Embrace Shabbos Chapter 11: Preparing For Shabbos Like Sap Going Up The Tree

Rabbi David Sutton May 16, 2024

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The story is told of a man whose wife had given birth to their first child, and that very day he rushed to meet with a certain tzaddik and ask his advice for educating the child. “How old is your child?” the tzaddik asked. “He was just born today!” the father exuberantly replied. “I came already now so I can get a head start on educating him properly.” “A head start?” the Rabbi said. “You’re already late. You need to begin preparing for your children’s education well before they are born.”

There is a famous adage (Tamid 32a), “Eizehu chacham haro’eh es hanolad” — a “wise” person is someone who anticipates and looks ahead to the future, and plans accordingly. Planning to raise and educate a child should begin before the child is born. We should be anticipating what will unfold ahead of time, to whatever extent possible, and plan in advance, because the earlier a head start we get, the better the outcome will be.

This is true of Shabbos as well. The earlier in the week we start preparing, the greater the impact of the Shabbos experience will be.

Likewise, we should be preparing for Shabbos, at least on some level, throughout the week.

The importance of advanced planning and preparation can be learned from Tu B’Shevat, which is called Rosh Hashanah la’ilanos — “the New Year for the trees.” The significance of Tu B’Shevat can be understood by way of analogy to the concept of a “fiscal year” in tax law. When determining tax liability, one calculates his earnings and deductions by a certain date. Income received after that date is not taxable for that year, and expenses paid after that date cannot be deducted from one’s tax obligation for that year. This is, essentially, what Tu B’Shevat is. Certain percentages of one’s produce grown in Eretz Yisrael must be distributed to various groups (Kohanim, Leviim, the poor, etc.), and the “fiscal year” for these obligations as they apply to fruits begins and ends on Tu B’Shevat. Fruits that began to bud before Tu B’Shevat must be tithed with the previous year’s produce, whereas fruits that began to bud after this date fall under the next year’s tithing obligations.

Why is Tu B’Shevat the cutoff point? What is unique about this particular point of the year that makes it the beginning and end of the “fiscal year” for fruits?

The Gemara explains that by Tu B’Shevat, which falls in the latter part of the winter season, the rains that fell during the previous months have already begun affecting the fruit tree, such that the sap has started rising up the tree in preparation for producing fruit. Although no fruit has yet begun to grow, nevertheless, the process is already unfolding by virtue of the winter rains that have resulted in the production of sap that is now in its preparatory stages for forming fruit.

This is an enlightening example of haro’eh es hanolad. On Tu B’Shevat, the fruit trees are bare. And yet, our Sages tell us to take a deeper look and realize that the fruit is on its way. Already at this very early stage of the fruit’s development — when the sap is rising in the tree — we consider the new year of fruit to have begun.

The Torah tells us (Devarim 20:19), “ki ha’adam eitz hasadeh” — people are compared to trees. My esteemed father-in-law, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, explained that a child’s preschool and elementary school years parallel the period when the sap is rising in the tree. We cannot see a finished product, the child has not yet begun achieving, but the process has been put into motion. The “fruit” appears when the child is grown and has reached adulthood, when he begins to achieve and succeed as a devoted husband and father, and as a committed Torah Jew. Everything that preceded that stage, even the stage of the “sap,” when this outstanding adult was just a young child, contributed to this final product. A child’s entire education helps form the “fruits” that we see in adulthood, much as the earliest stages of a fruit’s development play a vital and indispensable role in its coming into existence. Indeed, it is said in the name of righteous tzaddikim that if a child has an elementary school teacher with genuine yiras Shamayim (fear of G-d), this experience has a profound impact upon the child even in adulthood. So much so, that even if the child at one point leaves the path of Torah observance, chas v’shalom, the impact of the yiras Shamayim imbibed during his childhood will eventually lead him back. The earliest stages of development have a profound effect on the final product.

The same is true of Shabbos. The final product begins at the very earliest stages — as soon as the previous Shabbos ends.

It might seem strange to us to begin preparing for the upcoming Shabbos on the previous Motza’ei Shabbos. But the truth is that everything we do all week long contributes to our preparation for Shabbos. The kedushah of Shabbos is produced by the mitzvos we perform throughout the preceding week, which begins immediately upon the conclusion of the previous Shabbos. And so indeed, we can begin preparing for Shabbos on Motza’ei Shabbos.

Admittedly, most of us are not quite on the level to be preparing for the Yamim Noraim in the middle of the winter, or to begin our preparation for Shabbos on the previous Motza’ei Shabbos. But the fundamental concept of preparation and looking ahead is something we can all put into practice. In terms of Shabbos, this is applied on the most basic level in the halachic requirement to designate for Shabbos special foods or drinks that we come upon during the week. But beyond that, it means recognizing that all the good deeds we perform throughout the week prepare us for Shabbos. The more we devote ourselves to Torah and mitzvos during the week, already from Motza’ei Shabbos, the more impactful our Shabbos experience will be.

Of course, this lesson applies to all areas of life, and not only to Shabbos. As we have previously noted, our Sages famously teach (Avodah Zarah 3a), “One who toiled on Erev Shabbos will eat on Shabbos; one who does not toil on Erev Shabbos — what will he eat on Shabbos?” The Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) explains this as referring to our preparation for the Next World. We are to spend our lives in this world preparing for the Next World by devoting our time and efforts to Torah and mitzvos. Only if we toil in this world will we be able to enjoy the delights offered in the Next World. As the expression goes, what we put in is what we take out.

Let us internalize and implement this lesson of Tu B’Shevat, and always remember the value of advanced preparation. The more we invest in preparing for Shabbos and for the other mitzvos we perform, the more meaningful they will be and the greater an impact they will have.


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Reprinted from Embrace Shabbos by Rabbi David Sutton with permission from Artscroll Mesorah.