The holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, celebrates the reawakening of the plant kingdom each spring. On a deeper level, this corresponds to the human potential for periodic growth and self-renewal, for continual advancement in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. From everything a person observes, he can harvest information that adds to his wisdom. This includes such commonplace occurrences as the blossoming of a tree.
Trees, like most species in the plant kingdom, consist of three distinct parts: the roots, the body (trunk, branches and leaves), and the fruit (a peel or shell, the fruit itself and its seeds). Some observations can be made from the differences between these parts.
The roots, although completely hidden from view, draw in the tree's primary life-force. It is only through its root system that a tree achieves physical stability; if its roots are strong, the tree will not be uprooted, despite all the winds blowing against it.
The body of the tree comprises the trunk, which provides its main source of balance. Over time, the trunk, branches and leaves thicken, also adding to the body. The tree's age can thus be determined from the rings in the trunk.
However, the ultimate perfection of a tree, and its route to immortality, comes through the production of fruit. Within each seed lies the potential to germinate a new tree, generation after generation.
A verse in Scripture reads: "Behold, man is like a tree of the field." Indeed, many aspects of a person's spiritual life can be viewed in terms of qualities apparent in a tree.
The roots represent faith, through which a person is connected to his source of life, the Creator. As he gains in knowledge of the Torah and enactment of its precepts, his life-force is drawn from a basic faith in G-d.
The tree's trunk and body correspond to Torah study, fulfillment of mitzvos and good deeds - activities which should comprise most of a person's dealings. Through the abundance of mitzvos that he performs, and his attainments in Torah study, the age of a man can be discerned, denoting a life filled with wisdom and achievement.
The fruits of a human being are his achievements and the degree of perfection that he reaches through them. Besides fulfilling all the obligations that are incumbent upon him, a person is able to influence his friends and environment, that they too should strive for perfection. In essence, his role is to act as a seed which triggers the blossoming of other trees, so that they also acquire roots (faith), trunk and branches (Torah study and good deeds), and in turn bear fruit (helping others to live better).
In conclusion, a person's roots, and his main source of sustenance, is simple belief. Weakness in faith jeopardizes one's spiritual existence, despite his physical stature or material position in life. This is because the major function of every individual - the actual backbone of his structure - is found in the good deeds that hopefully increase daily.
Yet, a person only attains true completion when he "bears fruit", when he is able to impact positively on others and inspire them to actions that in turn help them fulfill the ultimate purpose of their creation. In this manner, one's efforts produce a legacy that survives and grows from generation to generation.
Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe, Vol. 1, p. 249
- (Back to text) Devarim 20:19; see Ta'anis 7a.