Tu B’Shvat: The Holiday of Trees
What lies behind the word shaked (almond), what is the difference between the almond tree and other deciduous fruit trees? What is the meaning of the verse that a man is “a tree of the field”? Rabbi Eitan Zinner enlightens us about Tu B'Shvat
A popular song in Israel goes "the almond tree blossoms, and the golden sun shines." Did it occur to any of us to wonder: Why does the refrain talk about how delighted children are with the almond tree?
We find the answer in the very name of the tree in Hebrew — shaked, the almond whose fruit is so familiar and loved. They are available throughout the year, and are sold roasted, natural, with and without the shell, sliced and ground, and is used for many different purposes.
To understand the meaning of the name shaked, we must understand its linguistic root in Hebrew. In the Bible, we find the root in Jeremiah (1:11-12), where it says: “And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am diligent (shaked) to carry out My word.”
The Metzudat Zion explains (on the word shaked): this means He is hurrying, as it says in Daniel 9 where the same word means “The Lord is hurrying.” When G-d says He is diligent to do something, this means He will hurry to do it.
In contrast to evergreen fruit trees, whose leaves are green all year long, the almond tree belongs to the group of deciduous fruit trees whose leaves fall in the autumn, and leave the tree’s trunk and branches naked and dormant during the winter. These trees start to wake up, grow and flourish as spring approaches — each one at its own time. The almond tree is the quickest of all of them. It is the first to start budding, and is quickly adorned with spectacular flowers. It was therefore called shaked, which signifies its swiftness and praise.
Our holy Torah likens a man to a tree, Deuteronomy 20:19 states: "When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; because you eat from them, you shall not cut them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?” Rabeinu Bechayai comments (ibid.) “You shall not cut them down because a man is a tree of the field.” The commentators explain that human life and food depend upon the tree of the field and a wise people should not destroy a good thing and cause it harm and lose its benefit.
The Daas Zekeinim Baalei Tosfos quotes the Tractate of Taanis (Chapter One) that this verse is referring to a Torah scholar. This means that Torah scholars who study Torah are compared to fruit trees from the field, because the entire world enjoys their fruits, and we live from their teachings. We have found throughout history that the Torah scholars were admired even by their greatest enemies, and they held high, respectable positions as ministers and governors under many kings, because of their wisdom and trustworthiness.
We even find (Taanis 5b) that when two sages met and one asked the other to bless him, his friend replied: "Do you know what I can compare myself to? To a person who was walking in the desert hungry and tired and thirsty, and suddenly found a tree whose fruit was sweet, gave shade, and a brook passed by it. He ate its fruits and drank from its waters, and sat in its shade. When he was ready to go, he said, ‘Tree! With what can I bless you? I would bless you with sweet fruit — but you already have sweet fruit. I would bless you to have lavish shade — but you already have lavish shade. I would bless you to have a brook of water passing by you — but you already have a brook of water. So I will bless you that all your offshoots shall be like you.’
“It is the same with you. With what can I bless you? I would bless you with Torah scholarship — but you already have Torah scholarship. I would bless you with wealth — but you already have wealth. I would bless you with children — but you already have children. So I will bless you that all your descendants will be blessed like you.”
May this blessing be fulfilled with each one of the Jewish people, and may we merit the complete redemption. Amen and Amen.