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Tu B'Shevat Q & A

Tu B'Shevat Q & A


"באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי בית שמאי בית הלל אומרים בחמשה עשר בו"
Shevat is the New Year for the tree according to Beit Shamai. Beit Hillel says it is on the 15th of Shevat.” (Rosh Hashanah 2a)

QUESTION: Why is it necessary for us to know the date of the New Year for trees?

ANSWER: The Hebrew calendar is set up according to a seven year cycle, and the seventh year is known as the shemittah year. During this year the land is left idle and no work is done in the fields. In the first, second, fourth and fifth year of the six year cycle, the farmers have to set aside ma’aseir rishon (first tithe) for the Levi, and ma’aseir sheini (second tithe) is brought to Jerusalem to be eaten. On the third and sixth year, ma’aseir ani is given to the poor people in lieu of ma’aseir sheini.

Ma’aseir must be given from the fruits which grow on the tree each year. One cannot give from produce of the current year for another year. For purposes of ma’aseir from trees, the new year is calculated from the time when the fruits of the trees begin to blossom. Tu BeShevat is the cut-off date between one year and the next. In the year which follows shemittah, fruits which blossomed before Tu BeShevat belong to the first year of the cycle, and fruits which blossom after Tu BeShevat belong to the second year of the cycle.

"באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי ב"ש, ב"ה אומרים בט"ו"
“The first day of Shevat is the New Year for the tree according to Beit Shamai. Beit Hillel says, it is on the 15th of Shevat.” (Rosh Hashanah 2a)

QUESTION: What is the basis of their dispute?

ANSWER: The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 16a) states that on the festival of Sukkot (15th Tishrei) the world is judged in regard to water. This does not contradict to the opinion in the Gemara that on Rosh Hashanah (1st Tishrei) the entire world is judged, because the judgment on Rosh Hashanah is general judgment that only creates the potential for the water to be given. The detailed practical determination concerning the water takes place on Sukkot.

According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 1:2), the significance of the New Year for trees is that until then all trees live on the water of the previous year. After Rosh Chodesh Shevat the trees derive their life source from the water of the new year. Thus, the effect of the new water occurs four months after the period of judgment.

Hence, the dispute between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel concerns the significance of the potential (בכח) and the actual (בפועל). Beit Shamai is of the opinion that the potential is of primary significance. Consequently, according to Beit Shamai, since in potential the judgment of water took place on the first of Tishrei, four months later we celebrate the New Year for the trees, when the potential begins for them to derive nurture from the waters which were included in the judgment of the entire world four months ago.

However, according to Beit Hillel, priority is given to that which is actual. Thus, the actual decision on water takes place on the fifteenth of Tishrei. Therefore, four months later, on the fifteenth of Shevat, the trees start living from the new waters.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"ו)

"באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי ב"ש, ב"ה אומרים בט"ו"
“The first day of Shevat is the New Year for the tree according to Beit Shamai. Beit Hillel says it is on the 15th of Shevat.” (Rosh Hashanah 2a)

QUESTION: The Torah states, “ki ha’adam eitz hasadeh” — “Man is like the tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). The Jewish people have often been compared to different trees. What lesson can man learn from trees?

ANSWER: Trees teach us the following:

1) A tree is planted by first putting a seed in the ground. Afterwards, it is necessary to frequently water the ground and remove the weeds. In each and every Jew, Hashem planted a Divine seed — his soul. It is man’s obligation to water it with Torah study and protect it by weeding out bad friends and influences.

2) A healthy tree continues to grow and grow. A healthy Jew must continuously grow spiritually. This is accomplished through studying Torah and performing mitzvot.

3) To ensure that a young tree will grow straight, it is tied to two supports, one on each side. To ensure that a young child grows beautifully, the parents must always be at his side and constantly supervise him.

4) The strength of the tree depends on how well it is rooted in the ground. The root of the Jew is his emunah.

5) The beauty of a tree is the fruit it produces. Mitzvot and ma’asim tovim — good deeds — are man’s fruits.

"באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי ב"ש, ב"ה אומרים בט"ו"
“On the first day of Shevat is the New Year for the tree according to Beit Shamai. Beit Hillel says it is on the 15th of Shevat.” (Rosh Hashanah 2a)

QUESTION: All the different New Years discussed in the Mishnah are mentioned in the plural. Why is this New Year mentioned in the singular, “for the tree,” (לאילן) instead of “for the trees” (לאילנות)?

ANSWER: The Torah commands that on the yom tov of Sukkot we take a “peri eitz hadar” — “a beautiful fruit of a tree” (Vayikra 23:43). Our sages say this refers to the etrog — the citron. People spend lavishly to purchase a beautiful etrog in order to fulfill the mitzvah in an exceptional way. The Mishnah tells us that Tu BeShevat is the New Year for the tree, and by using a singular term it informs us that we should pray particularly “la’ilan” — “for the tree” — namely the etrog tree, which is very important to us. On this day, one should beseech Hashem that He grant us a beautiful etrog with which to perform the Torah’s commandment.

(בני יששכר)

* * *

The word “ilan” (אילן) — “tree” — has the numerical value of 91, which is also the numerical value of א-ד-נ-י י-ה-ו-ה (The L‑rd G‑d). This emphasizes the fact that the trees of the field are not the work of man, but that of A-mighty G‑d.

(נטעי גבריאל)

"נוהגין האשכנזים להרבות במיני פירות של אילנות"
“[On Tu BeShevat] Ashkenazi Jews are accustomed to eat many different fruits from trees.” (Magen Avraham 131:16)

QUESTION: When one eats new fruits which one did not eat throughout the year, one makes a berachah shehechiyanu. Should it be recited before the berachah of “borei pri ha’eitz” or after?

ANSWER: It should be recited before. The reason why “shehechiyanu” precedes “borei peri ha’eitz” is the following: “shehechiyanu” is made when one experiences joy. In reality, joy is experienced at the time one sees the new fruits on the trees or displayed in the store, and it would be proper to make the “shehechiyanu” at that time. However, it is our custom to wait with the “shehechiyanu” till we actually eat the fruit. Therefore, since the obligation to recite the berachah shehechiyanu came some time ago and now, when one wants to eat the fruit, one is obligated to make a “borei peri ha’eitz,” “shehechiyanu” is recited first because it is an earlier obligation.

(סדר ברכת הנהנין פי"א סעי' י"ב - פמ"ג שו"ע או"ח סי' רכ"ה)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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Discussion (2)
February 1, 2011
tithing tree fruits
In our Temple-less state, no agricultural tithes are taken in the diaspora. In Israel a token amount is removed and not eaten by anyone.
Menachem Posner for
Montreal, QC
January 29, 2011
tithing tree fruits
To whom is the tithe of the fruit now given, since the temple no longer exists? Does one sell it at market and give the proceeds to the religious community? to a good cause? to the poor?
Prescott, Ark., US
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