Man is likened to a tree. This Shabbat is Tu b’Shvat, the 15th of the month of Shvat, which marks the Hebrew “New Year for Trees.” Just as Rosh Hashanah is the day of judgment for each individual, Tu b’Shvat is the day of judgment for trees.
A tree is constantly growing; it starts out as a tiny seed and rises to a huge stature. Each year the trunk puts on another ring, getting thicker and thicker. We learn from the tree to grow constantly; not to be satisfied with today’s accomplishments, but to strive to achieve more and more.
A tree consists of three main parts: the roots, the body and the fruit.
The roots are underground, not visible to the eye. However, from the roots the tree derives its entire sustenance. When the roots of the tree are strong, no wind can topple it.
Our root is our faith, which connects us to our Creator. Even one who is great in wisdom, in Torah and mitzvot, draws strength from his faith. Our faith must be strong and steadfast before we can grow in wisdom, just as a fledgling tree must first lay down strong roots in order to thrive and grow.
The bulk of the tree is its body; the trunk, branches and leaves express the tree’s beauty. The body of the tree is continuously growing; the layer of leaves thickens, changes color, sheds, regrows.
For the Jewish people, the body, the bulk of our lives is Torah and mitzvot. Studying Torah and doing good deeds should be our primary occupation. We should try to increase in good deeds, just as the leaves of a tree increase continuously. Some mitzvot include a number of other mitzvot, just as some leaves are composites of other leaves. The mitzvot we do are visible on the outside, unlike faith which is hidden, like the roots which are underground. Our faith sustains our fulfillment of mitzvot, like the roots sustain the tree.
However, the tree reaches its ultimate completion not through its branches and leaves, but only when it produces fruit, and, especially, when the seeds of the fruit take root in the soil to produce other trees.
Our ultimate perfection is when we are concerned not only for our own study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, but when we influence our surroundings, when we inspire others to be “trees”—to have strong roots (faith), trunk and branches (Torah and mitzvot) and to produce fruits of their own.
This is the lesson of the fifteenth of Shvat, the new year of trees. We must have faith, strong and secure. Then we must flourish with study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvot, and finally to produce fruit, by influencing others.