Last night someone shared a post on Facebook announcing a Tu Bishvat bonfire. “Come celebrate the trees while burning them and eating their children,” he wrote.
What’s the deal with this peculiar tree holiday? Why do trees deserve a “New Years” celebration? Why aren’t other inanimate objects given a holiday of their own? Tu Bishvat is traditionally celebrated by humans. Have a bunch of oak ever been seen dancing the Horah?!
The celebration of the rebirth of trees is a metaphor that requires further analysis and practical extrapolations. I believe that the resemblances found between trees and humans are to be observed on this holiday. In Devarim 20:19 it says, “Ki Haadam Etz Hasadeh” – “Man is [like] the tree of the field.” In what ways are they similar? What is to be learned from these comparisons?
1. Externally, both man and tree have a similar structural appearance. The human spine and skeletal form is compared to the tree’s trunk and branches. Their structures are alike not only physically, but they play a similar role as well. A tree’s trunk and branches provide stability and shape for the tree. Similarly the spine, along with the whole human skeletal system, provides structure and stability and enables the body to be mobile. Physical and emotional stability, which often are disregarded as marginal factors, are in fact the foundations of the well being of the human body and soul.
2. The human life cycle corresponds to the life cycle of a tree. A newly planted tree has a flimsy trunk and can barely stand on its own. As the tree develops its trunk thickens, it stabilizes, and eventually produces fruit. Human development occurs similarly. A human is born tender and small; he is naïve, easily influenced, and vulnerable. A baby lacks foundation and is in constant search for firm ground. Eventually a child matures and becomes physically and emotionally stronger. Strength is acquired by search for stability and is achieved through the successful findings. I believe that part of the reason why eating orla, fruits of a tree which grew in the first three years, is forbidden is because, metaphorically speaking, the tree was not mature and stable enough in its early years and therefore its bearings are underdeveloped and should not be consumed. Eventually a tree grows to healthy adult size at which point it reaches its full potential. Now it is ready to pass on its unique genetic code. The point at which a human is ready to reproduce is the pique of his life cycle; at this point he will have the chance to pass on his characteristics by starting a new life cycle that will create new generations following in the ways of their ancestors.
3. Only trees and humans are connected to their roots. Does a bird ever return to the nest in which it was born? Is there anything that any being, other than humans and trees, carries that represents a connection to its past or roots? The roots of humans and trees are integral to their existence. Trees are connected to the ground by their roots which are the tree’s life source; they sustain the tree by providing its nutrition. Likewise, human roots are integral in a person’s life and development. These roots carry a person’s heritage. Just as a tree is dependent on its roots for sustenance its entire life, so too a human needs a lifetime supply of emotional support and connection to his family. This is expressed in the unique human familial bond that extends to grandparents, uncles, cousins, and beyond. The values and traditions that are passed on in families for generations is, too, an expression of a human’s strong connection to his roots. Just as our ancestors founded our belief system, we can establish the values and characteristics we want to pass on to our descendants.
4. Trees respond differently to the four seasons of the year. The reactions are witnessed in the leaves; the color and abundance differs according to the season. Comparatively, humans react to different situations in their lives. It is those situations that test a person’s personality and strength of character. The way in which a person reacts and how he adapts in new situations is where he is truly judged. A weak tree that is not connected to its roots will get destroyed in the months of winter. Likewise, a person with a weak character, who does not have a firm connection to his family and abandons the moral beliefs and traditions he was raised on, will fall apart during trying times.
The celebration of Tu Bishvat is a holiday for humans as well as trees. I suggest that Tu Bishvat is a time to reflect on one’s inner tree; it is a time for self awareness. On this holiday one should evaluate whether his connection to his roots is strengthening or weakening his growth. It is the time for one to build strong foundations that will reflect on his offspring in generations to come. May we all be blessed this Tu Bishvat with strength of character, clarity, and self awareness.