By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, also known as Rosh HaShanah L’illanos, the New Year for Trees.
I remember celebrating Tu B’Shevat as a schoolgirl. Tu B’Shevat “goody bags” were distributed to all the students. A small white paper bag (pre-Ziploc days), filled with almonds, dried fruits, a box of raisins and a piece of bukser-carob. As the almond tree is the first of all fruit trees to blossom in Eretz Yisroel, we would sing “Ha’Shkei-dia Po-ra-chat” – the Almond Tree is Blooming… Tu B’Shevat he-gi-ya – Tu B’Shevat is here, Holiday of Trees.
While it may still be cold outside, with the winds blowing and the tree branches bare, life beneath the tree bark is beginning to stir.
The Talmud teaches that the 15th of Shevat is when the sap within the tree starts flowing, giving the tree potential to produce fruits. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l wrote regarding Tu B’Shevat, “Behold, today they are celebrating the birthday of the coming of spring. Under the torn, dark, cold bark, fresh life pulsates.”
While all may seem dark to us, HaShem is preparing the trees to give forth fruit in the months ahead. On Tu B’Shevat, trees emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
The Torah likens man’s life to that of a tree. “…Ha’adam eitz hasadeh… Man is like a tree of the field.” (Devarim 20:19). A tree is alive, it grows, and changes from season to season. Its leaves change color, eventually falling off, leaving its branches bare. But then comes spring. Slowly, the branches fill with leaves. The buds start opening. The tree is lush once again.
So too with man. We experience many changes in our life. We are at times strong, at times vulnerable. We should take the lesson of the tree to heart, and never give up on ourselves. At times we may feel like leafless branches, empty and forlorn. But spring always follows winter, and the tree grows and thrives once again.
The Navi Yeshayahu writes, “…Kimei ha’eitz yemei ami, the days of My people are like the days of a tree.” (Yeshayahu 65:22) We are a nation that weathers the storms of life.
The Hebrew month Shevat is spelled shin, beis, tes. It is an acronym for a message of hope. Shin – Shenishma, we should hear; Beis – Besuros, news; Tes – Tovos, that is good. We pray that the month of Shevat should herald good tidings. As winter becomes spring, blessing should come our way.
Tu B’Shevat is a time to take a lesson from nature. Just as the sap begins to rise and flow within the tree, so too, we must work on our “personal sap” – our inner potential. As the tree sprouts buds, and eventually fruits, we too, we have the ability to grow our own “fruits” – our accomplishments. As the tree is given the gift of renewal after the dark winter, we are given the opportunity for a new beginning and fresh start.
Just as a tree’s strength is in its roots, so too, our “roots”, the life lessons of ancestors, our Torah and our faith strengthen us.
Tu B’Shevat is a time to celebrate the fruit of the tree.
Fruit – What an amazing gift from HaShem. How many times a day do we reach for a crunchy apple, a juicy orange, or a sweet pear? Take a really good look at a fruit display. What a beautiful sight. The array of colors, the green honeydews, orange cantaloupes and red watermelons. The crimson strawberries and deeply hued blueberries. The vibrant colors of pineapples, mangos, kiwis and grapes.
HaShem is truly the Master Chef. Not only are the fruits beautiful to look at, tasty and delicious, but also full of vitamins and nutrients.
On Tu B’Shevat we affirm that it is HaShem Who makes the fruit grow. We express thanks for the gift of trees, the good earth, and all the fruits which they produce. It is a time to daven that the trees grow strong and multiply, and the fruits be sweet and plentiful.
The Ben Ish Chai, Rabbeinu Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909), teaches that Tu B’Shevat is a propitious time to pray for the fruits we use to observe various mitzvos. Grapes for kiddush and havdala, and the arba minim – the four species for the esrog and lulav.
The food we eat nourishes our body, but how does one nourish the soul? How does one feed a neshama?
Before eating, we recite a bracha. A bracha has the power to elevate our food, adding to it kedusha, sanctity, thereby feeding not only our body but also our soul.
On Tu B’Shevat, there is a custom to make brachos and enjoy multiple fruits. Some even try to partake of fifteen different fruits in honor of the 15th of Shevat. Another custom is to taste from each of the Sheva Minim – the Seven Species that Eretz Yisroel is praised for. “A land of wheat and barley, of grapevines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey from dates.” (Devarim 8:8)
There is a story about a man in need of a major refuah who approached HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, seeking advice on how to beseech HaShem to have mercy upon him.
“I will tell you what I would do in such a situation”, said Rav Shlomo Zalman. “I would strengthen myself in the reciting of brachos, making sure to enunciate each word carefully, clearly, and with proper concentration. If I were to succeed in that, that would be for me a great accomplishment.”
(Meah Berachos K’Hilchasa, Ner L’Elef Resources)
This Tu B’Shevat, as we say our brachos, let’s try to concentrate a little harder on the words, to really thank HaShem for His kindness.
Tu B’Shevat always falls around the time in which we read Parshas Beshalach. Beshalach tells the story of the Jewish nation finally breaking away from the shackles of Egyptian slavery. What is the connection between Tu B’Shevat and the Exodus?
As the sap brings new life to the tree, so too, did the Exodus give a new a beginning to Am Yisroel. The sap enables the tree to grow, flourish and bear fruit. The Jewish nation sang shira – songs of praise to HaShem as they crossed the sea. They were infused with a new spirit, to thrive and produce their own “personal trees” of mitzvos and good deeds.
Tu B’Shevat’s message is to find our inner sap, to realize our potential, and utilize all the good which HaShem bestows upon us each and every day. It is a time of renewal, not just for trees and fruit, but for our own personal growth as well.
Chaya Sora can be reached at email@example.com
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l