By Rabbi Avroham Kletzky shlit”a
What is special about Tu B’Shevat being the New Year for trees, and what relevance does it have for me?
Tu B’Shevat is the introduction to Purim.
We are now within forty days before Purim. Now is the time to ask and beg Hashem at every opportunity to save us from our spiritual adversary Haman and Amalek. The days of the month of Shevat are the starting point from where we will gather the strength to erase the memory of Amalek on Purim, and to leave Mitzrayim on Pesach.
When we motivate ourselves to yearn for the joy of Purim, the question is always asked, how can we begin to be happy? Where do we get the strength for that?
This is why we have Tu B’Shevat, which is itself a very novel idea which requires faith in the Tzaddikim – belief in the words of our sages. Chazal fixed this day as the New Year for trees, which has many Halachic ramifications, such as Ma’asrot and Orlah, etc. This seems puzzling, because it would make more sense to start the year by when the fruit is harvested, just as we do by vegetables, or at least when the fruit has grown at least a third, as we do by grains. But Chazal set the date by the day the fruit takes hold, a time when we see nothing. In colder climates trees are actually wrapped now to protect them. Chazal are teaching us that the New Year for trees is even before we can see anything.
The Tzaddikim reveal even further, that even when we can’t even see the start, still, whoever believes in Chazal knows for certain that he did get off to a good start. Even if the tree looks dead, it’s still totally alive. When we will understand this we will be able to await our salvation, and to proceed towards Purim and Pesach.
If all Tu B’Shevat is just about a metaphor for a person, as the verse says, “For Man is like a tree in the field”, what is the significance of eating fruit?
It’s not just a metaphor comparing a person’s renewal to that of a tree. This is the entire idea behind Tu B’Shevat, to take the fruits of Eretz Yisroel and to taste their sweetness. We taste the sweetness and pleasantness of attaching oneself to Hashem through the fruits of Eretz Yisroel, a sample of what will be revealed in Moshiach’s times, the means of attaching to Hashem through song and praise.
That’s why we have a custom to taste fruits, to recite Berachos aloud, to thank Hashem for the wonderful and diverse tastes which He created. We praise Eretz Yisroel and the G-dliness revealed within it, and which will be revealed with the coming of Moshiach. This is how we make a new start in always reciting Berachos with concentration and in reciting a hundred Blessings daily, which has the power to save us from spiritual illness and morbidity.
Let’s engrave within ourselves this wonderful path, that even though now we only see the beginning of the fruit, and we are literally holding at the onset of the growth of the sweet fruits, we are still so sure of our ultimate salvation that we are already blessing and thanking Hashem. Like someone walking through a desert, hungry and thirsty, and crossing upon something to eat like juicy grapes, etc. Can we imagine the excitement he has with each bite? We believe that at least that much will be our excitement with the sweetness of cleaving to Hashem.
This is the proper start and preparation for Purim and to triumph over the dejection which Amalek tries instilling within us.
Practically speaking, we must keep in mind that even if it seems that the world is still and dry, in truth the whole universe is playing a song for Hashem. Amalek conceals and hides this wonderful and pleasant sound, and even “shows” us that Yiddishkeit and Emunah are difficult and “weighty”.
Shevat is the month in which Moshe Rabeinu began teaching us the Mishne Torah (Devarim), which is the sweet and pleasant reprimand of the Tzaddik in which Emunah obtains the melodic notes which draw our souls closer to Hashem with such sparkling that a person throws away all of his confusion and heaviness, mania and bitterness, and starts to understand that everything that he’s going through is only because he doesn’t have the Torah and the song of the Tzaddik. All this because Amalek has “swallowed” his mind.
At the beginning of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashanah, the Tzaddik stands in the way of Amalek’s “swallowing” and causes him to “vomit” out all of the holy sparks which he had already swallowed. This Tikkun is completed on Sukkos, the holiday of ‘gathering”, when all of the holy sparks return and are gathered back into holiness.
But there is still the New Year for trees, when the sparks once again start entering the trees to become part of the pleasant song. We therefore strengthen ourselves already now, at the beginning of the blossoming, to taste the sweetness of Hashem, to renew our listening to the Tzaddiks’ teachings, to recite blessings with concentration, with song and praise.
(See LKM II 8, Likutei Halachos, Orloh 3)