Tubishvat-Trees & Humans Part One
Transcribed by Michael Beller: Tubishvat, the 15th day of Shevat, is the Rosh Hashana for trees. You have to wonder why there is a Rosh Hashana for trees? There are very basic halachic reasons to why we have a Rosh Hashana for trees, primarily because in the first 3 years after planting a tree you cannot eat its fruits. This is called Orlah. In the fourth year of the tree’s life you have to take the fruit to Jerusalem and eat it there. You don’t count the tree’s age by when it was planted but instead by how many Tubishvats have passed. So if you planted a tree two weeks before Tubishvat it is already considered to be a year old on Tubishvat. People deal with Tubishvat with a great deal of seriousness.
In the eyes of our sages there is a very deep relationship between human beings and trees, and it all begins with a verse from Devarim. The verse lists the laws for laying siege on a city that you have to conquer in order to conquer the land of Israel, you are not allowed to destoy any of the fruit bearing trees in the city, you should eat the fruit but not cut down the trees. The verse says literally “ a man is a tree of the field” but the Gemara phrases this verse as a question, “is a man a tree?”
What do we learn from this? “If a man wants to learn from a Talmud Chacham, then you eat from him” in other words you learn his Torah, “and from him you should not chop him down. But if he is not a proper Talmud Chacham” meaning his action don’t match what he teaches, “then you can destroy him” the same way you can cut down a non fruit bearing tree.
Here we see that Gemara starts to take seriously the idea that trees represent people. We take this far more drastically on Sukkot, because, one of the most famous midrashim of Sukkot is how we compare the four different species of trees to a different type of human being. For example an esrog has good taste and it also has a fragrance, so too there are people that have learning and have constructive actions. The date palm has taste but doesn’t have any fragrance, this refers to people that have Torah, taste, but don’t have constructive actions. The myrtle as a good fragrance but doesn’t have any taste, so that is referring to a person who have constructive actions but they don’t have any learning. The willow doesn’t have smell or taste, so that is a person who doesn’t have learning nor do they have constructive actions. So here we find that we can look at trees and compare them to different types of human beings.
We also find in the psalm for the Sabbath day, it ends by saying “a Tzaddik will flourish like a date palm” the midrash says “ we all know that date palms have strong sexual drives. So too Jewish people have a strong drive, they are in love with God.”
How do we know that a date palm has a strong sexual drive? The story goes as so; there was a date palm in Jerusalem that would not produce any fruit, she was barren, there was nothing they could do to make her bear fruit. Finally they called in the world’s greatest tree doctor and he took one look at the date palm, and said it’s obvious what is going on here, this date palm is in love. So they asked him if he knew which tree she was in love with? He said of course, but the other tree she is in love with is in Jericho. So they had to get pollen from the tree in Jericho they then sprinkled it on the barren tree, and lo and behold she bore fruit.
The Gemara even goes on to say that like people communicate with each other so to do trees communicate with each other.
The Gemara on Sukkot is listing off the qualities or Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai, the one who really saved all Judaism during the time of the destruction of the second temple. When listing his praises the Gemara tells us that out of all the 80 students of Hillel, he was the least significant, and then it gives you a description of him listing off his qualities, one of which is that he was an expert in conversing with trees.
This Gemara may seem a bit farfetched but there is a passuk that backs it up. In the beginning of Berashit, in the second version of the world’s creation, it says that everything was already created but nothing had yet sprouted out of the ground. The verse says, “and all the grass of the field all trees its as if they can converse with each other, and trees can actually communicate with people therefore you understand that all the trees were therefore created for the benefit of humanity”.
The Torah tells you must circumcise your son at eight days old, but it doesn’t tell you where, so how do you know where to do it? You learn it from a tree, you have “orla”, the first 3 years of a tree’s life, and you have “orla” referring to circumcision.
The Gemara on Shabbat says as follows, “Just like with the tree, where “orla” refers to the fruit of the tree, just so with a human being when it says “orla” it has to be in the place of reproduction (the fruit)”.
Not only are trees related to human beings in the verses we have quoted so far and in the words of our sages, but in fact these are essential in the way we relate to the world and the place where we have the deepest relationship with the world is supposed to be in the land of Israel, and Tubishvat is a celebration of the seven species’ of Israel.
The passuk says as follows, “the land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, the land of olives and dates” it says the “land of,” not, “the land that produces,” so the land is defined by this.