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Secrets of T"U B'Shvat
by: Rav Avraham Brandwein, Dean
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" where 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 a special day for introspection and self- searching and it is also customary for Chassidim to make a special feast that features fruit. Parshat Shoftim in the book of Dvarim says, "for is the tree of the field a man?" That is to say, the Torah compares man to a tree and, from this, comes the implication that T"U B'Shvat is like Rosh Hashanah, 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. By being in society and seeing learned people, he wishes to be like them. 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 from 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. Also, while the tree is still a seedling, it requires a supporting stake to assure that it will grow vertically. It is impossible to correct a deviation from the vertical once the tree has matured. Likewise 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. He must have a positive environment, i.e., a good teacher, good company and books of wisdom, in order to develop in his being just as the seed and the tree develop thanks to 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 bring forth quality fruit. If a man finds himself in a bad environment, he will not be able to develop in a positive way, regardless of how good his essence. 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.
Just as the roots of the tree must be strong allowing it to attain great heights and resist strong winds that would otherwise uproot it, so a man who draws from the roots of his ancestor's legacy, is rooted in Torah and in the culture that our wise men taught us (even if bad winds and fallacious and foreign cultures should come) will have the strength to contend with them because he draws strength from his roots and continues to guard his culture and national affiliation. 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 fruit.
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 do and we will hear). This means first acting out of faith, without understanding, and, only afterwards, the "Nishma," (hearing in the ear), through understanding, as it is said of Moshe Rabenu, "Moshe hid his face because he feared to look." Chazal say that Moshe was rewarded for hiding his face, i.e., for 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 see and understand the ways of the L-rd's supervision.
In fruit, the Klipah (peel, husk) appears 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 his 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 to channel those same aspirations into positive directions. Accordingly, the evil inclination precedes the good in order to prepare the tools so that the good inclination will, later, be able to direct those same tools in a positive direction. Thus the Klipah precedes the fruit whereby "Klipah" hints at tools and preparation so that the fruit will have where to enter, i.e., the good results.
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 redeem 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 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 fruits that correspond to the world of Atzilut are eaten, as is, without removing the Klipah or the seeds since it is a world that does not require emendation. These are fruits such as figs, grapes, guava and persimmon.
The different types of fruit symbolize these worlds. Olam HaBriah (the world of Creation) is called "mostly good and a minimum of evil" (that is externally imperceptible). Thus fruits that correspond to it such as olives, peaches, dates, plums and apples are eaten with the Klipah. The seeds that correspond to the minimum of evil (that is imperceptible) are discarded.
In the world of Yetzirah (Formation) evil is more prominent. The fruits that symbolize it, such as oranges, are eaten with the Klipah but their pits are discarded. There is another condition in the world of Yetzirah that comes only with the final emendation whereby also the evil will be corrected. This we see in that, from the Klipot of Etrogs, oranges and citrus in general, candy and various kinds of jams are prepared. Even the Klipot will be transformed into good.
The world of Assiyah (the world of Action), that is covered with an overlay of evil and the good of which is within waiting to be revealed, is symbolized by fruits such as pomegranate, walnuts, almonds of which the Klipah is discarded and only the inside is eaten.