Secrets of T"U B'Shvat
by: Rav Avraham Brandwein
Dean Yeshivat Kol Yehuda Zvi
T"U B'Shvat, the fifteenth of the month of Shvat, is the New Year of
the Trees according to the Mishnah in Massechet "Rosh Hashanah"
there is a dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai concerning the
exact date. According to Beit Shammai, the New Year of the Trees is the
1st of Shvat and, according to Beit Hillel, it is the 15th. The
practical implications of this concern the Mitzvoth that depend on
Eretz Yisrael such as Orlah, according to which fruit is forbidden for
the first three years of a tree. This is counted from the beginning of
the year of the trees that, according to Halacha, is from T"U B'Shvat.
Also, according to Halacha, one doesn't say Tachanun on that day.
In Chassidut, this day has been designated as special day for
introspection and self-searching and it is also customary for Chassidim
to make a special feast and to eat fruit. Parshat Shoftim in the book
of Dvarim says, "for is the tree of the field a man?" That is
the Torah compares man to the tree of the field and from this comes the
implication concerning man on this day that T"U B'Shvat is like Rosh
Hashanah and the day of judgment, an occasion for changes and self-
searching. We shall try, here, to draw analogies between the tree and
man and what we can derive from this.
Chazal, in Massechet Yoma, say, "The L-rd saw that the Tzadikim (the
righteous) are few and so planted them in each and every generation."
This raises the question: What does it benefit us that they are planted
in each generation and what difference would it make if the small
number of Tzadikim were planted in one generation or if G-d spread them
throughout all the generations? The issue is that one of the things
that cause man to develop is envy, i.e., the desire to emulate another.
If a man were alone in the desert, he wouldn't develop. But by being in
society, and seeing learned people, he wishes to be like them and this
is also the reason that Chazal said that there is no generation that
lacks Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, i.e., that every generation has
Tzadikim whose role it is to provide an example so that others will
wish to emulate them.
And this is like the grafting of trees, that in order to proliferate
them, one takes branches from one tree and grafts them onto another and
thus from one tree many trees are generated. From this, we can
understand the saying of Chazal, that the L-rd saw that the Tzadikim
were few in number and so planted them in every generation. That is to
say, that since there are so few Tzadikim, G-d planted them in every
generation so that people in each generation would see, from their
example, what a man can become and thus Tzadikim would proliferate in
each and every generation just as the graft of one tree becomes the
source of many trees. And this is really the positive function of envy
since, as is known, every quality has good and bad aspects. Thanks to
the positive aspect of envy, as Chazal said, "the envy of authors will
multiply wisdom." From the desire to be like the Tzadikim, the Tzadikim
of each generation multiply.
During sowing, man sees no result. To the contrary, the seed rots and
the man worries whether anything at all will grow and, if it does,
whether the tree will bring forth good fruit or not. Likewise,
everything a man begins requires him first to invest in his endeavor
even though he sees no immediate result. He only believes and prays to
the L-rd that his toil won't be in vain. And even more than this, he
imagines that, from his work, even detriment might be derived rather
than benefit. We can now understand why Chazal defined Massechet Zra'im
as "faith" since the farmer makes all his efforts - plows and
fertilizes, sows and waters - and then, as far as the fruits of his
labors are concerned, can only pray to the L-rd. And so the word "Zera"
(seed) is Notrikon (code) for "Ze - Ra" (this is bad) since even
first glance it appears as though the seed only rots and nothing will
come of it. In the same way, a person must believe in the L-rd and that
in the final analysis, all will come out well even if at first glance
this doesn't seem likely because our sight is limited and we are unable
to see what is to come.
Another thing that we discern is that each tree needs an environment
conducive to its development, i.e., a place hospitable to the seed.
Later, it must still have an environment, i.e., each tree and each
plant needs, for its development, fertilizers, water, organic materials
sun or shade, etc., for the seed to develop and, still later, for the
tree to develop and give quality fruit. Likewise, man, in his youth,
must have a positive environment, i.e., good company and books of
wisdom, in order to develop in his essence just as the seed and the
tree develop from the external environment in which they are planted.
