Tu B'Shvat, New Year or Bar Mitzvah?
by Avi Lazerson
The Rabbis of the Talmud taught us that Tu B'Shvat is the New Year for trees. It is considered a minor holiday. The explanation is that by the fifteenth of Shvat, the tree has taken up enough moisture from the ground to be able to produce the new fruits.
When we try to understand this in view of the fact that on Rosh Hashanah the entire world is judged, we find some difficulty. If indeed the entire world is judged on Rosh Hashanah, since man is dependent on plant life for a great part of his sustenance, wouldn't this judgment include the fruits of the trees? Isn't rain in the hands of G-d? If all of man's produce is decreed on Rosh Hashanah, then what need is there for Tu B'Shvat?
In trying to understand the importance of Tu B'Shvat we find an interesting comparison of the tree to man. Fruits of the tree are totally dependent on the yearly rain. Without rain, the tree lacks the ability to produce fruit.
Soon after Rosh Hashanah, the tree "dies". Its leaves wither and fall and it appears lifeless. The winter rains and snow fall into the ground around this lifeless looking tree and unseen by man, the tree begins to slowly draw up the moisture from the ground.
The tree stands as an intermediate between heaven and the earth. It is entrenched in the earth, yet it unites the waters of the heavens through the magical influence of the sun.
Until Tu B'Shvat, this process is concealed. Suddenly, in the month of Shvat, the tree begins to show the smallest signs of life. New leaves begin to appear and buds begin to blossom.
Although no new fruit has appeared, we rejoice in knowing that soon the promise of the New Year will yield new delicious fruits.
This process is similar in man. When a child is born, it is not apparent what goodness he will bring into the world. The child is nurtured by his parents for some twelve or thirteen years and then we have the "bar mitzvah". The bar mitzvah is the coming of age for the child, the time when we begin to have a glimpse of the man of the future, what type of person he will be.
We celebrate this, although the "fruits" of this child are not apparent. Yet by virtue of the mere glimpse of the deeds of the child we celebrate, because as the child has at this age shown such good signs, we are assured that he will grow straight and develop in this path.
Man is like the tree. He stands between the heavens and the earth, between the spiritual and physical. He stands on the ground, in the midst of the physical world, yet absorbs the influences of the higher spiritual world. For the first thirteen years, his growth is dependent on the physical and spiritual nurture that his parents provide.
When he reaches bar mitzvah, he is now on the verge of becoming an independent person, producing fruits, the mitzvoth and good deeds that he will perform. We rejoice with him, just like we rejoice on Tu B'Shvat for the trees. We rejoice over the very near future that will bring goodness to the world.
Although we have seen that Tu B'Shvat is similar to the bar mitzvah, we are left trying to understand why Tu B'Shvat is considered a new year for trees and not a bar mitzvah for trees.
A tree renews itself each year, whereas a person comes to age only once. The tree gives its fruit for a period within the year, a person has his lifetime.
Tu B'Shvat should have been the bar mitzvah for trees, except that there is a yearly cycle. Even though the produce of the new year has been decreed at Rosh Hashanah, still, there are other considerations such as where the rain will fall, how much rain will fall and when it will fall.
For a person the cycle in not yearly, but it is a life cycle. Each year the person becomes one year older on his birthday. The birthday is the individual "new year". The bar mitzvah is the "new year" for the boy, as he begins his development into manhood.
Our happiness on Tu B'Shvat is the rejoicing over the beginning of the new year for trees decreed on Rosh Hashanah. It is the perception of the goodness of G-d being brought from the latent state into revelation in our everyday life.
Tu B'Shvat is the holiday in which the world with all of its inhabitants awakens to produce its goodness.
from the February 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine