Tu B’shvat 5778 - The Old-Fashioned Stick

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 01/30/18

Sh’vat is a Tribe and Stick

Let me start off with an obvious question about the month of Sh’vat. You might have been thinking about this already from Rosh Chodesh.  Why is it called Sh’vat?  All the months, the Ramban tells us, are Babylonian in form, like we talked about in “HaChodesh hazeh lachem”, Parshas Bo.  But, what does this month’s name mean? Shevet means two things.  It means like shevet, tribe, as in Reuven, Shimon and Levi, etc. It also means a stick.  Shevet is a stick “shivticha u’mishantecha”.  So, what does that have to do with anything?  What’s the lesson behind the month.  So, let me share a couple of thoughts as we go through this.

Each Chodesh Has Its Unique Techunos

We know the famous Mishna in Rosh Hashana tells us that, according to Beis Shamai, Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat is the Rosh Hashana for ilanos, but we paskin like Bein Hillel who says that it’s Tu B’shvat.  This is the month where the sap goes up the tree and begins to grow. The Ohr Gedalyahu (Rav Gedalya Shor) in his maamar for Chodesh Sh’vat explains how Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat is an amazing day. Every Rosh Chodesh is a time for hisbonenus and teshuva.

The Tur in Hilchos Rosh Chodesh says that the gimel regalim are k’neged Pesach, Shavuos and Succos, which correspond to the 3 Avos. The yud-beis chadashim, the twelve months ,correspond to the twelve gates that open up through the twelve Sh’vatim.  So, we’re hearing a little bit of a correlation of Sh’vat (tribes) already now. When the Jews sinned, those she’arim, those twelve gates were diminished, but the three of the regalim were still so strong the sin could not close them. The she’arim of Rosh Chodesh are the only remnants that remain slightly open. Therefore, rosh chodesh is not a yom tov for doros until l’asid lavo when, “v’haya midei chodesh b’chodsho” (Yechezkel 48:31).  It will become a full yom tov, says the Tur. Just like the twelve Sh’vatim, each one has his techunah for himself, everyone has his own derech miyuchad in life. Each month begins with a day of teshuva and personal thought to make sure we too are living according to our abilities.  

Olam Hazeh L’sheim Shamayim

Chazal tell us that Hashem created the world, “histakeil b’Orisa u’barei alma”, through looking at the Torah. The Torah is the foundation of Hashem’s wisdom that we can learn, and plumb the depths of. Ohr Gedalyahu quotes Sefer HaYitzirah which states says that “himlich os tzadi” the letter of tzadi was made king for Shevat, “b’l’ita”.  What does that word mean?  It means with gulping, with swallowing.  What does that mean?  

We know that the pasuk says by Eisav, “Haliteini nah meiha’adom, ha’adom hazeh.” Give me some of that red stuff.  Yaakov came back from the funeral of Avraham and he said: give me some of that lentil soup. So, “l’ita” means to swallow something very ferociously and inappropriately.  So, says Rav Gedalia Shor:  What’s the p’shat?  The p’shat is that the tzaddik is ochel l’sovah nafsho.  The tzaddik eats to perfect himself and to get closer to Hashem.  And, so on the one hand the tzadi represents the tzaddik who tries to eat l’sheim Shamayim.  In this month, which is Rosh Chodesh for the peiros, fruits, but on the other hand, there’s the l’eita, the physical act which could draw a person down, but yet, when you add the tzadi part, and you act like a tzaddik, then you perfect it.  What we’re trying to do is to use Olam Hazeh, we’re producing things, we’re producing Olam Hazeh, delicious fruit, plants, trees, but we’re using it as a tzaddik, and that’s the point here.  That we’re taking the letter tzadi and we’re being mosheil b’yitzro.

Five Final Letters Are Five Geulos

There’s a phenomenal idea from Arizal which is very complex. Arizal explains the pasuk in Yeshaya 24 “mikanaf ha’aretz zmiros shamanu tzvi l’tzaddik.”  From the corners of the land I heard song, about the hope of the tzaddik.  What does that mean?  He says that the letters of menatzvach, mem, nun, tzaddi, peih, chuf sofis, those five letters are the only five that are found in the Hebrew alphabet twice, one as a regular letter and once as a sofis, at the end of the word. There are two mems, a final mem and regular mem. There are two nuns, tzadi and peih and chuf. Pirkei D’Rebbi Elazar (58) says that those five letters represent five galuyosis that Hashem redeemed four of us from (see there) and the fifth one, the letter tzadi, is for l’asid lavo, Mashiach.

