In honor of Rosh Chodesh Shevat-
As I was walking on the tayelet in Yerushalayim this week, I was excited to see the almond trees blossoming. Spring is here; it is time to celebrate the New Year for the Trees. This New Year is unique as it is the only New Year that is celebrated on the fifteenth of the month. If all other New Years are celebrated on the first of the month, why do we celebrate Tubshvat on the fifteeneth? The first Mishna in Massechet Rosh Hashana states:
“There are four New Years:
The first of Nissan is the New Year for the kings and the holidays.
The first of Ellul is the New Year for Maaser Bhema, according to R. Eliezer and R. Shimon it is on the first of Tishrei.
The first of Tishrei is the New Year for years, shimita, yovel, planting and vegetables
The first of Shevat is the New Year for trees according to Bet Shamai, while Bet Hillel say it is on the fifteenth.
There are four New Years; each one is celebrated on the first of the month. Regarding the New Year for the trees, Beit Shamai holds it should be celebrated on the first of the month. Beit Hillel holds that it should be celebrated on the fifteenth of the month. If all new years are celebrated on the first of the month, why does Beit Hillel believe the New Year for the Trees should be celebrated on the fifteenth?
The first answer that comes to mind is that their argument is an obvious one. Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai are arguing over nature: Beit Shamai believes that trees begin blossoming at an earlier date then Beit Hillel. Even though all other New Years begin on the first of the month, the new years for the tree will begin on the fifteenth according to Beit Hillel because that is when trees begin to blossom. Celebrations are based on the object itself and not the convenience of the date. If we apply this rule to ourselves, one should recognize that each person is unique and so too, develops in her own time. One should try to expose herself to new ideas and thoughts, yet she needs to be patient and accept that she will develop at her own pace. When a person comes to midrasha for the year, she quickly learns that change does not happen automatically the second she steps off the plane. Growth and maturity is a slow process that begins at a different time for each person. To properly judge oneself, a person needs to observe herself independently of others.
However, even with this said, is it really possible that machloket between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel centers on when trees begin to blossom? If this is indeed the source of their argument, then the members of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel should just be able to walk outside and check when the trees begin to blossom. A deeper look, reveals that the argument focuses on the definition of blossoming. When I was outside yesterday, I knew that the shkediyah was blooming because I saw its white flowers blossoming. But are a tree’s flowers budding a sign that the tree itself is blossoming? Perhaps Beit Hillel’s definition of blossoming is the external expression of a tree renewing itself. While Beit Hillel might agree with Beit Shamai that a tree begins to change at the beginning of the month, it is only at the fifteenth of the month when this growth can be noticed. Beit Shamai, on the other hand, chooses the first of the month because they are focusing on the internal movement of the tree. The Sages tell us that on the first of the month, the inner sap of a tree begins to reawaken and produce the necessary nutrients vital to its leaves and flowers. It is this movement that one celebrates at the New Year for the trees.
It can be said, then, that TuBshvat, according to Beit Shamai, celebrates the internal change of each individual person. Ideas and thoughts stir and bubble in our brains long before we actually act on any of them, bringing them to fruition. Accordingly, one needs to realize that change is a slow process that begins on the inside long before any practical movements are made. Beit Hillel, conversely, interprets TuBshvat as a celebration for the first actual steps that a person undertakes to bring about change. These small steps no matter how small or seemingly insignificant are that which will in the end contribute to the larger picture of change.
This model of change is parallel to the pattern of the moon. At Rosh Chodesh the moon is but a tiny sliver, almost unrecognizable. It is only after fifteen days of movement and growth that we are able to see the moon in its entirety. Once again change is a gradual process that begins with small steps.
We must take to heart the message of this TuBshvat. We must continuously strive to grow, using our own unique talents and strengths, and we must always remember that while inner change is important, it is the actualizations of our ideas that helps us grow.