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).

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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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