Ultimate Redemption

Arizal says, “mikanaf ha’aretz”, the letters mem, cuf, nun, feih, those already happened, so that we already heard the geulah of Hashem, but the ultimate geulah, tzvi latzaddik, is the letter tzaddi, for the tzaddik, the cheshek, desire, that the tzaddik has and that he is mekadeish, sanctifies Olam Hazeh. We’re being mekadeish Olam Hazeh.  

Sefer Devarim was written on Rosh CHodesh Shvat.  That’s when Moshe started teaching it, from Rosh Chodesh Shvat until one month and a few days later, on zayin Adar, when he died.  What was Moshe doing.  “Hoil Moshe bi’er es HaTorah hazos”, he began to explain it because what’s the Torah?  The Torah is “kol ma’asecha yihiyu l’sheim shamayim”. Take Olam Hazeh and be mekadeish it, give recognition to Hashem’s presence. Take Olam Hazeh, and bring it to a higher level, and through being mikadeish it it becomes the ultimate revelation of Hashem.

When Hashem gives us challenges in life, he gives us certain techunas hanefesh for the shevet, the tribe that we’re in, and we try to bring it out and we try to look at our own individuality, then we’re becoming a tzaddik.  That’s why Sh’vat means shevet. It’s about what tribe are you part of. Also, in order to serve Hashem, Torah is only nikneis b’chabura.  We need to be part of a Jewish nation, and be part of it and celebrate it.

No Blade of Grass

What’s the Sh’vat, the shevet, the stick?  Chazal tells us (Bereishis Rabbah) that there’s no blade of grass that exists that doesn’t have a malach on top of it that hits it and tells it to grow.  So, the Ramchal explains in Derech Hashem and in a few other places that what this means is that Hashem looks at the world and knows everything that’s going on, but, al pi derech hateva, He has a system where malachim are in charge of certain things. There’s Divine Providence for everything that goes on.

Growth Through Painful Experiencess

So, says Rav Wolbe, great, you’re making it grow and there’s Divine Providence, but what’s the hit?  Why are you hitting it?  He explains that we grow throughbeing  hit.  “af chachmasi amda li”.  Like the Rambam says in Avos and in Yad Hachazaka “af chachmasi amda li”, the Torah shelamaditi b’af, he amda li.  A Midrash in Koheles Rabbah explains: he Torah that I learned in anger, through anger of my rabbeiim, through anger of stress of life, through the frustrations of life, that’s what stood for me. That is what I acquired and it became a part of the essense.

That’s what the month of Shvat is.  “Shivticha u’mishantecha”, Hashem You’re hitting me.  You’re giving me nisyonos, it’s a cold winter.  Many things hurt.  They’re so painful, but I’m going to be a tzaddik.  I’m going to use Olam Hazeh, like the Ramchal (Daas Tevunos 40) says that the purpose of this world is to turn towards Hashem despite all the darkness that’s going on.  No matter how dark it is we always know that Hashem is running the world.  No matter how bad the hit is, nevertheless we know that Hashem is the one whose bringing the yeshua, and taking care of us.  And, that’s the p’shat.  When we come into sh’vat, and we have Tu B’shvat and the growth and the development of our Torah which is mesugal in this month, like Rav Gedalia Shor explains.  We’re taking all the beauty and the amazing lessons of shivticha u’mishantecha heima yinachamuni.

Hashem You’re hitting me.  I see that, but I know that you’re comforting me because I know that you’re there and you’re giving me exactly what I need.  And, it’s painful and it hurts and we could say that and it’s okay, but I know Hashem that You’re running the world, and You’re in charge, and whatever You do is for the best, and is exactly what I need to perfect myself.  And, I’m just going to serve you, and do exactly what I need to be doing.  And, that’s the p’shat of Sh’vat.

Individuality and Growth

We should be zocheh that this Sh’vat we should see the beauty of being part of a Sh’vat, a tribe that we should be with a chaburah of other people.  We should see the beauty of Sh’vat, the tribe that we have our own individual goals and success that we could bring out of ourselves, and most importantly, we should see the beauty of the shevet, that stick that Hashem hits us with in life that creates an impotence for us to grow and to steig, and to become the greatest people that we could be.


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rav and psychotherapist. Learn more and subscribe at ParshaThemes.com