HOW TORAH LIKENS MAN TO TREES.
By Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus
Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, above and beyond its connection to trees and all things that grow, is a holiday, like all Jewish holidays, that: (1) must impact the entire year; (2) must impact every man, woman and child.
The very fact that a Jewish Holiday impacts the entire year following the holiday is very simple. The theme of every Jewish holiday, unlike the holiday itself, which is limited in time, contains lessons and messages that one must incorporate into one’s daily life throughout the entire course of the year.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year at the beginning of the Hebrew Calendar, contains the theme of accepting G-d as King of the Universe. Although Rosh Hashanah is limited (on the calendar), its theme is carried out by every Jew every day of the year, inspired and infused by the power Rosh Hashanah has on the full year that follows.
Similarly, the holiday of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, our season of rejoicing, influences the entire year to be a joyous one, albeit that on the calendar, the holiday is limited to eight or nine days. The same holds true with all Jewish holidays, no matter whether they are Biblical (Pesach, Shavuot, etc.) or Rabbinical (Chanukah, Purim, etc.). They are not just one or several days on the calendar, but rather days on the Jewish calendar that uplift one’s daily life, every single day of the year.
What has been said about the above mentioned Jewish holidays, certainly holds true in regards to Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees. The Torah compares man to a tree. (Deuteronomy 20:19). How is man likened to a tree?
First and foremost, in the earliest stages of growth, a tree needs tender nurturing, support and protection. So too, a child in his or her earliest years needs the most nurturing, support and protection, that he or she receives from parents, older siblings and teachers. Just like a tree, if not properly tended for in its early years, does not develop as a strong, healthy tree when it gets older, so too, a child who does not receive the necessary TLC (tender loving care) early on, lacks the strength and maturity one needs when thrust into the “grown up” world. Although it is never too late, and adults who lacked proper nurturing when they were children can also turn their lives around, the healthy and least difficult approach is to ensure that young children, like saplings, are given the utmost early on, so that in their adult lives, they are healthy and strong thanks to the solid foundation they were given in their youth.
Man is also likened to a tree because trees give fruit. Fruit represents good deeds. Just like a good tree produces good fruit, so too, a good person produces or performs good deeds, also known as Mitzvoth. Another lesson paralleling man to trees is that a healthy tree continuously grows.
Judaism frowns upon being smug with one’s growth in Torah and Mitzvoth. As the famous Chassidic teaching concerning “being satisfied with his lot” (Avot 4:1) is expounded in the Rebbe’s Hayom Yom (30 Sivan), ‘’In material matters, one who is ‘satisfied with his lot’ is an individual of the highest quality. A person possessing this trait will, through avoda, (divine service) attain the highest levels. In spiritual matters, however, to be satisfied with one’s lot is the worst deficiency, and leads, G-d forbid, to descent and falling.’’ May we resolve this Tu B’Shvat to: (1) nurture our children and all children in our communities with the utmost protection and support throughout the year; (2) constantly bear fruit, i.e. good deeds, in an ever increasing and beautiful manner; and (3) to grow from strength to strength in our Torah study, Mitzvah observance and spreading a Jewish way of life, never satisfied of what we accomplished yesterday, but always focused on that “tomorrow must look better than today.”