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Tu B’Shvat: Learning Refinement from the Trees

The 15th of Shvat, called Tu (15) B’Shvat, is the new year of the trees. What can we learn from trees and their fruit?

In the Torah, we meet the trees at the beginning of creation. God planted a garden, in which there was “every tree pleasant to the sight and good to eat.”[1] After Adam sinned and was expelled from the Garden of Eden, he had to toil for his bread: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread.”[2] In the Garden of Eden, conversely, all that he had to do was to stretch out his hand and choose a fruit from a tree (except for the Tree of Knowledge). We eat bread for sustenance, but we eat fruit to take pleasure in nature’s sweets.

The sweet fruits that we relish are a memory of the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is synonymous with pleasure. What is true pleasure? The word Eden (עדן), can mean “pleasure” and it also means “delicate” or “refined.” We strive to be refined, not coarse.

What is the definition of refinement? That is a delicate question…Refinement is not just another positive attribute of the soul, but a much more general trait. Positive traits can also appear in a coarse, relatively external form, or in their refined, inner form. For example, a person can be very careful not to insult others, but if he is not delicate and refined, he will not have the sensitivity to others necessary to avoid hurting them unintentionally.

Manners and Melodies

Eating is an excellent example of the refinement continuum. A person can be careful to eat only the most kosher foods with the strictest kosher certifications, but can still resemble an animal in his coarse eating habits. Ultimately, a person who eats with gluttony does not apprehend the delicate pleasure in eating. We certainly don’t have to fast, but we should accustom ourselves to refined eating. Gan (the Garden of) Eden also alludes to ginunim (manners), such as the eating customs mentioned by our sages and learned from the tzaddikim. In addition, we can also say that Gan alludes to refined, delicate nigunim (melodies) and not abrasive, coarse music. We should connect to refined music that elevates the soul.

In the Torah, there is Eden and the Garden of Eden. Eden itself is the source of pleasure, while the Garden of Eden is the place where we receive the feeling of pleasure. Eden is a Divine sense, with no consciousness of any reality other than God. The Garden of Eden is the place to sense Divinity within the created world. The more refined we are, the more that we will have the privilege to live in the Garden of Eden here on earth, and to sense the pleasure in our own garden.

Image by Jiří Rotrekl from Pixabay

[1] Genesis 2:9.

[2] Genesis 3:19.

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