For Tu Bishvat: Quotations from Jewish Sources about Trees

Since Tu Bishvat is considered the “birthday for trees,” a time when trees are to be judged regarding their fate for the coming year, I hope the following Jewish quotations about trees and fruits will be helpful for celebrations of this increasingly popular holiday.

1. And God said: “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit — to you it shall be for food.” (Genesis 1:29)

2. In the hour when the Holy one, blessed be He, created the first person, He showed him the trees in the Garden of Eden, and said to him: “See My works, how fine they are; Now all that I have created, I created for your benefit. Think upon this and do not corrupt and destroy My world, For if you destroy it, there is no one to restore it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)

3. When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy (lo tashchit) the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat of them, but you must not cut the down; for is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you? Only the trees of which you know that they are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down, that you may build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it fall. (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20)

4. And they came to Elim, where were 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees; and they encamped here by the waters. (Deuteronomy 15:27) Rabeynu Bachya saw a much deeper message. He stated that the 12 springs represented the 12 tribes and the 70 palm trees represented the 70 then nations of the world. He stated that just as the 12 springs nourished the 70 palm trees, the 12 tribes (the Jewish people) should serve to “nourish” the world by serving as a good example.

5. Happy is the man … who delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Psalms 1: 1-3)

6. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:12)

7. Rabbi Shimon said, “The shade spread over us by these trees is so pleasant! We must crown this place with words of Torah.” (Zohar, 2:127a)

8. While the sage Choni was walking along a road, he saw a man planting a carob tree. Choni asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. Choni then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

9. Shimon bar Yochai taught that “if you are holding a sapling in your hand, and someone says that the Messiah has drawn near, first plant the sapling, and then go and greet the Messiah.” (Avot d’Rebbe Natan 31b)

10. For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people. (Isaiah 65:22)

11. He will be like a tree planted near water… (Jeremiah 17:8)

12. R’ Abba taught: There is no greater revealing of redemption than that which the verse states: “And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for my people Israel, for they shall soon come.” (Ezekiel 36:8; Talmud Sanhedrin 98a)

13. It is forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees outside a besieged city, nor may a water channel be deflected from them so that they wither. Whoever cuts down a fruit-bearing tree is flogged. This penalty is imposed not only for cutting it down during a siege; whenever a fruit-yielding tree is cut down with destructive intent, flogging is incurred. It may be cut down, however, if it causes damage to other trees or to a field belonging to another man or if its value for other purposes is greater. The Law forbids only wanton destruction… Not only one who cuts down trees, but also one who smashes household goods, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a spring, or destroys articles of food with destructive intent transgresses the command “you must not destroy.” Such a person is not flogged, but is administered a disciplinary beating imposed by the Rabbis. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8,10)

14. Rabbi Simon said, “There is no plant without an angel in Heaven tending it and telling it, ‘Grow!'” (Genesis Rabba 10:7).

15. And I will restore my people Israel and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine, they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit. (Amos 9:14)

16. Israel is like the date palm, of which none is wasted; its dates are for eating, its lulavim are for blessing; its fronds are for thatching; its fibers are for ropes; its webbing for sieves; its thick trunks for building – so it is with Israel, which contains no waste. (Genesis Rabbah 41)

17. And G-d said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit trees yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is on the earth,” and it was so. And the earth blossomed with grass, herbs and trees, and G-d saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:9-13)

18. Everyone will sit under their vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid; for the Lord of Hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:4)

19. And God said: “Let the earth put forth grass, herb-yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing fruit of its kind.” “Fruit tree” means the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which put forth blossoms and fruit. “Bearing fruit” is the tzaddik, the basis of the world. ‘Of its kind’ means all the human beings who have in them the spirit of holiness, which is the blossom of that tree. This is the covenant of holiness, the covenant of peace — and the faithful enter into that kind and do not depart from it. The Tzaddik generates, and the tree conceives and brings forth fruit of its kind. (Zohar – Bereishit 33a)

20. “My teacher [the holy Arizal] used to say that one must intend while eating the fruits [at the Tu B’Shvat Seder] to repair the sin of Adam who erred by eating fruit from the tree.” (Rabbi Chaim Vital)

21. In order to serve God, one needs access to the enjoyment of the beauties of nature – meadows full of flowers, majestic mountains, flowing rivers. For all these are essential to the spiritual development of even the holiest of people. (Rabbi Abraham ben Maimonides, cited by Rabbi David E. Stein in A Garden of Choice Fruits, Shomrei Adamah, 1991).

