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27 Teves 5763 - January 1, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Tu BeShevat: Man as a Tree

by HaRav Arye Leib Shapira

Part I

"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 chidushei Torah.

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 Abundance

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 produce.

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 nation.

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 in parallel.

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 and rain.

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 "friendly countenance."

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 Hashonoh.

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 chidushei Torah.

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 year.

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.

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