Tu B’Shvat: Man as a Tree

Tu B’Shvat: Man as a Tree

Heather+Cowper+Olive+Tree+ArgassiA tree of the field

The Torah in Deut. 20:19 refers to Man as a “tree of the field.” Tu B’Shevat is the holiday of this dimension. The essence of Tu B’Shavat is related to the fruit trees in the Land of Israel because it was the specific calendar date set aside for the tithing of the fruit and orlah from the trees. These tithes refer to a portion of the fruit taken from the tree and given to the Kohanim and Levites. Tithing the fruit from the trees was obligatory during Temple times. The entire holiday provides a focus on the Land of Israel and the significance of fruit trees to which man is compared.

Fruit trees and tithing

The beauty of the tithing practice of sharing and giving teaches us that in Eretz Yisrael, one plants a fruit tree for many reasons.

  • One plants a fruit tree primarily because it is a mitzvah to build up the Land.
  • Secondly, one plants fruit trees in the land to share his bounty and good fortune with his nation, as instructed by G-d.
  • Thirdly, one plants fruit trees for the value to both the Land of Israel and his offspring and to reap the fruits of his holy endeavors. Throughout time, Kabbalists have used the fruit tree as a metaphor to understand G-ds relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds, as well as to teach us our role in this world.

Who does not respond soulfully or emotionally to the sheer grandeur of a majestic tree standing stately like a monument before our eyes?  Or a wondrous fruit tree sharing the fragrance of her beautiful blossoms? The tree is one of the most powerful symbols of life, renewal, growth and continuity and each aspect of the tree’s formation and development has something of value to teach us.  Every part of the tree is utilized for the good of mankind. It is astonishing to me that G-d compares us to a fruit tree but it is essential to understand, that it is for the sole purpose of our personal development and should not be taken lightly.

479be2ba1953858be4f498307428b8eeThe development of the tree

The development into a full-fledged, fruit-producing tree is a most dynamic and inspiring transformation. The tree develops in a magnificent way demonstrating to man how to reach his highest potential.

  • First and foremost is the development of the tree’s root system.
  • Afterwards, the trunk and body of the tree, as well as its branches and leaves come into being.
  • Finally the time arrives when the tree bears fruit.
  • The roots are hidden beneath the surface of the tree and are not visible for others to see and yet, it is from them that the tree derives its main life-force.
  • The trunk and body of the tree including its branches are in a constant state of growth.
  • The fruit tree attains a state of completion only when it bears fruit. The entire process of development is one huge miracle just like the birth and development of a human.

Man is like a tree

So too man possesses a trunk and a body and has roots and branches. He also has the ability to produce fruit. Thus, we see the amazing degree of similarity between between man and a tree.

According to an article in the magazine, Living Jewish,

“Man’s roots are his faith because through his faith he derives his true life force which comes as a result of his belief in G-d, Judaism and Torah. It is his faith i.e., his roots, which anchors and bind him with G-d. Once a person has attained the level of viable roots of faith then a Jew’s trunk, branches and leaves must be tended and nourished through the study of Torah and the performance of good deeds. In spiritual terms, according to the article, this means that a Jew can never be satisfied with faith alone, for then he would be like a tree that laid down roots but never developed a trunk, branches or leaves. Furthermore, just as a tree’s body grows constantly, so too should there be constant growth on the part of every Jew for it is only then that he truly bears fruit. In bearing endless fruit, he affects his friends, neighbors and family for generations just like a tree.”

Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller in an Aish.com article titled, “L’Chaim to the Trees,” wrote the following,

“Like a tree, our first experience with reality is physical and tangible. Then we grow beyond our roots. We extend our branches towards the heavens as we search for connection and meaning. We devote our lives to the production of fruit because we yearn to leave an enduring mark that we too were here.”

Rabbi Avraham Branwein in an article titled, “Tree that Tastes Like its Fruit” also notes the many similarities between man and a tree.

“So too with a person; in order to ascend spiritual levels, one needs to work on their character traits. Pruning the tree refers to distancing oneself from bad traits. Watering is accomplished through Torah, which is compared to water. Furthermore, through mitzvahs and good deeds, the person develops and is converted from a non-fruit bearing tree to a tree which produces fruit.”