22. Once, when Rav Abraham Kook was walking in the fields, lost deep in thought, the young student with him inadvertently plucked a leaf off a branch. Rav Kook was visibly shaken by this act, and turning to his companion he said gently, “Believe me when I tell you I never simply pluck a leaf or a blade of grass or any living thing, unless I have to.” He explained further, “Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and breathing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the Creation.” For the first time the young student understood what it means to show compassion to all creatures. (Wisdom of the Mystics)

23. No part of the date palm is wasted:
The fruit is eaten,
the embryonic branches (lulav) are used for the Four Species of Sukkot,
the mature fronds can cover a sukka,
the fibers between the branches can make strong ropes,
the leaves can be woven into mats and baskets,
the trunks can be used for rafters.
Similarly, no one is worthless in Israel:
some are scholars,
some do good deeds,
and some work for social justice.
(Midrash Numbers Rabba 3.1)

22. Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and bringing forth a secret of the divine mystery of creation (Rav Kook)

23. The tree of life has five hundred thousand kinds of fruit, each differing in taste. The appearance of one fruit is not like the appearance of the other, and the fragrance of one fruit is not like the fragrance of the other. Clouds of glory hover above the tree, and from the four directions winds blow on it, so that its fragrance is wafted from world’s end to world’s end.” (Yalkut Bereishit 2)

24. The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that “On Tu B’Shevat most of the winter rain has already passed, and the roots of the trees begin to suckle from the new rains of the current winter, and no longer suckle from last year’s rains.”

25. How can a person of flesh and blood follow God? … God, from the very beginning of creation, was occupied before all else with planting, as it is written, “And first of all [mi-kedem, usually translated as “in the East”], the Eternal God planted a Garden in Eden [Genesis 2:8] Therefore … occupy yourselves first and foremost with planting (Leviticus Rabbah 25:3).

26. [The Torah compares humans to trees] because, like humans, trees have the power to grow. And as humans have children, so trees bear fruit. And when a human is hurt, cries of pain are heard throughout the world, so when a tree is chopped down, its cries are heard throughout the world. (Rashi)

27. When a tree that bears fruit is cut down, its moan goes from one end of the world to the other, yet no sound is heard (Pirket de-R. Eliezar 34)

28. Whoever has more wisdom than deeds is like a tree with many branches but few roots, and the wind shall tear him from the ground… Whoever has more deeds than wisdom is like a tree with more roots than branches, and no hurricane will uproot him from the spot. (Pirke Avot 3:17)

29. I shall bring you an example of what this resembles. It is like a man, who wanders in the desert, weak with hunger, exhaustion and thirst, and finds a tree with sweet fruits and shady leaves, beneath which is a source of water. He eats the fruit, drinks the water and rests in the shade. When it comes time to leave, he thinks: “O, tree, how shall I thank you? If I say, “May your fruit be sweet” – they are already sweet; shall I say, “May your shade be beautiful?” – it is so; or, “May your roots find moisture?” – they already have it. So I shall say, “May everything which comes from you resemble you.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit, p.5)

30. It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. (Gittin 57a)

31. Rabbi Yaakov Said: “When A Person Walks On A Journey Reviewing [A Passage Of The Torah], And Interrupts His Study To Remark: ‘How Beautiful Is This Tree! How Beautiful Is This Plowed Field!’ [The Torah] Considers It As If He Were Guilty Of A Mortal Sin.” (Pirke Avot 3:9)

32. A tree of life to those who hold fast to it,
and all who cling to it find happiness. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17-18)

33. And I will turn the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens and eat the fruit of them. (Amos 9:14)

34. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. (Ezekiel 34:27-28)

35. And He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning mighty nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken.
For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. (Micah 4:3-5)

36. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane-tree, and the larch together; That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.

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