This past week we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, which marks the beginning of the year for the trees. This means the beginning of all the commandments having to do with the fruit trees planted in the land of Israel.
All beginnings have something powerful and encouraging about them. When we start new jobs, move to a new place, a new school, new neighborhoods, make new friends, etc., there is always something that gives us hope, strength, and the ability to dream of something great that will arise from this new beginning.
However, when we think of the beginning of the year for the laws regarding the fruit trees planted in Israel, what kind of dreams or strength can we receive from such a beginning?
During the last couple of weeks, we have been reading the Book of Shemot – Exodus, on each Shabbat in shul, which tells the story of the exile and redemption of the Jewish people.
This week we read about the people of Israel becoming a nation bound by the laws of the Torah which we received on Mount Sinai. This beginning coincides with Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the fruit trees planted in Israel.
Throughout all Jewish teachings, the Torah is constantly compared to the tree of life. And a fruit tree that bares fruit, is giving life by giving us its fruit to sustain ourselves.
Becoming a nation, we promised Hashem that we would obey all the laws written in the holy Torah. Thus our receiving the Torah is the power and strength that we have as Jewish people.
All that we have comes from the Torah that we received thousands of years ago. And yet each time we read about becoming a true and law abiding nation at Mount Sinai, it’s all new and exciting once more. The fact that Tu B’Shvat falls during these portions of the Torah readings each year, is to show and to give strength to our nation, of how important it is to follow all the laws of the Torah.
When the Torah and the nation are constantly compared to trees, this gives us a better understanding of the importance of keeping all the laws written down in the Torah.
Everyone can understand that a tree needs certain conditions in order to grow in the best way. We can also understand the importance of the fruit that trees bare, and all the good we can derive from them.
Therefore by keeping the laws of the Torah we will receive strength and long life.
The land of Israel is the home of the Jewish people and the home in which Hashem chose to build His home. Therefore the beginning of the year for the fruit trees that grow in Israel overlaps the receiving of the Torah.
G-d is telling His children that if they keep the laws of the Torah, the Torah will protect them wherever they are. We cannot live without the Torah, nor can we live without food. The fruit trees are a symbol of life that gives us food.
The great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived off a carob tree for 13 years.
Only in Israel are there laws concerning the fruit trees, because everything about Israel in eternal and has to do with our growth as a nation and our connection to Hashem.
There is the famous quote from the Talmud Bavli, in Ta’anit page 5, which talks about a tree, Ilan. It’s recited over and over on Tu Bishvat since it talks about a beautiful tree which has everything it needs to keep growing. And then it continues with the blessing which is given to the tree, that all of its offspring should be as lovely as the tree itself.
This is obviously a parable to us, that as great and as learned as we might be, we wish our offspring to be like us and follow in our footsteps forever.
May our footsteps always be rooted in the tree of life which is the Torah and may all the children of Israel return to their true roots, right here in the land of Israel, and see the true fruits of their labor.