In an extraordinary book titled, The Twelve Dimensions of Israel, the author, Nechama Sara Nadborny, also elaborates on the parable that man is likened to a tree of the field. She reminds us “the roots of our tree are the solid foundations we have in the world which arise from our relationship to our ancestral roots.” She further states,

“The more we absorb the life force of our true heritage by meditating on and living with the character traits of our forefathers and mothers, who are the living Torah, the more we become rooted in life just like a tree. The more solid our roots, the greater is our ability to grow.

The trunk of our tree, our torso, is our individuality, our unique center which when combined with the instruction of the Torah, enables us to blossom. When we are truly connected to the wisdom of the Torah, we free ourselves from the natural tendency to uproot ourselves or fall into self-centeredness, disconnected from the soil of our soul essence.

Our branches which reach out in many directions represent the relationships towards which we extend ourselves. The taller we stand in relating to the pride of our heritage, the better we are able to, like the tall tree, receive the sunlight, represented by our inner visions. Our higher vision provides the inspiration to live in the present and strive forward with a keener awareness of our mission and purpose.

As we give birth to our fruits, which represent children, projects, good deeds and mitzvot, we must strive for a balance in order to become healthy manifestations of our true potential.

Like the tree itself, growth is a continual process of receiving light which on the human level equates to higher levels of consciousness. These higher levels of consciousness are then creatively absorbed into our interactions with others which transforms our lives and positively benefit our nation.”

What a blessing we have in the holiday of Tu B’Shvat with all its deeper teachings and implications relating to fruit trees in the Holy Land. The holiday of Tu B’Shvat gives us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the renewal of trees in the Holy Land, as well as an opportunity to partake of the delicious fruits themselves. By eating from the special fruits of the Land, we tap into the infinite love of our Creator as well as the holiness embedded in the fruit itself.

May we merit to ingest the deepest Torah teachings of Tu B’shvat, while digesting the special fruits and foods of the seder itself.

May we uplift the act of eating and rectify it at its source in order to draw down the dynamic blessings hidden in the food.

May we fully comprehend the meaning of man as a tree of the field and utilize its wisdom to truly blossom and grow all the days of our life.

With love and blessings for health, prosperity, wisdom and refinement, Ariella Bracha


The Tu B’shvt Seder: Insights into Living and Drawing down Blessings


The Tu B’shvt Seder: Insights into Living and Drawing down Blessings

By Ariella Bracha Waldinger

The festival of Tu B’Shvt, the “New Year of the Trees,” began at sundown on Tuesday, Feb. 3rd, 2015. The original purpose of Tu B’Shvt was solely related to the land of Israel and its laws of tithing fruit and orlah during Temple times. Rashi explains, the Land of Israel is not like any other land: it is HaShem’s special Holy Land and has an entire array of special commandments that must be observed in the land, and nowhere else. Many of the commandments deal with trees and their fruit. However, since we are without the holy Temple, and cannot perform the special commandments, we celebrate the festival in a different way.

שבעת_המיניםThe Kabbalists of Tzfat, in the northern region called the Galilee, established a special “Seder” in the 1500’s. The meal is similar in structure to the Passover Seder and involves drinking 4 cups of wine (or at least taking a few sips). The mixture of red wine and white in the four successive cups is likened to the progression of seasons from winter white to the full red of autumn. They also relate to the four spiritual realms described in the Kabbalah. The most important part of the ceremonial meal is partaking of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, figs, pomegranates, grapes, olives, and date-honey or dates. The celebration also involves eating particular fruits in a specific order (Seder) and reading mystical passages which relate to the inner meaning of the day itself, the fruits and the Land.

One of the most important Rabbinic authorities, the Magen Avraham states that it is the custom to eat many different kinds of fruit on this festival. Some say it is recommended to eat a minimum of 12 fruits as the number 12 corresponds to 12 permutations of G-ds four-letter name. Others teach, we should eat 15 and some say 30. Whichever number you choose, remember, by eating fruit on this day, we can rectify the sin of Adam and Chava, who ate the forbidden fruit. Tu B’Shvt has the ability to repair one’s eating for the entire year since the spiritual fall of Adam and Chava came about through impulsively eating from a tree.  Partaking of the different fruits and eating them with mindfulness, enables us to create a spiritual elevation and expansion which creates holiness.

