In the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (14a), we are told that once Tu B’Shevat has arrived, the majority of the rain for the year has fallen. Rashi explains that this is also when the sap–the life force that is going to produce fruits–begins rising and flowing in the tree.
Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of the accounting year for the separation of terumot and ma’aserot for fruit. It is the New Year for trees. Any tree that blossoms before Tu B’Shevat is considered to be from the prior year, and any tree that blossoms on or after Tu B’Shevat belongs to the new year.
Consequently, this impacts numerous agricultural halachot (laws), including when the obligation to give terumot and ma’aserot kicks in for a particular tree as well as what year one gives ma’aser ani from that tree instead of ma’aser shayni.
However, beneath this halachic exterior lies the kabbalistic soul of the day.
The Torah tells us, “Ki adam etz ha’sadeh–For man is a tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). Although Rashi and others interpret this portion of the verse as a question, the Maharal reads it as an affirmative declaration.
In Chidushei Aggadot (Sanhedrin 91b), the Maharal poetically notes that a person is like an upside down tree: Our roots are in Heaven, and the fruits we produce are down here in the aretz (earth). Our fruits are the beautiful actions we perform to uplift the world and those around us as well as the totality of everything else we spiritually accomplish in our lifetime.
Moreover, our ability to withstand the throes of galut (exile) and the temptations of the yetzer harah (Evil Inclination) is directly commensurate with how firmly planted our sechel (intellect) is in shamayim (Heaven). One’s capacity to weather the savage storms surrounding him in the physical world is a function of how strongly connected to Hashem and His Torah that individual is.
Even though our spiritual potential for the year and opportunities for spiritual achievement were determined by Hashem in Tishrei on Rosh Hashanah, the Chidushei HaRim reveals that these new strengths and the potential allocated to us are triggered and activated on Tu B’Shevat.
Therefore, Tu B’Shevat ushers in a time where we begin to draw upon that new potential, those new spiritual strengths. Everything that we accomplished in our service of Hashem up until the 15th of Shevat came from the prior year. However, once the 15th of Shevat arrives, a new spiritual cycle also arrives. Just as the new sap begins to rise and flow in fruit trees on Tu B’Shevat, so too does our spiritual sap begin to flow inside of us.
As we take part in the hallowed custom of eating dried fruits on Tu B’Shevat, it behooves us to remember why we are doing it: Tu B’Shevat marks the new year for man’s potential, and eating these fruits should remind and encourage us to live up to ours.
May we merit to have immensely strong roots and produce fruits that will nourish and sustain the world long after we have left it.