The 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat - Tu B'Shevat (this Shabbat) is the "New Year for Trees". For this reason, it is a universally accepted custom to eat fruit, especially the fruits for which Israel is praised, as in the verse: "A land of wheat and barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate; a land of olive oil and date honey." (Deut. 8:8)

Since the order of the words in the Torah is important, it is clear that wheat and barley are more important than the other fruits. In fact, according to Jewish law it is preferable when faced with a number of the above fruits to bless first on the present fruit which comes earliest in the verse. The simple and obvious difference between wheat and barley and the other fruits is that wheat and barley are "sustenance" foods, while fruits are more for pleasure (i.e. dessert). Therefore, the clear teaching is that the New Year of Trees is connected in some important way to pleasure.

A tree represents sprouting and growth in the life of a person….

To understand this, we need to know that a tree represents sprouting and growth in the life of a person. Before we begin, we are like a rock - inanimate. From there we sprout into the level of something growing, like a plant. Then we graduate to a higher level, to something actually living, like an animal, and from there to the level of a person, in Hebrew "adam", as in the verse "adameh laElyon" (Isaiah 14:14), a being that resembles G‑d.

Now, when the New Year for Trees comes along, with its concepts of fruits (pleasure) and sprouting (i.e. the beginning of a person's service to G‑d), when the sap of the tree is just beginning to rise, we need to learn the following lesson: even the very beginning of a person's efforts, such as taking on a new mitzvah or other activity, have to include not only the basics (wheat and barley), but must be with pleasure (fruit) too! It is not enough to do something, whether a mitzvah or some secular activity, by rote or even properly and honestly. It needs to be done with proper intention, contemplation and lively interest. What G‑d expects from us is that we do all that we can with pleasure, the most powerful strength a person has and one that even controls all the other strengths. Pleasure can turn even a seemingly negative event into a positive one.

One might think that since it is the beginning, one need only use the beginning of ones abilities and save the interest and pleasure for when he or she is on a higher level. This is not the case. From the very start it must be done in the complete way and this will influence the continuation.

How can we apply this to each day of our lives? This idea of beginning something in a positive and pleasurable way is connected even to our waking up in the morning. When we are sleeping we are like something inanimate. As we wake up, we immediately move into a mode of growth and sprouting. If from that very first moment we tell ourselves we want to do it right (!), we will find that even the first words out of our mouths, "Modeh Ani", come out with pleasure.

Let's be even clearer. It is easy to imagine a person waking up in the morning and thinking to himself, "What am I making myself crazy with trying to achieve all kinds of levels that do not even apply to me. I JUST woke up. Any prayer I say, even just getting the words out, is more than enough. Later on, when I am up and around, is the time for meditating on the big things." NO! Remembering that even when you just wake up, G‑d is there watching you and cares how you behave, will in fact bring you great pleasure. How? When we think about the level at which we are truly at and realize that the King of Kings leaves all of His important business and is there watching us (!) - is there any greater pleasure than that!

The main thing is to act.

The main thing is to act. There is no better time than Tu B'Shevat for each of us to resolve to start putting pleasure into everything we do. And through this we will draw down the greatest blessings in all of our activities, so that even the necessities (wheat and barley) will be done the whole year long with pleasure. And this will speed up the greatest pleasure of all, that of the arrival of the Mashiach and the final redemption.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Tu B'Shevat 5745

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