Fruits grow because G-d wills it. Fruits add flavor, color, variety and fragrance to our lives. They awaken our senses. They remind us that the journey of life is full of joy and spiritual pleasures. When we serve G-d with joy and thankfulness, we are said to be eating from the fruits He planted for us. The blessings we recite before eating help us focus our minds on the vital energy embedded in the food, which gives us the energy to serve G-d. We thus elevate the food beyond its taste. When we do not recite a blessing, we deprive the world of the divine beneficence that could have been channeled into it by means of the blessing. Eating a fruit for the first time in its season is considered one of the auspicious occasions for a special blessing of joy called Shehechiyanu. The Torah teaches us that through the physical act of eating for the purpose of strengthening ourselves to do G-d’s will, we create rectifications and unifications between the spiritual and physical worlds. It also teaches us that the real pleasure of eating comes not from the physicality of the food but from the spiritual “word of G-d within the food.”

tubshvtsederplateIn Kabbala, the flow of G-ds beneficence is called the “Tree of Life.” The roots which are metaphysically connected to the upper spiritual worlds at their root source send down divine emanations to the fruits below, causing them to grow. It is taught that Tu B’Shvt helps us to align with holy eating when we eat in a state of mindfulness, linking the variety of the fruit with their deeper message. The fruits become the vehicle for understanding their deeper meaning which initiates us into the spirituality of eating. It is important to understand that reciting a blessing before eating draws down a flow of divine energy through the fruit or other food and restores the soul. Thus to encourage the flow of divine life energy from above, it is fitting on Tu B’Shvt  to eat many kinds of fruits and recite blessings over them with this intention. As we partake of the delicious fruits and delicacies we have the ability to expand the boundaries of holiness thereby permeating the world with the light of wisdom. In fact in this way we open a flow of kindness into the world.

There are differing opinions on the order and presentation of the Tu B’Shvt Seder. The following one is a Seder guide from Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles of the Ascent center in Tzfat, available at www.kabbalahonline.org.

The first 12 fruits of this Seder and their meaning: 1) Wheat is the basis for our sustenance but only after we have labored to grow, harvest and prepare it. It is a staple of most diets and is compared to Jewish law. For the Seder, You can bake or purchase a cake or cookies or anything that is made primarily from wheat flour. 2) Olives yield the best oil only when they are crushed. Olive oil floats on top of all liquids and does not mix. Olive oil represents wealth and abundance and brings light into the world. 3) Dates are a metaphor for the righteous. The date tree is both lofty and fruit bearing and is impervious to the changing winds. 4) Grapes can be turned into many varieties of foods and drink. Each Jew has the potential to be successful in some aspect of Torah in his own unique way. 5) Figs must be picked as soon as they ripen because they can quickly go bad. We too must be quick to do good deeds before the opportunity is spoiled. 6) Pomegranates are said to have exactly 613 pips which are equal to the number of mitzvot in the Torah. They remind us of the merits of the Jews. 7) Etrogim are considered to be an extremely beautiful fruit and are of great importance for the holiday of Sukkot. They remain on the tree throughout the entire year benefiting from all four seasons. In fact, the Etrog lives on the tree from year to year and when the new crop grows, the one from the previous year still exists on the tree. From this, we learn that the Torah teaches us to observe and learn from  the past. 8) Apples take 50 days to ripen and just as the apple tree produces fruit before its leaves, so too do Jews perform mitzvot without totally understanding them. 9) Walnuts are divided into four sections corresponding to the four letters of G-d’s name. Walnuts have two shells which have to be removed: one hard and one soft which is likened to Jews. 10) Almonds signify enthusiasm in serving G-d, for the almond tree is always the first to bloom. Aaron’s rod sprouted specifically almond blossoms. 11) Carobs take longer to grow than any other fruit and they remind us of the necessity to invest many years in Torah study in order to attain worthwhile and clear understanding thereby bearing fruit. 12) Pears represent longevity which is related to our mitzvot which will live on into eternity.

