Tu BiShvat According to Tradition
Tu BiShvat falls on the full moon which is typically the 15th day of the month, in the Hebrew month of Shevat – Aquarius. This holiday, in the Hebrew Calendar has almost no religious rituals/observances like other major Biblical holidays and yet, it is a very special holiday/connection. The source of the holiday is mentioned in the Mishnah, in Tractate RoshHashanah, saying that there are four different Rosh Hashanah’s (New Year’s Days), each starts another Year’s Cycle. Regarding RoshHashanah of the Trees there is a disagreement between the two famous major schools of thought in Jerusalem (1st century BCE); The School of Shamai and The School of Hillel. The School of Shamai said that The New Year of the Trees is on the 1st day of Shevat (New Moon Day) and The School of Hillel said that it is on the 15th day of Shevat (Full Moon Day), the sages ruled, finally, according to The School of Hillel.
Rashi explains why it is on the 15th day of the month, saying that most of the rainy days are over by this time and from now on it is nature’s time to rejuvenate. Meaning, this is the beginning of the agriculture year of the trees.
The symbol of Tu BeShvat in Israel is the almond tree blossom (Similar to the Cherry Tree Blossom in Japan). Almond trees grow wild around the country and it is the first tree to blossom in Israel’s winter, the Almond Tree’s blossoming coincides with Tu Beshvat.
What is Tu BiShvat?
Why did the two schools of thought; The School of Shamai and The School of Hillel disagree? And what is the meaning of Tu BiShvat for people who are not farmers or live outside Israel?
Tu BiShvat According to Kabbalah
The Zohar: “Rav Yehuda said: Four times along the year the world is being judged… On Atseret it is being judged on the fruits of the tree… “of the tree”?
It should have said fruits of the trees (in plural). Meaning it is not about the trees but about a very strong metaphysical tree located up in the heavens and is the tree of the Sefira of Zeir Anpin, which is the “Tree of Life”. The Zohar explains that the physical trees in our world are the mundane physical manifestation/expression of the spiritual essence known as the “Tree of Life”.
The Tree as the Symbol for Intricacy of Humanity and the Universe
The questions that have been raised above – about the debate concerning the date of the holiday and why it was written tree and not trees – were dealt with in the book Ohev Israel by the Rabbi of Afta, and he quotes from Deuteronomy (20, 19) “… a human being is the tree of the field …”. The same way a tree has many parts – roots, branches, fruits etc. – man has these parts as well and their expression can be found in the good deeds one does. The Ari compared the 613 organs of the body to the 613 Mitsvot, and then further divided them into 248 organs and 365 tendons (when added together = 613). He also said that the existence of this differentiation in the human body explains why each person is microcosm – a small image of the whole Universe.
The Zohar is teaching us that the structure of the “Tree of Life” is the same as the structure of human society, meaning that the “Tree of Life” is the well/source from which all souls come from, and just as the “Tree of Life” is divided into many parts, so too is human society. These souls/people have different roles to play in life that are required and necessary for a society to function and thrive as a community. Also included in the “Tree of Life” are every creature in this world, and as such, given their source of purity and holiness, they too must be respected.
The Rabbi of Afta, mentioned above, explained that Tu BiShvat functions as line of demarcation indicating a shift in the Universe. The physical manifestation of this is that from Tu BiShvat and onwards, all the trees start to bear fruits and blossom. This is reflected in the upper worlds where an awakening of the spiritual force called the “Tree of Life” is taking place, starting the whole process of rejuvenation and renewal in both the physical and spiritual worlds once again. It is important to mention that this rejuvenation/reawakening, called Tu BiShvat is in the middle of the winter, and moving forward, the air and earth start to warm up, heralding the coming of the awakening of the physical reality which is also reflected in the spiritual realm.
How does it affect us?
Kabbalists say that this cosmic revelation of the awareness/reawakening of the “Tree of Life” in the spiritual world makes it easier to connect our 613 organs with the “Tree of Life” force and use it to fix, correct and re-tune the different parts of our soul so that they can be in alignment/vibrate with the “Tree of Life” spiritual healing force.
Ilan (a tree אילן) has the numerical value (Gematria) of 91, a very important and meaningful number in the Kabbalistic world. It symbolizes the connection/bringing together of the two common names of the creator, the Tetragrammaton (that cannot be pronounced) – יהו”ה (YHWA, numerical value 26) and אדני (Adonai, numerical value 65). יהו”ה symbolizes the spiritual abundance that flows into our world, including love and grace (Hesed) – the male side of creation, and אדני (Adonai) which is pronouncd during the prayers symbolizes the the vessel, that receives the abundance and manifests it – the female side of creation. The connection/the bringing together of these 2 names, the merging of the upper and lower worlds, manifests as harmony, circuitry and the flow of the power of life in our world.
