New Year For Trees, New Life For Jewish Life
Sichos in English

Shabbos Parshas B’Shalach; Chamisha-Asar B’Shvat, 5750


1. Chamisha Asar B’Shvat is Rosh HaShana of the Trees. The connection between this holiday and our service is evident from the phrase "for a man is like the trees of the field." Our Sages explain that a fruit tree is a metaphor for Torah sages, and by extension, the Jewish people, since "all your sons are students of the L-rd." From a certain dimension — the aspect of man that is comparable to a fruit-bearing tree — the Rosh HaShana of the Trees adds a level of fulfillment above that associated with Rosh HaShana, the day of man’s creation.

It is written, "He (G-d) placed the world within your hearts," i.e., everything that exists in the world also exists within a Jew’s heart. Indeed, it would be more appropriate to reverse the order of the statement and say that because something exists within a Jew’s heart, a parallel is brought into being within the world at large.

Thus, we can use a metaphor of land to refer to the Jewish people, as the verse states, "You shall be a desired land." All the characteristics of land, including the potential to produce fruit, are reflected in the Jewish people. In particular, they share a special connection to the chosen land, Eretz Yisroel, and the seven species of fruit for which Eretz Yisroel is praised in the Torah.

Each of the seven species is employed as a metaphor for the Jewish people. The Jews are called "the first of His grain" (referring to wheat and barley). Psalms describes the Jews as "a vine brought forth from Egypt" (grapes). Similarly, we find the metaphors of figs: "the first fruit of the fig tree in its season;" pomegranates: "your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates;" olives: "The L-rd called your name, ‘a green olive tree, fair, with goodly fruit;’" and a date palm: "Your stature is like a palm tree," and "the righteous will flourish like a palm tree."

Since Chamisha Asar B’Shvat is the Rosh HaShana of the Trees, it generates new life energy for the service of the Jewish people, who are likened to trees.

In comparing grain and fruit, we find two fundamental differences:

a) Grain is the staple of our diet and is necessary for the maintenance of our health. Fruit, in contrast, is not required for these reasons and is eaten primarily for the pleasure it brings.

b) The growth potential exhibited by trees far exceeds that of grain. Although there is an abundant increase in quantity, the harvested grain is of the same nature as the kernels that were originally planted. The seed of a fruit tree, however, is of an entirely different nature than the fruit that is later harvested.

Similarly, regarding our service of G-d, the metaphor of fruit trees alludes to a service that is not limited to the basic necessities but one that generates pleasure. It reveals the potential for growth. Not only a quantitative increase, but a leap to a higher level, a new framework of reference. Chamisha Asar B’Shvat, Rosh HaShana of the Trees, generates new energy to carry out this service, and also to carry out the service described by the metaphor of grain.

There is an added dimension to the above services this year, when Chamisha Asar B’Shvat falls on Shabbos. Shabbos is also connected with the service of pleasure, sharing an intrinsic bond with the service alluded to by fruit.

The weekly Torah portion, Parshas B’Shalach, also contributes to this theme. B’Shalach describes the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. Our Sages associated two of the verses quoted above (which use the fruits of Eretz Yisroel as metaphors for the Jewish people, namely, "a vine brought forth from Egypt" and "your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates") with the exodus.

The concept of planting and harvesting is connected with the concepts of exile and redemption, as the Alter Rebbe relates in Torah Ohr: "We find the expression ‘sowing’ used in regard to the Jewish people in the Egyptian exile, as it is written, ‘I will sow it for Me in the land.’ Our Sages declared, ‘A person sows a kur to reap a harvest of several kurrim...’ It is written, ‘Israel is sanctified unto the L-rd, the first of His grain.’ The emphasis here is on ‘His grain,’ the fact that the Jewish people are G-d’s produce… Just as a person sows grain for the additional amount that will grow, so too, since G-d wanted the revelation of G-dliness in the world to be increased…He sowed Israel, His produce, so that His glory would be revealed in an increased manner. Thus, there will be a great revelation of G-dliness on this lowly plane, just as in the higher spiritual worlds…as will be revealed in the Messianic age. The Jewish people are the ones who cause this great revelation…"

The Alter Rebbe continues, employing both the metaphors of grain and a vine to describe the activities of the Jewish people. Similarly, the Midrash uses the metaphors of sowing grain and planting trees and vines to describe G-d’s sending the Jewish people into exile in Egypt.

The metaphor of implanting or "sowing" the Jewish people into exile is relevant on a personal level, relating to how the soul descends into the world to elevate the body, the animal soul, and its portion in the world at large, making a dwelling for G-d in the lower worlds. Through our fulfillment of mitzvos (also described by the metaphor of sowing), we draw down the revelation of G-dliness into the world.