After finishing the delicious fruits and delicacies that G-d has provided for us, we close with a heartfelt blessing of thanks to our Creator. Through the vehicle of the Seder, we have partaken of fruits, wine and other delicacies, which remind us of the four facets of the Seder: the Temple Service, the Land of Israel, the fruits of the Land of Israel along with our commitment to G-ds land and the spiritual rectification brought about through mindful eating. We have become re-oriented to a renewed perspective of our true mission in G-ds holy world, as we come to understand that pure pleasure is rooted in the soul’s desire to serve G-d. We have gained insights into living as well as drawing down blessings.  We have come to realize that the entire physical world is one big beautiful metaphor teaching us deep spiritual concepts with G-ds love as the focal point. And so, as we finish the Seder, may we merit to savor and hold onto its depth, truth, wisdom and beauty, thus hastening the coming of our long awaited Moshiach and our Holy, Magnificent 3rd and final Holy Temple which will bless the entire world with peace and goodness for all mankind.

With Blessings for a joyous, bountiful and spiritually charged Tu B’Shvt Seder, Ariella Bracha

Tu B’Shvat: a Celebration of Renewal

Tu B’Shvat: a Celebration of Renewal
by Ariella Bracha


History and Customs

Yesterday, I was walking through the neighborhood noticing the trees and their magnificence, in spite of their state of barrenness. I love their majestic and upright stance and the variety and uniqueness of each individual tree. Their regal stateliness makes them a true source of inspiration, joy and wonder.

Trees play a vital role in the world and are a true source of blessing because without them, we could not survive. A single, mature tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year, which can meet the needs of a family of two. Trees are an abundant source of raw material and provide shade as well as adding extraordinary beauty to G-ds world. They were created as much for our enjoyment, as well as to accomplish their productive role. These facts are brought to mind, during the current Hebrew month of Shvat, as the festival of Tu B’shvat arrives.

The annual festival called Tu B’shvat, meaning the 15th day of the month of Shvat, takes place in the middle of the month, when the moon is at its fullest.  It is referred to in the Mishnah as the “New Year” of the trees. According to tradition, it arrives in the darkness of winter, when the world seems to be in a state of hibernation. Suddenly, the tree begins awakening, as the life force of the sap, hidden away in the trunk of the tree, starts flowing upward. This upward movement creates the first glimmer of the new fruits that will manifest in the spring and summer months. This inner, hidden movement of the tree creates an awakening in the soul of mankind as well, even though he may be unaware of it. It is a very auspicious and symbolic time period and has become the traditional day for Jews to show their appreciation and love of the land of Israel and its trees and fruits, in particular.

Tu B’Shvat was first mentioned in the Mishnah, as one of the four “New Year” days. It was considered of great importance to the agricultural life of Israel, because it was the day when a part of the crop, which was considered like a tax, was calculated for the Levites, who did not receive a share of the land inheritance. At that time, it was not considered a festival but was regarded as a highly significant date. As time went on, however, it gradually became a festival. Special prayers and liturgical poems about trees and the Holy Land were added and recited. Today, it still does not have the status of a full holiday, but is a festive day that Jews celebrate by way of custom.

tubshvatfruitWith the conquering of the land of Israel by the Crusaders in the 11th century, along with the dispersion of the Jews, the custom of celebrating this holiday almost disappeared. Almost but not quite! Kabbalists or mystics who settled in the city of Tzfat, in the Galilee region, in the 1500’s, revived the holiday of Tu B’Shvat. They established a special “Seder”, ceremonial meal, corresponding to the structure of the Passover Seder. With the rise of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century, there was a renewed emphasis on planting in the land of Israel. The Tu B’Shvat festival therefore gained great importance in Israel as the passionate pioneers began to work the land enabling it to bloom and grow. The day became specifically associated with tree planting. In fact, this custom seems to have been started by the settlers of Yesud Ha’Ma’La, located in the Galilee region, who planted 1500 trees on this day in 1884. Additionally, the first avenue of trees in Tel Aviv was planted on Tu B’Shevat, in 1910 by school children from the port city of Jשככש.

girlsplantingIn modern times, this day has been officially designated as a specific day to plant trees in the Land of Israel, in addition to celebrating nature festivals and Earth Day. Israel’s Nature Protection Society organizes educational programs and excursions to nature reserves throughout the country. Creative ways to enjoy and celebrate this holiday continue to be developed throughout Israel, with the focal point being the trees and fruits of Israel, the land of Israel, and the people of Israel.

