It is a widespread custom on Tu B’Shvat to eat of the seven species – five fruits and two grains – associated with the Land of Israel. The Land of Israel is described in Deut 8:7-10 in terms of the resources that it offers,
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.”
The five fruits are thus grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (honey), while the two grains are wheat and barley. Other species that are associated with the holiday of Tu B’Shvat are almonds (whose trees are the first to blossom in the spring, right around the time of Tu B’Shvat) and the carob. In last month’s blog post I focused primarily on the olive and olive oil, and the hidden meanings behind these. This was especially relevant last month as olive oil plays an important role in the holiday of Hannukah.
There are, in fact, deeper meanings to all of the fruits and grains used to describe the Land of Israel. As this fascinating article points out (based on the teachings of the Lubovitcher Rebbe), each of the Seven Species corresponds to a different attribute found in all people. The wheat is said to be nourishment for the human spirit inside all people, while the barley is considered as nourishment for the animal spirit contained within us. Grapes correspond to Joy, because wine makes you joyous; "my wine, which makes joyous G-d and men." (Judges 9:13). The fig – involvement, the pomegranate – deeds, olives – struggle (because they must be pressed to make oil), and the date represents our capacity for peace, tranquility and perfection. Of course, these fruits and grains are mentioned in multiple sources in Tanach, thus adding depth of meaning and alternative associations with each species.
These 7 species provide a tangible reminder of the Holy Land to Jews living in the diaspora, and help us feel connected to the Land of Israel, especially when fruits grown in Israel can be found. As the Land of Israel is holy, the fruits that grow from its soil have a special connection to the land. When we eat the fruits we ingest the holiness of the land with the fruits.
Tu B’Shvat is also one of the 4 new year’s mentioned in the first mishnah in tractate Rosh Hashanah. This means that there are some similarities between Rosh Hashana (which falls on the first of Tishrei) and Rosh HaShana ha Ilanot (Tu B’Shvat). The Torah says that “man is like a tree of the field” (Deut 20:19). Therefore, said the Lubavitcher rebbe, this day reveals a special aspect of Rosh Hashanah. “The Rosh Hashanah of the trees adds a level of fulfillment above [and beyond] that associated with Rosh Hashana, the day of man’s creation . . . Since Tu B’Shvat is the Rosh Hashanah of the trees, it generates new life-energy for [all] those dimensions of a Jew’s [divine] service which are compared to trees.” Rabbi Yisrael, the rabbi of Ger, writes; “Tu B’Shvat, which is the new year of the trees, is also a new year [for people] and a time for self-accounting and repentance. . . A person should take stock of his life when the trees are renewing themselves and preparing to produce fruits. That is when each one of us should consider how to renew himself in the service of God, for: ”One hour of repentance and good deeds is better than all the life of the world-to-come” (Avot 4:22).
From these quotes we can see that Tu B’Shvat is an auspicious time of year not just for trees, but for people as well. May we be able to channel the energy of the fruits that we bless and eat on Tu B’Shvat toward living our lives in accordance with the Divine Will. May we feel a connection to the holy Land of Israel by eating of fruits which are grown there, or by eating of the 7 species to which Israel is compared. In so doing, we bring down divine blessing that our activities should bare fruit just as we pray for the trees to bare fruit. May this Tu B’Shvat be a sweet, joyous, and fruitful new year for us all!