by HaRav Arye Leib Shapira
Tu BeShevat: Man as a Tree
"The custom is not to say tachanun on the 15th of
Shvat (Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 131), which the
Vilna Gaon explains to be the "rosh hashonoh for
trees, as much as the other four roshei shonim which
are yomim tovim."
The Damesek Eliezer says that the Vilna Gaon is referring to
the mishna in Rosh Hashonoh (16a): "On four
occasions judgment is passed on the world: at Pesach in
respect of produce, at Shavuos in respect of fruit, at Rosh
Hashonoh all creatures pass before Him like . . . and on
Succos judgment is passed in respect of rain."
The Vilna Gaon tells us that Tu BeShevat has the din
of a yom tov. If so, we must examine which special
illumination exudes from this yom tov, in accordance
with the Ramchal's principle in Derech Hashem (4:7)
that "every tikkun and light which occurred at a
particular time, when that occasion recurs, a light
resembling the original light illuminates us, and an
offspring of the original tikkun will be renewed for
anybody who accepts it upon himself."
The problem with this is that, although the 15th Shvat has
the din of a yom tov, no specific event seems
to have occurred on that day, that would result in the
regular recurrence of that special light. An examination of
this topic will, besiyato deShmaya, result in a better
understanding of the inner content of this day.
The Essence of Tu BeShevat: Chidushei Torah
Let us see at the outset what the Chidushei HaRim writes in
Sefer Hazechus: "We can distinguish between the
chidushei Torah made before Tu BeShevat and those made
after it, because in the month of Shvat a person is presented
with all the chidushei Torah which he will make during
the year, and this is referred to when it says, ` . . . in
the eleventh month . . . beyond the Jordan, in the land of
Moav, Moshe started to expound this Torah.'
"Until our day, the fountains of Torah explanations open up
at this time. The Torah connected this to `the eleventh
month' and in the Yerushalmi it says that a tree which
blossoms before Tu BeShevat has blossomed as a result of the
rainwater from before Rosh Hashonoh, and a tree which
blossoms after Tu BeShevat has blossomed as a result of the
rainwater which fell after Rosh Hashonoh.
"We think that geshomim refers to rainwater which
falls from heaven. But considering this more carefully, we
realize that this is not so, as it says, `For as the rain
comes down and the snow from heaven . . . so shall My word be
that goes forth out of My mouth.' (Yeshayohu 54, 10).
We see that `rain' refers to every type of abundance that
comes from heaven, that abundance of life, which is
determined every year between Rosh Hashonoh and Shemini
Atzeres and which is distributed to every living being in
accordance with his needs, both spiritual and physical
(`children, life and food'). The ripening of the fruit in the
case of the tree is a result of the blossoming caused by the
rainwater before Rosh Hashonoh, and a parallel phenomenon
takes place with man, the `tree of the field,' with the tree
of life, of Torah.
"The written Torah is the tree and the oral Torah the
branches and fruit, which receive sustenance from the written
Torah. This is why it says that in Shvat `Moshe started to
expound . . . (Devorim 1:5)" Until the fortieth year,
Moshe received the written Torah and from this we derive the
principle that a person only understands his rov after forty
years. On Rosh Hashonoh of the fortieth year Moshe was
bestowed with a union of the written and the oral Torah,
which blossomed in Shvat."
[In the continuation he explains Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel
along these lines and that this is what be'echod
bachodesh, which is said about Moshe, refers to.]
We see from the Chidushei HaRim that the Yerushalmi explains
that the essence of Tu BeShevat is that the rain of the year
starts to produce fruit on Tu BeShevat. That is why the
ma'aser year starts then and not at the beginning of
the year: because the new year which starts on the first of
Tishrei becomes actualized with respect to fruit production
on Tu BeShevat.
The Chidushei HaRim adds to the Yerushalmi that a person
receives his spiritual and physical lot on Rosh Hashonoh, and
just as the physical part of what he was allotted comes to
fruition on Tu BeShevat, so too does his spiritual aspect,
since "man is compared to a tree." That is why, he writes,
that "we can distinguish between the chidushei Torah
made before Tu BeShevat and those made after it, because the
new fruits which a person acquires potentially on the first
of Tishrei, he acquires in practice on Tu BeShevat."
The Kozhiklover Rov wrote along similar lines in his responsa
Eretz Hatzvi (vol.2, p.344): "Every year after Tu
BeShevat a person feels a difference in his chidushei
Torah, because the main aspect of Tu BeShevat is
regarding chidushei Torah."
The Avnei Nezer also adds to the ideas of the Chidushei HaRim
saying that "the main aspect" of Tu BeShevat relates to
The seforim hakedoshim discuss the posuk in
Tehillim (1:2-3), "And he studies His Torah day and
night, and he shall be like a tree planted by streams of
water." See Rashi on Kiddushin 32b: "His Torah" -- at
first it is called Hashem's Torah, and once he has studied it
is called "his Torah" (Torah shebe'al peh). "And he
shall be like a tree planted by streams of water" -- the
mazal of Shvat is a bucket, based on the posuk,
"Water shall flow from his branches, and his seed shall be in
many waters (Bamidbor 24:7)." "Streams of water"
refers to the mazal of the month, a bucket of water,
which is a reference to Tu BeShevat when "he brings forth its
fruit in its season."
