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ארבעה ראשי שנים הם.  באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים.  באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה.  רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרים, באחד בתשרי . באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים י ולשמטין וליובלות, לנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט יז , ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי. בית הלל אומרים, בחמשה עשר בו. (משנה ראש השנה א א)

There are four different days signaling the beginning of a new year: The first of Nissan signals the counting of the reign of kings and also the order of רגלים, Pesach as the first.  The first of Elul marks the date for tithing the livestock.  The first of Tishrei signals the start of Shmita and Yovel and the planting. And then comes Shevat, according to the House of Shamai, the first day, according to the House of Hillel, the fifteenth day, the Rosh HaShana for the fruit trees.

This day determines to which year of tithing the fruit belongs, also the age of the tree.  When is the fruit exempt from being ערלה, covered from eating.

We know the awesome meaning of Rosh Hashanah for us, humans.  It seems strange that trees have a Rosh HaShana as well.

Actually it is not strange at all. From the beginning, from בראשית we see that the life of men is connected to the trees.  גן עדן has עץ החיים, the tree of life, עץ הדעת, the tree of knowledge. 

The fate of mankind depended on Adam’s ability to resist the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit.  He ate and he brought mortality to the world.  The tree of life is beyond our reach, but it is the object of our search and desire.

In the worlds of our prophets the tree is an allegory for man. 

בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר, אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּה'; וְהָיָה ה', מִבְטַחוֹ .וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל-מַיִם, וְעַל-יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו, וְלֹא  יִרְאֶה כִּי-יָבֹא חֹם, וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן; וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג, וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי.  (ירמיהו י"ז ז'ה')

Blessed is the man who trusts in HaShem, then HaShem will be his security.  He will be like a tree planted near water, which spreads out its roots along a brook and does not see when heat comes whose foliage is ever fresh, it will not worry in a year of drought and will not stop producing fruit.

Just recently we read the הפטרה from Yechezkel (פרק ל"ז ט"ו, ט"ז) in which he takes two branches of a tree, on one he writes Yehuda and on the other Yoseph and then he takes both in his hands to symbolize the unity of all the tribes under one king.

How beautiful is the first מזמור in Tehilim describing the righteous man:

כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת ה', חֶפְצוֹ;    וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה, יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה.
וְהָיָה   כְּעֵץ, שָׁתוּל עַל-פַּלְגֵי-מָיִם: אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ, יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ--וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא-יִבּוֹל; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ.
(תהלים א'  ב-ג)

He shall be like a tree deeply rooted alongside brooks of water, that yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf never withers; and everything the he does will succeed.

The Talmud in  (גטין נ"ז)(Gittin) shows us an example of the connection between the life of a child and a tree:  In the city of Beitar at the time of the Roman rule, they had a custom.  When a boy was born they planted a cedar, when a girl was born they planted an acacia.  Branches from the trees were used to construct the wedding canopy, the חופה.

The most famous verse indicating the man-tree connection seems to be in דברים כ' יט

כי-תצור אל-עיר ימים רבים להילחם עליה לתופשה, לא-תשחית את-עצה לנדוח עליו גרזן--כי ממנו תאכל, ואותו לא תכרות:  כי האדם עץ השדה, לבוא מפניך במצור.

When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to seize it, do not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them for from it you will eat and you shall not cut it down; is the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you.

The Midrash warns us not to hurt a fruit tree:

בשעה שכורתין את האילן שהוא עושה פרי קולו הולך מסוף העולם ועד סופו ואין הקול נשמע (פרק דרבי אלעזר ל"ד)

The silent cry of the fallen tree fills the world.  Let us protect our friends, the trees which beautify and enrich our country.

Miriam Hauer

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