What is so special about Tu B’Shevat? Historically, nothing memorable occurred on this day. Why do we celebrate the New Year of the Trees?
Man is compared to a tree. “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow tall. Planted in the house of Hashem, in the courtyards of our God they will flourish. They will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be, to declare that God is just, my Rock in Whom there is no wrong” (Psalm 92).
Why is a man compared to a tree? What is unique about a tree?
Let’s look at what the Book of Our Heritage has to say about Tu B’Shevat. “On this day the strength of the soil of Eretz Yisrael is renewed and it begins to yield its produce and demonstrate its inherent goodness . The day on which the soil of Eretz Yisrael receives renewed strength to give forth its bounty is a day of rejoicing for the people of Israel, who till the land, who love it and who yearn for it” (Vol. 1, p. 331).
The soil of Eretz Yisrael is renewed, and what happens? Its strength and blessing flow into the roots of the trees, and they travel upward, through the trunk, into the branches and then out to the tips of the twigs, where the buds lie dormant. And then the buds begin to awaken.
Suddenly, leaves appear, at first small, but then they unfold, revealing a symphony of fresh green color that fills the heart of every sensitive person with joy. The fields and hillsides glow with all shades of pure green, and then, from the buds on each twig, magnificent blossoms burst forth in a rainbow of colors that is infinitely beyond the capacity of an earthly artist to create.
This is the miracle of spring. This is what gives us all new life every year and is part of the strength behind the saying “When Adar comes (in a few weeks!) simcha is increased.”
But I’m not sure we answered our questions: What is unique about a tree? And why is man compared to a tree?
Did you notice something strange? Since when do things flow upward in this world?
When we eat, the food flows downward. When we drink, the liquid flows downward. That is the force of gravity; that is the way of world – the material world.
But it is not the way of the spiritual world.
The Children of Israel are unique. We are above nature.
When God revealed Himself to our father Abraham at the bris bain habasarim, “He took him outside” (Genesis 15:5), which, says Rashi, means God took Abraham “out of the space of the world.”
The Children of Israel are beyond nature. We are not affected by the “logic” by which the rest of the world lives. We survive as a result of the constant shepherding of the King of Kings, Who takes us by the hand, and, if necessary, splits the sea to save us.
Our entire journey through history is guided directly by Our Father in Heaven, “Who [we say in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer] “recalls the kindnesses of the patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His Name, with love.”
For the children of Israel, the blessings flow upward. They begin with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, our roots, and they flow upward into the branches and outward into the leaves and blossoms at the very outer edge of the Tree of Life. It is nurtured through its roots and the sap flows upward.
Thus, unlike the material world, we have eternal existence. For the rest of the world, the sustenance flows downward, but we know (Deuteronomy 8:3) that “not by bread alone does man live, but rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of God.
The Word of God flows upward not only from our ancestors into our generation, but from us upward to the Eternal Realms.
And thus a man is compared to a tree.
“A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in the Lebanon he will grow tall. Planted in the house of Hashem, in the courtyards of our God they will flourish. They will still be fruitful in old age, vigorous and fresh they will be, to declare that God is just, my Rock in Whom there is no wrong” (Psalm 92).
May our Tree of Life flourish, and may we all attach ourselves to it with everlasting strength. May we soon see the explosion of blossoms in a rainbow of colors, and the ripening of delicious fruits. May we all see the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 8:8-10:
For Hashem, your God, is bringing you to a good Land: a Land with streams of water, of springs and underground water coming forth in valley and mountain, a Land of wheat, barley, grape, fig and pomegranate, a Land of oil-olives and date-honey, a Land where you will eat bread without poverty – you will lack nothing there; a Land whose stones are iron and from whose mountains you will mine copper. You will eat and you will be satisfied and bless Hashem your God for the good Land that He gave you.
May we see it soon in our days.
Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available at Jewish bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and online at Amazon.com. Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.