It is a custom in Judaism, and especially by Kabbalists and Chassidic Rabbis, to have a special meal in honor of the 15th of Shevat, the Rosh Hashanah (New Year's Day) of the tree, during which they eat from the (types of) fruits that grow in the Land of Israel.

There are many similarities between a man and a tree.

There are many similarities between a man and a tree. This is based on the verse, "For man is a tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19). We also find a connection between man and the tree in the annual blessing on trees (when the fruit blossoms appear in the spring), where the text includes, "He who created good trees and good creatures (i.e. people)."

About the creation of man it is written, "G‑d formed man from the dust of the earth" (Gen. 2:7); therefore he is called Adam (man) from the term Adamah (earth). In order for the ground to be fruitful, it is necessary to work it: to remove the thorns, to plow, to sow, and to water. So too with a person; in order to ascend spiritual steps and levels one needs to work on their character traits.

Removing the thorns refers to distancing oneself from bad traits.

Plowing is done to turn over the external layer of the ground. Without doing so it is impossible to plant, for the top layer is the level of the ground which G‑d cursed. Plowing reveals the ground’s inner layer, in order to convert it into "a field, which G‑d has blessed." Likewise, a person needs to convert their bad traits into good ones, to attach oneself to the Al-mighty and to emulate Him, as it is written, "I will emulate the Supernal" (Isaiah 14:14).

One who learns Torah in their youth will not set it aside in their old age.

About planting we are taught, "In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not rest your hand." (Eccl. 11:6) Rabbi Akiva says that one who learns Torah in their youth will not set it aside in their old age.

Watering is accomplished through Torah, which is compared to water. Furthermore, through Mitzvahs and good deeds, the person develops and is converted from a non-fruit-bearing tree to a tree which produces fruit. Just as a tree requires an environment to develop, i.e. nutrient rich soil and proper weather, so too a person requires a good company of friends, in order to spiritually develop. Just as with a tree that is old and crooked, it is hard to straighten it out, so too a person is able to develop and change primarily when they are still young, as is written, "It is good for a man to carry a yoke in his youth." (Lamentations 3:27)

What is the "nature" of a tree?

In the book Matan Torah by Rabbi Ashlag, he writes that the "nature" of a person — i.e. "the primal matter" that they receive from their father, and their father from his fathers — is "the desire to receive." Furthermore, the difference between the father and the son is only in the "form" which that "first matter" takes. An example can be taken from a plant, since after a wheat kernel is planted, its "form" disintegrates, but its "nature" remains. Therefore, from this seed will sprout new wheat only, not an apple. The difference between the seed kernel and what sprouts is that their "forms" differ from one another. At times, even lean wheat can come from fat wheat, but the "inner nature" of wheat always remains. This "nature" is the "essence", which does not change, and it is the "first matter", which is called "the desire to receive."

So too for people, their father passes on to them the "nature" of the spiritual character which they have, but the "form" for that character they develop themselves. For example, if one inherits from their father a tendency towards stubbornness and persistence, it is possible that the father enclothed his stubborn "nature" for physical needs. However, the son might enclothe this "nature" for holy things, and give it a valuable, positive form. So the "nature" remains and only the "form" changes. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai told his son to go receive a blessing from certain sages, since they are Masters of "Form" (see Mo'ed Katan 9).

There are three types of trees: non-fruit-bearing trees, fruit-bearing trees, and fruit-bearing trees whose wood and fruit taste the same.

Of the third day of Creation it is written, "The land should sprout … fruit trees which produce fruit of its kind" (Gen. 1:11). Rashi explains that [the reason it says 'fruit trees that produce fruit' and not simply 'trees that produce fruit' is because the intention was that] a fruit tree would have the same taste as its fruit. Therefore, "when man was cursed for his sin, the earth was remembered for its sin, and was also cursed."

What is the great virtue that the taste of the wood be the same as the taste of the fruit?

We need to understand, what is the great virtue that the taste of the wood be the same as the taste of the fruit? Either way, if it is the same taste as the fruit, why do you need the fruit, and if there is a taste of the fruit, why do you need the wood?

The Ohr HaChaim writes, "The earth became wise and produced three categories of trees, which it heard [it should do] in G‑d's words, due to its enthusiasm. The first are the trees that produce fruit, but their wood does not taste like the fruit. The second produces fruit, and its wood tastes like the fruit, and it is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which our Sages say, (Bereishit Raba 15:7) that its wood tasted like its fruit. The third are similar to fruit trees; they are the non fruit-bearing trees. "The earth rushed to do all that it heard [from G‑d]." (Gen. 1:12)

It is brought in the introduction to the Zohar written by Rabbi Ashlag that there are four levels within the development of "the desire to receive." The first is "the desire to receive" in order to receive for oneself. Within this division there are two stages. The first stage is "the desire to receive" the physical. The second stage is "the desire to receive" the spiritual. Both of them are under the designation of being "not for the sake of G‑d." The first is "not for His sake" (in a way that is totally self-centered) and is poison, while the second is "not for His sake" but (in a way that) one comes to be "for His sake." The third division is in the service of Torah and Mitzvahs "for the sake of G‑d," which means for the purpose of giving (emanating), and not to receive a reward. This work purifies "the desire to receive for oneself" and converts it into a "desire to give". This is called "a desire to give in order to give." The fourth division is the highest level: "to receive in order to give."

According to the above, it is possible to understand the three types of trees, which are brought in the Holy Or Hachaim. The first are the non-fruit-bearing trees. This is the tree which only "receives for the sake of receiving for itself", but it does not produce fruit. The second is the tree, which produces fruit; this is the "desire to give for the sake of giving", since a fruit represents giving to another, as one gets pleasure from its fruits. This is a tree, which produces fruit. The third is the fruit-bearing tree, where the taste of the tree and fruit are the same. This is to "receive for the sake of giving", since the "desire to receive" is the "tree", and the "fruit" is the "desire to give". A tree whose taste is the same as its fruit represents "receiving for the sake of giving", for even the "desire to receive" has acquired the "form" of "giving".

This is comparable to the teaching with regard to marriage, that if a man is prestigious, and the bride gives him something of value for the sake of marriage and he speaks the words of betrothal to her, they are married (even though normally the man must be the giver of something of value, since with a very prestigious person, even the act of receiving the object provides a pleasure for the gift giver, equivalent to the prestigious person actually giving to the bride).

This is the "form" that will be after the resurrection of the dead.

This is the "form" that will be after the resurrection of the dead. It is the "refined form" at the completion of the extraction of the sparks, as it was prior to the sin (of Adam and Eve). This is what our sages meant (end of Tractate Kesuvos), "Rabbi Chiya Bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: in the future, the non fruit-bearing trees in the land of Israel will produce fruit, as the verse says, 'For the tree will bear its fruit, the date palm and the grapevine will give their strength'." Rashi explains that since it is written that the date palm and the grapevine will give their strength, we know it is a fruit-bearing tree; so why does the verse need to say that the tree will bear its fruit? We learn from this that even non fruit-bearing trees will produce fruit.

Excerpted by KabbalaOnline from a much longer transcript of a lecture given on Tu B'Shvat 5764 (2004). Translated by David Devor.

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