These concepts are very difficult to grasp, but, with the
help of Hashem, we shall try to clarify them.
Physical Abundance as an Expression of Spiritual
By way of introduction let us consider a fundamental idea of
the Maharal (Gevuros Hashem (ch. 46)). He points out
that the Torah has associated each of the three
regolim with different stages in the development of
agricultural produce: Pesach occurs in the month of spring in
which we went out of Egypt, Shavuos is the festival occurring
during the reaping season, and Succos falls during the
harvesting period at the end of the year. The Maharal asks
what the connection is between the yomim tovim and the
different stages in the life cycle of agricultural
The Maharal explains that just like there are three time
periods during the year when different things happen to the
world's physical produce, so too are there three different
time periods in the spiritual reality of the Jewish
Pesach, the spring festival, the period when the earth's
produce comes into being, is also the time when the Jewish
nation came into existence at the exodus from Egypt. Shavuos,
the chag hakotzir, is the time when the material
reality of the earth's produce has reached its completion at
the time of kabolas haTorah. Succos is the chag
ho'ossif when the produce of the land reaches its
perfection, its goal, when it is gathered by the person who
brought it into being and nurtured it.
The goal of everything is to be gathered back in by its
Creator. The purpose of Knesses Yisroel is to be
gathered back by Hakodosh Boruch Hu and to be
sheltered by Him.
At harvest time the Jewish nation is again sheltered by
Hakodosh Boruch Hu Who created and maintains it. After
having attained perfection during the time of matan
Torah, the nation reaches its purpose by returning to its
Source, Hakodosh Boruch Hu in order to find shelter
under the wings of the Shechinoh. This finds
expression in the anonei hakovod.
The Maharal has been explained in conjunction with the
gemora in Shabbos (10b): "If one gives a loaf
to a child, he must inform his mother. Abaye said, he must
rub him with oil." Similarly, whatever we see in nature has
the purpose of notifying man of the fact that there is a
spiritual abundance resembling the physical phenomenon we
perceive in nature.
Rain, for example, causes growth in this world, and thus it
also brings about techiyas hameisim, as it says, "The
dew of Torah shall revive him," because rain in essence is a
power of vitality, which in the natural world is limited to
giving life to plants but it has, at the same time, the
inherent ability to revive the dead.
For this reason too, Chazal instituted mashiv horuach
in the brochoh in Shemoneh Esrei of
mechayeih hameisim. The same applies to all the
phenomena of the natural world, which are only the physical
clothing of a spiritual abundance descending upon the world
This would also appear to be the explanation of Rashi on
Tehillim (67:2): "Hashem, be gracious unto us, and
bless us; May He cause His face to shine towards us." Rashi
says: "May He cause His face to shine" is when Hashem
demonstrates a friendly countenance by providing us with dew
In other words, rain and dew are the physical manifestations
of His "friendly countenance" in general. This also explains
why, in the prayer at a time of a shortage of rain, we say,
"Answer us, Creator of the world, and remove pestilence,
sword and famine (Aneinu, Borei Olom . . . )." The
lack of rain is a sign of the general absence of Hashem's
This concept also helps us understand why all the blessings
in parshas Bechukosai refer exclusively to physical
blessings ("I shall cause the rain to fall in its due time"
and so on) and not to spiritual ones. The Sheloh Hakodosh
explains that the Torah is really promising us every type of
blessing. Rain is just visible proof in this physical world
of our receiving Divine abundance from Above.
The Illumination of Tu BeShevat
We are now in a position to understand the Chidushei HaRim
zt"l who says that on Tu BeShevat a person is
presented with all the chidushei Torah he will make
during the year. The Yerushalmi explains that on Tu BeShevat
trees start to blossom and bear fruit as a result of the
rains of that year, which were decreed to fall on Rosh
It is exactly the same in the case of the Torah, the Tree of
Life, which is the blossoming of Torah Shebe'al Peh
out of Torah Shebiksav, and so too with man in general
who is compared to a tree: all the effects of the Torah, the
Tree of Life are brought about by the acts of man, who makes
As we said, according to the Maharal every event that occurs
in nature is an indication to the Jews of a spiritual effect
on that day. The blossoming of the trees is the indication in
the physical world that on this day a person is presented
with all the chidushei Torah he will make during the
That is why the Avnei Nezer writes, "The main feature of Tu
BeShevat is that of chidushei Torah," because the main
impact of the day is a spiritual one, and the physical
manifestations of the day are only a revelation of events
occurring in the spiritual world at the same time.
End of Part I
HaRav Arye Leib Shapira, is mashgiach of Chevron
Yeshiva in Geula.
All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.