Latest update: May 17th, 2013
The Rema writes (Ohr Hachaim, 494:4), “It is customary to spread branches of trees in our synagogues and homes [on Shavuos] in order to commemorate that which the sages say [Rosh Hashanah 16a] that on Shavuos the world is judged concerning [how many] fruits the trees will produce [that year].”
The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, questions this custom. The Mishna (Rosh Hashanah 2a) says that Tu B’Shvat, is the “New Year for trees.” That is why it is customary to eat a variety of different fruits that day.
It would seem that the custom on Shavuos and the custom on Tu B’Shvat are inverted. Would it not be more logical to partake of various fruits on Shavuos, the day when the world’s fruit supply is judged, and to spread tree branches around our shuls and homes on Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees? Why do we do the opposite?
The Rebbe explained that the customs are indeed appropriate. On the day when trees are “judged,” we are interested in determining the success of the tree during the previous year. That is done by assessing what it has produced. On the other hand, when our focus is on the fruit and we want to assess the delectability of the yet unripe ones, we look at the vitality and vibrancy of the tree. If the tree is strong and healthy, we can assume the fruits will be as well.
The lesson that emerges from this custom is far more encompassing than mere fruits and trees. On Shavuos “we are judged for the fruit of the trees.” How luscious and palatable fruit is depends on its source. If the tree is firmly rooted in the ground, exposed to an adequate amount of sunlight, and has the necessary amount of water and nutrients it will be able to properly affect the process of photosynthesis to produce quality fruits.
In a similar vein, if we attach ourselves to our roots and connect ourselves with the chain of our ancient tradition transmitted from father to son, than we, “the fruits of their labor” will be able to produce another vital link in the eternal chain of our mesorah. If we have an appreciation of who we are and the greatness we possess, than it is clear that the “tree of life” is still robust and vivacious and will continue to produce many more generations of fruits.
On Tu B’Shvat however, the trees themselves are judged and the quality of the tree is determined by analyzing its fruits. If the color of the fruit is bright and luminous and the taste is juicy and fresh, we can be certain that the tree which it grew on is healthy and vigorous. Similarly, if we want to evaluate if a person has a love for Torah, mitzvos, and prayer, an appreciation for his heritage, and is passionate about being a Torah Jew, we need look no further than his children. If a man exudes a sense of joy and love for Torah and mitzvos it is indicative of the fact that there was an appreciation for those values in the home he was raised in.
Someone once asked Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l when the process of educating one’s children actually begins. Rabbi Hutner asked the man how old he was. When the man replied that he was thirty-two years old, Rav Hutner said, “My friend, the chinuch of your children began thirty-two years ago.”
The pasuk states, “The crown of elders is their children’s children; and the pride of sons is their fathers.” When the Dubner Maggid was a child his house burned down. When he asked his mother why she was weeping so bitterly she said that in the house were irretrievable documented records of the family’s esteemed and prominent lineage dating back many generations. The Maggid sought to console his mother and replied that he would initiate a new line of lineage and their progeny would be proud to trace themselves to him.
This idea is inextricably bound to Shavuos. Our pedigree is a vital component of our greatness. We have endured despite the travails of exile because the tree which produced us, as it were, is still vibrant and strong. Our enemies sought to chop it down. Beyond that, even many of our own people, based on erroneous thinking sought to “redirect” the “source” of the tree’s nutrition and sustenance. But we – those who have upheld the Torah in its pristine form – are the sole beneficiaries of the longevity and eternity of the tree. “It is a living tree for those who grasp hold of it and those who support it will be enriched. Its ways are ways of sweetness and all of its pathways are peaceful.”
My uncle, Rabbi Yaakov Cohn, once asked me the following question: The Mishna records that the world is judged on four occasions. On Pesach the world’s grain supply is judged, on Shavuos the world’s fruit supply is judged, on Rosh Hashanah the deeds of man are judged, and on Sukkos the world’s water supply is judged. During three of the four aforementioned times, there is a special prayer inserted in reference to the judgment occurring that day. On Pesach the “prayer for dew” (Tal) is recited, for dew directly affects the future production from the earth. On Sukkos the “prayer for rain” (Geshem) is recited, and on Rosh Hashanah we repeatedly refer to the awesome personal judgment transpiring in the celestial courts that day. Why do we not add a special prayer for fruit during Shavuos?
I humbly offer the following answer: Parshas Bechukosai commences with a detailed list of the beautiful blessings of prosperity and goodness that G-d promises to endow Klal Yisroel if they properly adhere to the Torah and mitzvos. “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them, then I will provide your rains in their time, and the land will produce and the tree of the field will give its fruit.”
Rashi explains that, “If you will follow My decrees” is a reference to engaging in intensive Torah study. Thus, when one commits himself to rigorous and exhaustive Torah study he is ensured all of the blessings that follow.
With this in mind, there is no reason to recite an extra prayer regarding fruits on Shavuos. The holiday itself is dedicated to our recommitment to intense Torah-study and the acceptance of the yoke of Torah in every facet of our lives. The very essence of the holiday itself is therefore the greatest merit for our fruits and all other blessings. “If you will follow My decrees… the tree of the field will give its fruit.”
The holiday of Shavuos is about bringing the past and future together in the present. When we commit ourselves to the ideals and values of our predecessors, we are simultaneously investing in ourselves and our progeny those same ideals and values. It is the continuation of the transmission of our heritage. It is the continued nurturance of the tree of life and the fruits which it produces. It is the guarantee that our past greatness will eventually herald the greatness of the future which will overshadow all that we have merited until now.
 [It goes without saying that today many families are challenged by external influences and, at times, the conduct of one’s children is beyond the influence of parents. Still, more often than not, especially in regard to adult children this rule bears a great deal of veracity. Generally, at least to some extent, a child will eventually live in the footsteps of his parents.]
 Rosh Hashanah 16a
 Vaykira 26:3-4
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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