Tu B’Shvat: Focus on Eretz Yisrael

18 01 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Tu B'Shvat: Focus on Eretz Yisrael

The Mishna tells us that there are four periods in the year that are called Rosh Hashana. Tu B’shvat  is the New Year for the trees. What is the meaning of this quasi-holiday?  When the Temple stood the Jews needed a time to count the life of a tree in order to determine Shemita and Neta Ravai, and Tu B’shvat was the day chosen. However, clearly there is more to this unique day.

The Torah tells us, “Ki ha’adam eitz hasadeh“-Man is compared to a tree which consists of roots, a trunk, branches, and fruit. The Ramchal writes that the early generations before Avraham   were involved in defining reality.   It was the era of roots. Avraham gave us the trunk-the visible side of spiritual projection.  Unlike spiritual thinkers of his time, he saw that this world could be uplifted.  Not everyone followed his path and from Avraham’s tree sprouted branches and sub -branches which still remained part of one reality. In essence, we are all one people and we draw our spiritual energy from one source. If we look at it from this perspective, Tu B’shevat is in many ways the Rosh Hashana of our identity. A person’s roots are his past, yet some of these roots are meant to be our inherent emunah which the Baal Hatanya says is the ultimate definition of every Jew. There is something within us that desires connection and tikkun and that part of us cannot be denied. We must become more aware of this point of emunah inside of us. If we make it real, it will show itself in our thought pattern and actions. This is the trunk because if one looks at a tree that is all one can see -the trunk and branches, not the roots.  Fruit doesn’t benefit the tree, it benefits others. Yet every parts of the tree works in consonance to produce fruit. Similarly, one’s good deeds are one’s fruit. They are what affect others. Additionally, a person’s speech is his fruit. In Hebrew, “Niv” can mean either expression or bud. To a large extent a person is what he says.

On Tu B’shvat we pray for a beautiful etrog.  Why are we thinking about Sukkot now? The four species taken on Sukkot reflect four different parts of the body.  The lulav is the spine, the hadassim are the eyes, the aravot are the lips, and the etrog is the heart.  The heart bridges the mind to the body.  It is the most central part of a person. It is easy to believe intellectually, but true emunah is found in the heart. So when one prays for an etrog, one is really praying for a straight heart, for passion and for a profound connection with our Father in heaven.

Tu B’shevat is the yom tov of Eretz Yisrael which is the etrog, the heart of the world. There is no place in the universe where the spiritual flow from above is as visible or accessible. Therefore there is a custom to partake of the Shivat Haminim, the seven species, of Eretz Yisrael, on this day.

Wheat – Wheat relates to the mind which is an integral aspect of our connection to Hashem.  It takes human intellect to produce flour. Indeed we find in the Gemara that a child begins the process of becoming a thinker in the human sense, when he can eat wheat.

Barley-In early times, barley, was used as animal fodder. It is a tragic mistake to dismiss the animal self. What we are meant to do is uplift physicality by letting our souls tell our bodies who and what to be.

Figs-The Gemara tells us that the eitz hadaat was a fig tree. Figs are usually eaten for pleasure. The pleasure of creativity is almost equaled by the pleasure of destruction. Our challenge is to bring both pleasures into the process of growth.

Pomegrante-All Jews are potentially as full of mitzvoth as a pomegranate.  Every Jewish soul is constructed in a way that the mitzvoth will resonate within, if reached and addressed in the right way. It is impossible for one Jew to keep all the mitzvoth since some mitzvoth are only applicable to Jews in specific circumstances. The idea is that we are one entity and that the collective of Klal Yisrael can fulfill all the mitzvoth.

Grapes-For a vineyard to flourish, it needs the right soil, climate, and rain.  The soil is Eretz Yisrael, the vines are the Jewish body that contains a spark of the merit of our forefathers, the rain is Torah which runs from a high place downward and gives us life, and the sun is the light that shines through the mitzvoth.

Dates-A tzaddik is compared to a date tree. It grows straight and sprouts leaves on top. What defines a tzaddik more than anything else is his straightness. We all have different inclinations. Some are inclined to be givers, which can lead to manipulation and crossing lines. Some believe in justice and punishment which can lead to corruption and cruelty.  Being a tzaddik means maintaining a balance. This can only come from working on ones middot.  Life is about reaching that perfect equilibrium.

Olives-Olives must be pressed to extract their oil. Until one applies pressure, olives have little value. So too, who we are in essence, comes forth not in times of ease, but in times of challenge.

Tu B’shvat is a holiday of joy, a time to contemplate who we truly are.  May we merit to see the fruits of our labor- our children, our words, and our deeds, reflected in the emunah implanted within us.