In the biography of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Israel, “An Angel among Men”, by Rabbi Simcha Raz, the story is told of Rav Kook planting a tree on Tu B’Shevat in the Holy Land and the dramatic religious experience it engendered. Just as G-d created the world and then planted trees (Genesis 2:8), “He planted a Garden in Eden,” G-d instructed the Jewish people that when they enter the land of Israel, they should do the same….. (Leviticus 19:23) “When you enter the land, you shall plant all types of fruit trees.” When Jews do the same in their Biblical land of their inheritance, they approach the divine presence (the Shechinah). Thus, as Rabbi Kook planted the tree, he was overwhelmed by the feeling that he was touching the presence of G-d. The Torah teaches us that one who plants, especially in the hallowed Land of Israel, is one who is connected to G-d because the land belongs to G-d and the Jewish nation only holds it in trust (Lev. 25,23) The one who plants actually sends forth roots, deep into the ground and the deeper the roots go, the stronger the  G-d connection becomes. Rav Kook must have known and felt this truth on a deep level thereby engendering his passionate emotions.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, in his book,” Exploration into Jewish Holidays” states that “when we read in the Torah that G-d planted a garden in Eden, we are to interpret this literally and metaphorically: if we wish to cling to G-ds ways, we too must be involved in planting. To ‘cling’ to G-d means to imitate His ways. Thus, when the Torah teaches us that G-d ‘planted a garden of trees,’ we deduce that it is His will that the earth be settled. It is His desire that we occupy ourselves with planting and building in order to make the world a better place in which to live. G-d, by planting a garden, teaches us that we must not only develop the spiritual world, we must concurrently work at perfecting the material world. We must not belittle the physical, but rather enhance it, bringing it to perfection. So too, the desire to plant trees reveals a wish to benefit others. Planting trees, then, is a reflection of our idealism and holiness, for it is walking in the ways of G-d. Thus, the desire to plant is an expression of man’s inner desire to spread goodness and improve the world.”

The Torah teaches us that man is compared to the trees of the field (Deut.20:19). Like a tree, our roots are the source of our continued life. The roots of the Jewish people are: G-d, our g-dly soul, our ancestral homeland, and G-d’s instruction book—the Torah and mitzvot (His commandments). Every commandment that we honor and perform taps into our deep root system, thereby making an enduring connection to our source.  It nourishes us by enabling us to absorb the wisdom of the Torah, thereby anchoring and supporting us in our life journey. Holding onto our Jewish roots brings us a greater ability to flourish and grow as the roots give us stability to live life successfully. The more we adopt a Torah lifestyle, rooted in truth, the more we become rooted in life flourishing on many levels.

The trunk of our tree is our individuality, our unique center. Our Torah learning is likened to the crown at the top of a tree where the branches peak in their fullness. Our branches represent reaching out to community and relationships towards which we extend ourselves. Our flowers and fruit are the offspring of our spiritual refinement. They represent our good deeds and the teachings we share that nourish friends and family. As we give birth to our fruits, which are represented by community projects, good deeds and mitzvot, we not only strengthen the inner life-force of our soul but also strengthen the roots of the entire Jewish nation.

blossomingtreeThe Tu B’Shvat festival reminds us of the human need to blossom, grow and be fruitful. It has the ability to inspire a deep awareness of our inner life force which arouses us to spiritual refinements and a quest for rootedness. At the deepest level of our essence, we desire to devote our lives to worthy and fruitful endeavors. We all long to be rooted, like a tree, in our core values just as we yearn to leave an enduring and lasting mark, like a tree, in the world.

May we seize the symbolism and depth of meaning embedded in Tu B’Shvat and cultivate our essence, just as we do the plants and trees in our garden, so that we may once again be nurtured by the tree of life, the Torah, in the land of life. May we develop the merit to stand tall and proud in our commitment to G-d and Torah as we become rooted to carrying out the will of G-d.

With blessings for a dynamic Tu B’Shvat day.  May it be a true celebration of RENEWAL. May you feel the life force pulsing through your being. Ariella Bracha