2. As mentioned, this revelation of G-dliness is brought about by the Jewish people’s Divine service. Accordingly, each of the seven species for which Eretz Yisroel is praised, i.e., the produce which the Torah regards as praiseworthy, serves as a metaphor for different aspects of the service of the Jewish people. The first two species, wheat and barley, are species of grain. Our Sages explain that wheat is food for human beings, whereas barley is primarily used for animal fodder. Thus, these two species refer to the service of the
G-dly soul and the service of the animal soul, respectively.

The Hebrew word for man, "adam," is related to the word "adama" (I resemble), as in, "I resemble the One above." This is a fitting description of the G-dly soul. Barley, "food for the animal (soul)," is intended to elevate and refine the animal soul. Although this service represents a descent, ultimately, it elevates even the G-dly soul itself by lifting it to a higher rung of Divine service.

To explain: The animals were created before man. In our own lives, we are required to feed our animals before we eat. This pattern is reflected in our spiritual makeup. The G-dly soul is "the second soul in Israel." Before the G-dly soul is fully manifested in the body, the animal soul has already established its hold.

Furthermore, for most Jewish people, the primary service is the refinement of the animal soul. The Alter Rebbe writes, "the attribute of the beinoni is the attribute of all men." A beinoni’s service involves refining the animal soul, which "originates in the forces of evil, invests itself in his flesh and blood, and has not been transformed into good."

The reason that the G-dly soul is forced to descend and invest itself in the animal soul, which is material in nature, is associated with that metaphor of sowing seeds. The animal soul is compared to the earth. Nevertheless, since its source is above that of the G-dly soul, it has the potential to produce growth. Its refinement can bring one to greater heights than the service of the G-dly soul alone.

This explanation, however, raises a question: If the essential service is the refinement of the animal soul, why is wheat mentioned before barley in the verse praising Eretz Yisroel? It would seem that barley should be granted precedence.

To explain: It is impossible to begin working on the animal soul alone. To refine the animal soul, it is first necessary to reveal the light of the G-dly soul. When sowing seeds, the growth potential is latent in the earth; but unless a seed is sown, that potential will never be expressed. Similarly, because the animal soul is material in nature, the G-dly soul must invest itself within it to bring out the power of its source.

This concept is reflected in our daily service. According to the Jewish calendar, a day begins at night. The recitation of the Shma is the first mitzva to be fulfilled each day. In the Shma we proclaim, "And you shall love the L-rd, your G-d," the service of the G-dly soul. Only thereafter does the verse continue, "with all your heart," interpreted by our Sages to mean "with both your hearts," i.e., with the animal soul, as well. Only after the G-dly soul expresses it’s love for G-d is it possible to refine the animal soul and transform it so that it too expresses love for G-d.

Similarly, each morning, when a person arises as "a new creation," he begins his day with the declaration "Modeh Ani," the acknowledgement of the G-dly soul. And only afterwards he begins the service of working to refine the animal soul.

This pattern is alluded to in the verse, "Draw me out, we will run after You." "Draw me out" is singular, referring to the service of arousing the G-dly soul. "We will run after you" is plural, referring to the combined activity of the G-dly soul and the animal soul. First, the G-dly soul is aroused. Then, it invests itself in the animal soul and motivates it to the love of G-d. This, in turn, brings out a greater love in the G-dly soul, to the extent that it is motivated to "run."

Now we can understand why wheat precedes barley in the verse cited above. The first efforts in harvesting the produce of the Jewish people must be directed to wheat, arousing love for G-d within the
G-dly soul. Only then is it possible to proceed to barley, the refinement of the animal soul. It is through "the barley harvest," however, that even the G-dly soul can be lifted to a higher rung.

3. As mentioned above, not only the grains but also the five fruits for which Eretz Yisroel are praised are metaphors for the service of the Jewish people. Furthermore, this service is also connected with the refinement of the animal soul:

a) Grapes: Wine is described as "bringing joy to man and G-d." The name for G-d used here, "Elokim," refers to the aspect of G-dliness that limits and conceals revelation in order to allow the creation of a limited world. Thus, wine "brings joy to...Elokim," ensuring that the forces of concealment will not prevent the revelation of G-d’s inner qualities on this plane. Implied in this service is the refinement of the animal soul to the extent that it will no longer conceal G-dliness.

b) Figs: According to certain opinions, the Tree of Knowledge was a fig tree. All opinions agree that after the sin, Adam and Chava were able to correct a portion of the shame caused by their sin by wearing clothes made from fig leaves. Thus, eating figs is associated with the refinement of the spiritual descent caused by this sin.

c) Pomegranates: Pomegranates refer to the fulfillment of mitzvos, as our Sages commented, "Even the empty ones among you are as full of mitzvos as a pomegranate is of seeds." Doing mitzvos involves material objects, emphasizing the elevation of this lower plane of existence.

