Torah Tidbits

1 August 2014 / 5 Av 5774
Issue 1030
Shabbat Parshat B'Shalach
January 24, 2013

Jewish Law

MAN IS THE TREE OF THE FIELD, a TU BiShvat essay by Dr. Meir Tamari

From Tz’fat of the Ari HaKadosh, Rosh Hashana LaIlanot became praise of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, while renewed nationalism later made the trees of Tu BiShvat symbols of Israel’s return to its Land. Both of these are positive and desired concepts, yet they are essentially different from basic halakha.
Certain halakhot require differing dates as beginnings for their calculations, so the Mishna teaches, “There are four Rosh HaShanas; the first of Nissan, the first of Elul, the first of Tishrei, and the first of Sh’vat - LaIlanot, according to Bet Shamai but the 15th of Sh’vat, TU BiShvat, according to Hillel” (Rosh Hashana 1:1). The Gemara adds two more, the 16th of Nissan for the Korban HaOmer and the 6th of Sivan for the new wheat of the Shtei Halechem offering of Shavuot.
Here Rosh HaShana is used in its literal sense of head or beginning: first of Nissan for beginning the reigns of Jewish kings and for starting the cycle of the chagim; first of Elul is the beginning of the year for classifying the newly-born animals for which the Jew is liable for current ma’aser; first of Tishrei, marks the year’s position in the sh’mita and yovel cycles, but also the judgment day for all of creations and to identify the new crop of vegetables for tithing ma’aser rishon, sheini or ma’aser ani; Sh’vat marks the beginning of the year for purposes of ma’asering fruit but also for reckoning the age for orla.
All the forms of ma’aser are reductions in the private income of the individual, sh’mita abrogates his right to his legitimately earned income, while Yovel in addition, means that land could not be sold in perpetuity, only leased for 49 years. All of them are part of the Torah’s social agenda for the support of the weak and poor. All of them including Omer and Shtei HaLechem, which permit use of the new grains by individuals and their use by the nation in the Temple service respectively, are acknowledgements that individual wealth and national success flow from Hashem’s ownership. Therefore they come to cure and purify us from greed, materialism and egoism. “Just as Shabbat comes to heal the individual’s soul, so Sh’mita comes to heal the ills of society” (Rabbi A.Y. Kook).
The actual day of Sh’vat which is Rosh HaShana LaIlanot is the subject of the Mishnaic discussion between Bet Shammai, who based their date according to when the new buds appear, and Bet Hillel who considered when most of the rains have fallen. This seems to be a purely legal or technical discussion. However, there is a whole school of thought that sees all halakha as based on hashkafa, so that they see here differences in ideology between Hillel and Shammai, over and beyond the technical reasons for the dating aspects.
“For Man is as the tree of the field.” Only man and trees have orla, physical manifestations of spiritual behavior, p’solet, which has to be removed by brit mila or by the passage of time, since only they of all creation sinned at the very beginning of the world. Adam sinned by eating of Eitz Hada’at, and the trees when they disobeyed Hashem’s command to them to “yield fruit each after its own kind”, substituting, “yielding fruit containing its seed after its kind” (B’reishit 1:12). Therefore Shammai and Hillel had to relate Rosh Hashana LaIlanot to the behavior of men, each one according to his hashkafa.
“Shammai taught that the dominant issue is a person’s potential, which compares to the budding of trees which is already evident at the beginning of Sh’vat, whereas Hillel saw man’s realization of his potential as paramount, which is paralleled by the conclusion of most of the rains, which is on the 15th of the month” (Admor of Chabad).
“The zodiac sign of Sh’vat is the pail with which water may be drawn from deep wells. In spiritual terms, this corresponds to our ability to raise our strengths and powers. This ability can lead us either to arrogance or to a heightened awareness of G-d, a choice incurring judgment. Shammai argues that judgment is operative from the moment it is possible, that is the first of Sh’vat, whereas Hillel calls for chesed to temper din, which means delaying this Rosh HaShana till the 15th. Both views are relevant to drawing of our heightened strength and power, since Sh’vat is followed by Adar, the Four Parshiyot, Purim and ultimately Pesach, festival of spring in nature and of national redemption of Israel” (Shem MiShmuel).

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