If the external environment in which it was sown were not appropriate
to the seed, the tree wouldn't develop or wouldn't bring forth quality
fruit. Likewise, man, if he finds himself in a bad environment, will
not be able to develop in a positive way, regardless of how good his
essence. Just as the roots of the tree must be strong allowing it to
attain great heights resist that strong winds would otherwise uproot
it, so a man who draws from the roots of his ancestor's legacy and
rooted in Torah and in the culture that our wise men taught us, even if
bad winds and fallacious and foreign cultures should come, he will have
the strength to contend with them because he draws strength from his
roots and guards his culture and national affiliation. Just as the tree
is given support early in its growth so also man is given education in
his youth, even in his latter years he will not abandon it. In his
youth, it is easy to raise him in a straight fashion something that is
not possible when he is old and bent and it becomes hard to straighten
him out. Just as there are fruitless trees, so there are dry, empty
people. As it is known, fruitless trees make a lot of noise when they
burn and thus are like empty people who occupy themselves with idle
chatter. This is not true for those who are like fruit trees that have
moisture. They do not occupy themselves with idle chatter but rather
with words of wisdom only and their words bring only good results like
In a fruit tree, the leaves come out before the fruit. The inner
meaning of the leaf is that it provides cover. The leaf conceals, as it
is said of Adam, "and they sewed fig leaves." The fruits are the
revealed, good results. Thus the first condition of revealing the sense
of the Mitzvot and of the Torah is faith just as the children of Israel
said before receiving the Torah, "Na'asseh Ve Nishma" (We will
we will hear). This means first acting out of faith, without
understanding, and, only afterwards, the "Nishma," (hearing in
ear), through understanding, as it is said of Moshe Rabenu, "Moshe
his face because he feared to look." Chazal say, Moshe was rewarded
hiding his face, i.e., in his faith in G-d. That he "hid his face"
means that he didn't know the ways of the L-rd but only believed. Faith
applies when one does not see. When one sees and understands, faith is
unnecessary. Moshe's reward was that he had the merit to look and
understand the ways of the L-rd's supervision.
In fruit, the Klipah (peel, husk) comes before the fruit, i.e., in the
process of growth, first the Klipah develops and then the fruit. This
is a great principle not only in nature but in all things. Of one who
is born, it is written "the inclination of the heart of a person is
evil from his youth." Only after he receives the obligation of Mitzvot,
does he receive the good inclination. It is so because "inclination"
means "desires" and, from the beginning, a person must enlarge
aspirations and desires and only afterwards, when he matures, can he
understand that the main work of man is not only to benefit himself but
in the ability to channel those same aspirations into positive
directions. Accordingly, the evil inclination precedes the good in
order to prepare the tools in order that the good inclination will,
later, be able to direct those same tools towards a positive direction.
Thus the Klipah precedes the fruit whereby "Klipah" hints at tools
preparation so that the fruit will have where to enter, i.e., the good
There are fruits that are eaten with the Klipah and there are fruits
that are eaten only after discarding the Klipah. Likewise, from a
superficial and external perspective the Klipah seems superfluous and
also has a bitter taste but when we remove the external Klipah and
reveal the true fruit, we understand that the Klipah is only for
protecting the fruit. Accordingly, there are negative spiritual aspects
and situations that are the cause of good that comes after. If it
weren't for these aspects, the good wouldn't come - as in the Klipah
that protects the fruit. And there are also aspects that are not good
but that, in the end, themselves, are transformed into good like the
Klipah that is eaten with the fruit.
After the sin of Adam, the worlds deteriorated and sparks of holiness
fell into the vegetative realm and it is these sparks that give the
good taste to fruit. Persons who eat fruit, in holiness, i.e., when
they bless their food, elevate these holy sparks to their place of
origin. The sin of Adam caused the holy sparks to fall into the
vegetative world and thus it is a Mitzvah to make a blessing over the
fruit in order to rectify them but, at the same time, it was forbidden
for him to eat meat since animals did not require Tikkun (correction).
This was no longer the case for the generation of the Mabul (the flood)
concerning which it is written that all land-roaming flesh was
destroyed. That is to say that by the sin of the generation of the
Mabul, also animals were compromised and thus it was permitted to man,
only from the generation of the Mabul, to eat meat in order to free the
sparks of holiness that fell into the animals.
Likewise, pursuant to the sin of Adam, came a descent of the worlds. It
is known that there are four worlds which are: Atzilut (Emanation),
Briah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation) and Assiyah (Action). The worlds
of Atzilut, Briah, Yetzirah and Assiyah fell from their station and
only the world of Atzilut remained in holiness while the others, (BY"A)
each world in its respective place, fell to a lower station. The
different types of fruit symbolize these worlds. Olam HaBriah (the
world of Creation), being the most refined, is called "all good"
contains a minimum of evil and thus fruits such as figs, grapes,
persimmon and apples are eaten with the Klipah and the seeds within. In
the world of Yetzirah (Formation) where the evil within it is more
prominent, the fruits that symbolize it such as olives, peaches, dates
and plums, are eaten with the Klipah but their pit is discarded. The
world of Assiyah (the world of Action) that is covered with an overlay
of evil and the good of which is within and must be revealed is
symbolized by fruits such as oranges, pomegranate, walnuts, almonds of
which the Klipah is discarded and only the inside is eaten.
There is another condition that comes only with the final emendation
whereby also the evil will be corrected and this we see in that from
the Klipot (peels) of Etrogs and oranges candy and various kinds of
jams are prepared, i.e., that even the Klipot will be transformed into