There are two dimensions as to how pomegranate seeds compare to the service of refining the material world through performing mitzvos. Whereas grape seeds can be seen through their skin, pomegranate seeds are hidden. This reflects how the mitzvos are invested and hidden in the material aspects of our existence. Also, each pomegranate seed is associated with a separate portion of the fruit. This relates to the concept that every Jew, even "the empty ones," are "filled with mitzvos," i.e., they are beings of substance.

d) Olives: "An olive releases its oil only when it is pressed." This alludes to the service of self nullification, which is on a higher level than subduing the animal soul in the process of refinement.

e) Dates: Our Sages state that a date palm produces fruit after seventy years. Seventy refers to the completion of the task of refining our seven emotional attributes, the essential aspect of our service at present. The period of seventy years also implies that much effort and energy is invested in this service. Nevertheless, just as the effort required surpasses that required for other fruit, so too, the sweetness of the fruit is much greater.

The Baal Shem Tov interpreted the verse, "You shall be a desired land," explaining that the Jewish people are like choice land in which are buried treasures of jewels and pearls. In addition to the produce the land provides (grain, necessary to maintain one’s existence, and fruit, which brings pleasure) the land provides treasures, giving a person much greater pleasure than fruit. This refers to the revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah, which, in his well-known parable, the Alter Rebbe described as the most precious jewel in the king’s crown. The Alter Rebbe explained that the jewel must be pulverized and mixed with water to form an elixir to be poured upon the mouth of the king’s bedridden son in the hope that one drop will enter his mouth and save his life. From this explanation, we see two dimensions to the revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah. One dimension is the need to save the life of the King’s son, i.e., to preserve the Jewish people in the darkness of exile. And on a deeper level, the revelation of the quality of pleasure in Torah is a preparation for the revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah in the Messianic age.

Shabbos completes and fulfills the days of the previous week. This year, Chamisha Asar B’Shvat falls on the Shabbos that contributes fulfillment to the fortieth anniversary of Yud Shvat. As explained in the previous farbrengens, the service of the seven Nesiim (who parallel the seven fruits for which Eretz Yisroel was blessed) in spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward, has already been completed in abundance, in a manner of pleasure.

Thus, from the above, we can derive several directives to be applied in our behavior. The Rosh HaShana of the Trees should inspire each person to increase those aspects of his service related to pleasure and growth, the two concepts we learn from trees, as explained above.

Also, included in the concept of growth are the activities a person undertakes to influence others, beginning with the members of his family and those living around him. Thus, he becomes like "a fruit tree, yielding fruit after its kind whose seed is within it."

[Indeed, the latter concept sheds light on the following problem: The Mishna describes Chamisha Asar B’Shvat as "Rosh HaShana for a tree," yet, in most texts, we find the holiday described as "Rosh HaShana of the trees," using the plural form. This distinction, however, alludes to the fact that each tree serves as the source for others.]

May these efforts lead to the period of ultimate growth, the Messianic age, when all our service carried out in exile will blossom. The connection of the concept of growth to the Messianic era is emphasized by the fact that Tzemach, one of Moshiach’s names, means "growth." Similarly, in the Messianic prophecy, "a scepter shall arise in Israel," the word for "scepter," shevet, also means "branch." Similarly, the prophet declares, "A shoot shall come forth from the stem of Yishai, and a branch shall grow forth out of his roots."

The above relates to this week’s Torah portion, Parshas B’Shalach, which describes the final stages of the exodus from Egypt. It is also related to the Messianic redemption, as it is written, "As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders." Our Sages alluded to this connection, associating the song sang by Moshe at the Sea of Reeds with the ultimate song of redemption to be sung at the coming of Moshiach. May we experience the final redemption, and all journey to Eretz Yisroel, where we will "eat of its fruit and be satiated with its goodness." May it be in the immediate future.


G-d sowed the Jewish people, his produce, so that his glory would be revealed in an increased manner.





It is impossible to begin working on the animal soul alone. To refine the animal soul, it is first necessary to reveal the light of the G-dly soul.





May these efforts lead to the period of ultimate growth, the messianic age, when all our service carried out in exile will blossom.


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