Rabbi Yitzchak Neria
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal
Tu B’Shvat’s date (the 15th of Shvat) is obvious. In this article, we will discuss the day’s essence and deeper meaning. Also, we will focus on Tu B’Shvat’s specific customs and obligations and determine the source for Tu B’Shvat.
Halachically, Tu B’Shvat is the date used to distinguish between trees whose fruit ripened beforehand and those whose fruit ripened afterwards. Why do we need to know when the fruit ripened? Mainly, we need to know whether to separate ma’aser ani or ma’aser sheni. During the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th years of the shmitah cycle, ma’aser sheni – which is to be eaten in Yerushalayim – is separated in Eretz Yisrael. Meanwhile, during the 3rd and 6th years of the shmitah cycle, a person must separate ma’aser ani (“the tithe of the poor”). Or, if you prefer, ma’aser sheni – which must be eaten “on the holy mountain in Yerushalayim” (Yeshaya 27:13) – is an expression of bein adam laMakom (a mitzvah which is between man and Hashem), but ma’aser ani is clearly bein adam lichavero (an interpersonal mitzvah). Thus, Tu B’Shvat represents the confluence of both groups of mitzvot: bein adam laMakom and bein adam lichavero.
Yet, the Gemara (BT Sanhedrin 98a) refers to other aspects of Tu B’Shvat:
“And R’ Abba said, ‘There is no clearer [indication] of the keitz (the “End”) than this, as it says: “And you, the mountains of Israel, will produce your branches and will bear your fruit for My people Israel…” (Yechezkel 36:8)’
“R’ Elazar says, ‘[There is] also [no clearer indication of the keitz] than this, as it says: “For before those days, there were no wages for man nor were there wages for animals; and for him that went out or came in, there was no peace from the adversary…” (Zechariah 8:10)’
“What is ‘for him that went out or came in, there was no peace from the adversary’? Rav said, ‘Even talmidei chachamim(Torah scholars) – about whom peace is written, as it is written: “There is abundant peace for the lovers of Your Torah” (Tehillim 119:165) – [will have] no peace from [the] adversary.’”
The Gemara speaks for itself. On one hand, we have a flourishing, blossoming land, but at the same time, there is no peace – except that which is enforced by the sword.
But if that is not enough, we find the following truly astounding statement in Avot DiRabi Natan (Nuscha Bet 31):
“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received [the tradition] from Hillel and Shamai. He used to say, ‘If you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because you were created for this.’ Because mankind was not created on idle chatter but rather on words of Torah, as it says, ‘For that is your life and the length of your days.’ (Devarim 30:20) [‘Your life’ – in this world and ‘the length of your days’] in the world to come… If there was a planting in your hand and you were told, ‘behold, here is the Mashiach,’ come and plant the planting [and then go out and greet him.]”
How can this be?! Our teacher Rav Druckman explains that planting in Eretz Yisrael and settling the land are the Geulah (the Redemption) in and of themselves. In contrast, when seeing the Mashiach, a person is passive. Thus, first plant, and then run to greet the Mashiach.
In recent years, Tu B’Shvat has gradually been transformed into a festival which commemorates our return to our Land. Tu B’Shvat is the anniversary of the Knesset’s establishment, and everyone goes out to plant trees.
How does all of the above tie in together? The Navi says:
“The voice of your seers – they raised a voice, together they shall sing glad song; for eye to eye they shall see when Hashem returns to Tzion.” (Yeshaya 52:8)
If matters are that clear, why are the prophets and the seers the ones who lift their voices? Why won’t everyone “sing glad song”? The answer is that we must look at the Geulah “eye to eye”. With one eye, we must see how good it is, baruch Hashem, in Eretz Yisrael. We must recognize how far we have come, in every way, and therefore, we must “thank, laud, praise, glorify” and lift our voices in song. Moreover, we – who are privileged to live in the generation of the Geulah – are obligated to plant, redeem, and do everything in our power in order to advance the coming of the Mashiach. However, with our other eye, we are well aware how much we need rachamei Shamayim (Heaven’s mercies) and how insignificant and powerless we are.
“Hashem’s kindnesses surely never cease…” (Eichah 3:22)