Ninety one is also the numeric value of the word Amen (אמן), that when said, has the power to bring together in unity and harmony heaven and earth, Light (the male power of creation that shares) and the vessel (the female power that receives). The Rabbi of Afta says that the special power of this connection is hidden in the paragraph “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalms 92:13). Meaning, that the same way palm trees have male and female trees so to do the righteous have female and male aspects. He likens this to the connection that exists between the male world – the upper world of bliss and abundance – and the physical world that expresses this abundance in the crops of trees that bear abundant and luscious fruits.
According to the Sefer Yetsira (The Book of Formation), said to be written by Abraham the patriarch, the letter צ (Tsadik) has the frequency that created Aquarius – the astrological sign of Shevat. This is also the power of the righteous (Tsadik in Hebrewצדיק ) that draws the bliss from the upper worlds and has the power to transfer it into the physical world.
Between the 1st and 15th Days of Shevat
So what did The School of Hillel and The School of Shamai have to disagree about? The Rabbi of Afta said that those 15 days correspond to the creator’s name י”ה (Yah), which symbolizes the concentrated power of life. In those days of Shevat the power of life revives the trees and allows them to start a new cycle of life. That is why Rashi said that this is the time in which the resin appears in the trees. He is referring to the metaphysical “resin”, actually meaning the spiritual abundance (resin) that nourishes the souls. This is why according to Deuteronomy; Moses started interpreting the Torah on the 1st day of Shevat as he knew it was possible to connect to the spiritual abundance that nourished the soul until the 15th day of Shevat.
Each year, at this time, we have the ability to connect to the power of the “Tree of Life” and use it to help us in our ongoing transformative process. Knowing this is just one more tool in our arsenal towards achieving success in all areas of our lives.
Rosh Hashanah of the Trees (The Tree’s New Year) – Rosh (ראש head) connects us to the ability to control everything that happens in our body. This day allows us to control the ability to connect to “Tree of Life” for the coming year. This aspect of renewal brings new opportunities our way and it allows for our personal growth.
Rabbi Nahman of Breslav said that it is a great virtue to forget what we’ve heard and studied last year, because that allows us to study the same topics with new insights, and that connects us to the essence of being a Creator.
The renewal of thought and new perceptions of the world are one of the signs of connecting to the “Tree of Life”. This keeps us young and strong and emotionally resilient. The more cognitive and emotional flexibility we are, the longer we keep our youth and strength.
Trees grow against gravity – from bottom to top, and so do we – the more we grow spirituality the more it indicates we go against our old nature and habits. The biological aging process is a consequence of spiritual aging. The inability to renew emotionally and cognitively also leads to aging.
The Customs of Tu BiShvat – How to Connect?
Tu BiShvat observances connect us to the power of the “Tree of Life” and nourish all of the world’s trees for the following year:
Planting Trees – by planting a tree we become partners with the important moment of the beginning of its new life, and the moment it receives its infusion of power for growth from the upper worlds.
Eating Fruits – the fruits carry the essence of the tree and eating them allows us to draw the abundance and prosperity that is available in the Universe at this time of the year.
Rabbi Ḥaim Vital, student of the Ari, teaches – we need to eat 30 different fruits corresponding to the three major worlds (plains of spiritual existence) of Kabbalah:
Ten of them should be eaten completely – peel and body together, which corresponds to The World of Creation – Olam Beriah.
The next ten fruits, their shell is eaten but not their body – which corresponds to The World of Formation – Olam Yetsira.
The world of Action is the world we live in and according to Kabbalah other worlds also exist, mainly five. Those worlds exist in higher frequencies of existence and from them we draw our life energy, especially from the worlds of Creation and Formation.
Wine – it is customary to drink 4 glasses of mixed red and white wines:
The first glass is filled with white wine.
The second glass is filled with white wine and additional red wine.
The third glass is filled with red wine and additional white wine.
The fourth glass is filled with red wine.
Those symbolize the spiritual elevation, step by step, of our spiritual work.
The white wine symbolizes the sharing power of the life force of the Creator – the Light, and therefore it’s white; The red wine symbolizes the desire to receive – the Vessel. When the Light shines down to our world it goes through the four stages that those four glasses symbolize. Those stages must occur in every thinking process until it reaches execution:
Light – white wine
Light and a bit of Vessel – white wine with a bit of red wine
Vessel and Light – red wine with a bit of white wine
Vessel – red wine
At the beginning of the feast we make a blessing on bread or other wheat products, and it is customary to read Midrashim from the Zohar, Mishnahetc. that express the connection between man and tree, between us and nature.
Tu BiShvat is an opportunity to bring to us the awareness of the “Tree of Life” – freedom, renewal, spiritual growth and environmental awareness. The moment we look after our fellowmen and the world around us we create the “Tree of Life” – a state of love between people and unity – that symbolizes our present era – the Age of Aquarius.