Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Shevat 5763 - January 8, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Tu Bishvat: Man as a Tree

by HaRav Arye Leib Shapira

Part II

In the first part, HaRav Shapira quoted the Chidushei HaRim and others who say that the essence of Tu Bishvat is chidushei Torah. They also note that the trees grow on Tu Bishvat based on the rain that falls earlier. The Maharal says that the cycle of crops that is referred to in the Regolim of the year parallels the cycle of man's development, from the beginning at Pesach to the final ingathering on Succos. Why this parallel? Because Hashem wants to tell us that all the material world has a spiritual parallel; when we are showered with rain down here, there is a corresponding spiritual blessing being showered upon us Above. That also underlies the entire expression of the Torah which is written referring to material blessings but alluding to the parallel spiritual blessings.

Why We Eat Fruit of Eretz Yisroel on Tu Bishvat

With this idea we can understand the custom of eating fruit of Eretz Yisroel on Tu Bishvat (see Moed Lekol Chai), for Chazal tell us that since Eretz Yisroel is a special place where the Shechinoh finds a home, its residents merit a special insight into the Torah: "'The beginning (or "head") of the dust of the world' (tevel) (Mishlei 8:26) -- this is Eretz Yisroel, the most beloved of all countries and the one created first."

It is called tevel because of the tavlin (spice) in its midst, the Torah. "And there is no Torah amongst the non-Jews" (Eichoh) -- this indicates that Torah is present in Eretz Yisroel (Sifrei Eikev).

This spiritual quality of Eretz Yisroel, which is a very powerful tool in the acquisition of Torah, is not only available to those who reside in it but also to those who eat its fruit. The Bach (Orach Chaim 208) writes that we add venochal mipiryoh venisbo'a mituvoh in Al Hamichyoh because "the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, which derives from the kedushoh of the Eretz ho'elyonoh, also derives from its fruit which obtain their sanctity from the Shechinoh." (This also explains the subsequent words in the brochoh, "unevorechecho olehoh bikedushoh uvetohoroh").

See also the Shaar Hechotzer, who writes in the name of the Yalkut Horo'im: "The Kabbalists say that at the time that Eretz Yisroel maintained its sanctity and the Mizbeiach was intact, the kedushoh and taste of the fruits of Eretz Yisroel was greater than the kedushoh and taste of the mon." The mon had a great potential for purification, prior to kabolas haTorah (see also the introduction to the Shev Shmaytzo).

We can now understand that since Tu Bishvat is the day when a person is granted the ability to derive chidushim from the Torah, it is a matter of special significance to eat fruit of Eretz Yisroel from which we obtain an abundance of understanding of the Torah wisdom deriving from Eretz Yisroel, the home of the Shechinoh.

Man And The Trees Of Nature

We have shown that the illumination of Tu Bishvat stems from the holy Torah, the Tree of Life. This is why the Vilna Gaon states in the Shulchan Oruch that Tu Bishvat has the din of a yom tov as much as Pesach, Shavuos and Succos. The illumination of the day is revealed to man, who is compared to a tree, through the blossoming of the trees in the field. And whatever happens to the trees, happens to man.

Let us then consider the characteristics and qualities of a tree, which derive from the ever-renewing strengths of absorption on the 15th of Shvat. We shall then be able to draw analogous conclusions with respect to man and what is required of him in general and on Tu Bishvat specifically, a time designated for increasing a person's powers of absorbing wisdom from the fountains of the holy Torah.

The Pnei Menachem (Gerrer Rebbe) zt"l says that a tree has four characteristics. The thoughts discussed below are based on his ideas which were published in his lifetime, and we shall elaborate on them.

The Tur writes (beginning of siman 203): "This is the sign that distinguishes the fruit of a tree from the fruit of the earth: any tree which bears fruits from year to year is considered a fruit tree. But the produce of anything with roots that do not remain in the earth, and which needs to be replanted every year, is called the fruit of the earth (pri ho'admomoh)." The main feature of a tree is that it maintains its roots constantly even when all its fruits have been picked, and it continues to bear fruit from the same place. The Tosefta in Orloh (chapter 5) states another characteristic of a tree: "A tree grows tall, whereas vegetables are low."

We find a third quality of a tree outlined by the gemora in Taanis (5b): "To what may this be compared? To a man who was traveling in the desert. He was hungry, weary and thirsty and he lighted upon a tree the fruits of which were sweet, its shade pleasant, and a stream of water flowing beneath it. He ate of its fruits, drank of the water, and rested under its shade. When he was about to continue his journey, he said: Tree, O Tree, with what shall I bless you? . . . That your shade be pleasant? It is already pleasant!" The third desirable quality of a tree is the shade it provides.

The Rishonim state another feature of a tree: its branches may be replanted in the ground in order to grow another tree, something that cannot be done with other plants.

To summarize: A tree has four characteristics: 1] Its roots always absorb [nutrition from the ground] even if it does not grow any fruit. 2] It grows tall. 3] It provides its surroundings with shade. 4] Its branches may be replanted in the ground. We must look more closely at each of these characteristics and find parallel attributes amongst human beings in accordance with the posuk, "For man is the tree of the field."

It Does Not Lose Its Trunk

We know that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has put the force of gravity into the earth: all living things are drawn to the ground by a Divine force. This is the secret of their survival, for without it they cannot exist.

We are witness here to an amazing fact: the existence of a tree is dependent on the ability of its roots to absorb energy from the earth and transfer it in the opposite direction to the force of gravity. The roots absorb moisture from the depths of the earth and transfer it all the way up to the trunk of the tree and into its branches and fruit. The deeper the roots dig into the internal layers of the earth, the more are they able to transfer the nutrition to the upper heights of the tree, far away from the ground.

This hidden power of the roots of a tree is never destroyed. Even when the tree sheds its leaves at the height of winter and takes on a miserable, bare appearance, deep inside the earth the moisture keeps the tree trunk alive -- that same trunk from which new leaves will yet sprout forth and bear new fruit. The tree's bare appearance with all its leaves shed and looking so miserable is the secret of the tree's existence and future growth, "bringing forth its fruit in its season."

Similarly, man is endowed with exactly the same quality. Hakodosh Boruch Hu has implanted inside him an immense force of gravity pulling him towards earthliness and materialism, in the direction of the nether world. But man is capable of prevailing over that same force and redirecting it towards the diametrically opposite direction. This is what we pray for, "And deflect our inclination (yitzreinu) to become subjugated to You," by taking the same force of gravity and subjecting it to avodas Hashem.

There are times when man's trunk sheds its leaves and stops its production of fruit, when bitter experiences subdue his spirit, but "You turn man back to dust, and say, `Return, you men.' "

Man does not lose his trunk. His deep roots, his zchus Ovos and his neshomoh are all permanent, indestructible assets, which infuse him with a vitality of kedushoh and tohoroh, capable of elevating a person to great heights and enabling him to produce leaves, flowers and fruit. In fact, it is just those periods of crisis and trial which grant man energy and strength during times when life blossoms for him.

However, we must realize that a man's trunk and his roots, his zchus Ovos, are only effective for as long as he still possesses a certain vitality which connects him to the ways of the Ovos. We find this explanation in the Beis Halevi (Lech Lecha). He says that whereas the Torah in its account of the Akeidoh puts the whole emphasis on the part played by Avrohom, in our prayers we say, "And remember the Akeidoh of Yitzchok for his descendants with mercy." Our whole request is based on the merit of Yitzchok specifically.

The Beis Halevi explains that in order to qualify for zchus Ovos a person has to have some connection to the deeds of the Ovos. Avrohom's part in the Akeidoh was the sacrifice of his son for the love of Hashem. Such an act we cannot relate to and therefore, despite the immense value inherent in Avrohom's act due to which the Torah stresses the part played by him, we cannot request that his merit should stand in our stead because we are not on a level close enough to his to justify our request to be connected to it.

On the other hand, we are capable of giving ourselves up for kiddush Hashem and therefore we do have a connection with Yitzchok's part in the Akeidoh. That is why we say in the tefilloh, "And remember the Akeidoh of Yitzchok for his descendants with mercy."

The Torah, on the other hand stresses the part played by Avrohom Ovinu, because it was much more admirable than Yitzchok's part. A person is willing to renounce his love of himself but not his love for a son. We have seen, then, that for zchus Ovos to be effective we must have some connection to the deeds of the Ovos.

A Proud Bearing

The second characteristic of the tree is its height. At first glance it would appear that in the case of man, a proud bearing is a negative quality, as it says, (Brochos 43b), "If a person walks with a proud bearing (komoh zekufoh) even for four amos, it is as if he has pushed against the heels of the Shechinoh, since it says, `The whole earth is full of His glory.'" Not only is walking with a proud bearing not considered a good quality, but on the contrary, "`Everyone that is proud in heart is an abomination to Hashem' -- he and I cannot live together." How, then, can this be considered a desirable quality for man who is compared to a tree?

To understand this we refer to the Ruach Chaim (Ovos 4:1) and the Chasam Sofer (Nedorim 38a) on the gemora that "the Shechinoh only rests upon the strong, the wise and the wealthy." He says that all the superior attributes of the world are based on these three qualities: wisdom, valor, and wealth, and if such a person remains humble, then that is authentic humility. The qualities themselves though, are not intrinsically superior, as it says, (Yirmiyohu 9:22), "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom . . . but let him glory in this, that he understand and knows Me."

The Imrei Emes wrote a well-known article (in Rosh Golas Ariel, pg. 138) on the posuk, "Why do you look askance, you mountains of peaks at the mountain, which Hashem has desired for His abode?" (Tehillim 68:17) The high mountains wanted the Torah to be given on them because of their great height. But Hakodosh Boruch Hu specifically chose Har Sinai because it lowered itself. Why was the Torah not given on a flat plain?

The Imrei Emes answers that the humility of someone who has nothing to be proud of is not remarkable. Only the humility of someone who has reason to be proud and then humbles himself is worthy of note. This is the same idea as expressed by Rav Chaim Volozhiner in Ruach Chaim.

A proud bearing is a great virtue, because only someone with a proud bearing can observe the prohibition to walk in that way. We must use deeply entrenched roots in order to cultivate pride, but any intelligent person understands that a person's pride is only a means for submitting himself to the Creator by being humble at heart. Just as the first quality is essentially a process of overcoming one of the laws of nature, the force of gravity, by reversing the powers of absorption in the upward direction, similarly in this second quality, which is a continuation in the hierarchy of virtues, a person has to reverse his proud nature and submit himself to carrying out the Creator's will.

End of Part II

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.