names to initiate a productive, fruitful future. That’s probably why the Ari said that Tu’beShvat is a propitious time to pray for the proper spouse. In both the world around us and within our own inner world of social interaction, we can bypass the layer called nature to find and recognize the Hand of G-d which guides us and the world around us.
Edited by: JV Staff