GOOD MORNING! Did you know that trees not only have anniversaries, they have their own New Year? Thursday, January 16th is Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat) and the New Year for trees!
The 15th of Shevat is the New Year for trees. In the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, it was used for calculating the tithing year for the fruits of trees. The Talmud tells us that trees stop absorbing water from the ground and instead draw nourishment from their sap on this date. Calculating the age of the tree for Orlah (Lev 19:23) -- where fruit is allowed to be eaten from trees that are at least four years old -- is from Rosh Hashana.
How do we celebrate Tu B'Shevat? We eat fruit -- especially the fruits for which the Torah praises the Land of Israel: "A land of wheat and barley and vines (grapes) and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and (date) honey ... and you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you" (Deut. 8:8-10). The Jewish people rejoice in the fruits, in the Land and in the Almighty Who has given us life.
Many people celebrate Tu B'Shevat in Israel by planting trees (but not on Shabbos). This is an old Jewish consciousness. The Talmud (Ta'anis 23b) tells the story of the great sage Choni HaMa'agel who came across a 70 year old man planting a carob tree. He asked the man if he thought he would live to benefit from the tree. The man replied that just as others have planted for us, we plant for those who will come after us. For a beautiful insight into life, read Rabbi Yehuda Prero, TinyUrl.com/ChoniCarob .
If you can't get to Israel, you can always purchase trees to be planted in Israel from the Jewish National Fund (Jnf.org or call 800-542-TREE). There are 5 million trees that need to be replaced after the Carmel Forest a few years ago. Just as others have planted for us, we plant for those who will come after us.
The Kabbalists in Safad created a Tu B'Shevat Seder (similar to the Passover Seder) to delve into the inner meaning of the day. There are explanations and meditations on the inner dimensions of fruits, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion. You can find it at http://www.aish.com/tubshvat .
In our home we put out a whole fruit display -- especially those mentioned above for which the land of Israel is praised. It is a time of appreciation for what the Almighty has given us and which we might take for granted. Let your attitude be gratitude!
Man is compared to a tree (Deut. 20:19). In Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers found in the back of most Siddurim, Jewish prayer books, available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242), it is written: "A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous, but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place" (Avot 3:22).
Like a tree, our roots are the source of nourishment for our life. A Jew's nourishment is the Torah -- the knowledge and the means for us to make a spiritual connection to the Almighty. The Maharal teaches that just like the tree grows branches, flowers and fruits to fulfill its purpose, a man must work to produce moral, intellectual and spiritual accomplishments to fulfill his purpose. These are the fruits of our existence!
Just as a tree needs soil, water, air and sunlight, so does a person need to be spiritually rooted and connected with a source of nourishment. Water to a tree, Torah wisdom for us -- as Moses proclaims: "May my teaching drop like the rain" (Deut. 32:2). Air for the tree, spirituality for us -- as the Torah states that "God breathed life into the form of Man (Genesis 2:7)." Sunlight for a tree, the warmth of friendship and community for a person. Rabbi Shraga Simmons wrote a beautiful article, "Man is a Tree," expanding on this theme. You will also enjoy "Fruit and the Essence of Mankind" by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin -- available at http://www.aish.com/tubshvat .
Beshalach, Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
The Jewish people leave Egypt. Pharaoh regrets letting them go, pursues them leading his chosen chariot corps and a huge army. The Jews rebel and cry out to Moses, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt? Why did you bring us out here to die in the desert?" The Yam Soof, the Sea of Reeds (usually mistranslated as the Red Sea) splits, the Jews cross over, the Egyptians pursue and the sea returns and drowns the Egyptians. Moses with the men and Miriam with the women -- each separately -- sing praises of thanks to the Almighty.
They arrive at Marah and rebel over the bitter water. Moses throws a certain tree in the water to make it drinkable. The Almighty then tells the Israelites, "If you obey God your Lord and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all His commandments and keeping all His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am God who heals you." (This is why the Hagaddah strives to prove there were more than 10 plagues in Egypt -- the greater the number of afflictions, the greater number from which we are protected.)
Later the Israelites rebel over lack of food; God provides quail and manna (a double portion was given on the sixth day to last through Shabbat; we have two challahs for each meal on Shabbat to commemorate the double portion of manna). Moses then instructs them concerning the laws of Shabbat. At Rephidim, they rebel again over water. God tells Moses to strike a stone (later in the Torah God tells Moses to speak to the stone, not here!) which then gave forth water. Finally, the portion concludes with the war against Amalek and the command to "obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens."
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
When the Children of Israel were saved from the attacking Egyptians by the Sea of Reeds, the Torah records their song of thanks to the Almighty. The Sages in the Talmud say that even the maidservants witnessed at the crossing of the sea a mystical vision greater than that witnessed by the prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel).
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented on this that the maidservants remained maidservants and did not reach the level reached by Yechezkel. A person can experience the greatest experience, but if it does not lead him to elevating his behavior, it is nothing.
Similarly, Rav Chaim said, we read how nations trembled when they heard about the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. ("Nations heard and they trembled" -- Exodus 15:14.) What happened with the nations? They had a special feeling for a few moments, but it did not lead them to any major changes in their lives.
The goal of mussar (the Torah discipline of teaching ethics and character development) is for a person to internalize his insights and to incorporate them to improve his character and behavior. There are many times in our lifetime when we are shaken by an event. Unless we take immediate positive action to change, the feeling will just fade and have little lasting effect.
(or go to http://www.aish.com/sh/c/)
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When all is said and done,
more is said than done
-- Lou Holtz