Tu B’Shvat: Man as a Tree
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.
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