GOOD MORNING!  The story is told of a little boy's first day in Sunday School. The rabbi gives the class a tour of the synagogue and explains the Ark, the Eternal Light and other interesting features. The little boy sees a big brass Memorial Board with U.S. flags on it and ask the rabbi, "What is this?" The rabbi replies, "Oh, this is very important. It is a memorial to all of the people who died in the Service." The little boy turns white, starts to shake and then asks, "Friday night or Saturday morning?"

I don't think that what one doesn't know about our heritage will usually cause a big scare ... it can, however, deprive one of enrichment of knowledge and insights into life and personal growth. Here's something that you might find interesting about Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of the trees.


This coming Shabbat, January 22, is Tu B'Shevat. Unbeknownst to many Jews, there are four "Rosh Hashanahs," New Years, in a calendar year:

  1. The first of the Hebrew month of Nissan is the New Year with regards to counting the years in the reign of the Kings of Israel.

  2. The first of Elul is the New Year with regards to tithing of the animals. (One out of ten animals born within that calendar year from Elul until the beginning of Elul the following year were given to the Temple.)

  3. The first of Tishrei is the New Year for the judgment of mankind -- for life and death, rich or poor, sickness or health -- as well as for counting the Sabbatical Year (Shmita) and the Jubilee year (Yovel) for the land of Israel; the counting of the first three years of a fruit tree when the fruit is not allowed to be eaten (Orlah), and calculating the tithes for grain and vegetables.

  4. The 15th of Shevat is the New Year for trees with reference to calculating tithes due to be given from fruit of trees in the time of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Tu B'Shevat is a festive day because the Torah praises the Land of Israel with reference to the fruits of the trees and the produce of the soil: "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 G-d 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.

It is celebrated by eating the special types of fruits for which Israel is renown: dates, pomegranates, figs, grapes -- and buxer (carob or St. John's bread -- I don't think he was Jewish, though). It's also celebrated by planting trees in Israel and if you can't get to Israel, you can purchase trees to be planted in Israel from your local Jewish National Fund Office.

Torah Portion of the Week

This week we conclude the ten plagues with the plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born. The laws of Passover are presented, followed by the commandment to wear tefillin, consecrate the first-born animal and redeem one's first born son. The Torah tells us that at some time in the future your son will ask you about these commandments and you will answer: "With a show of power, G-d brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us leave, G-d killed all the first-born in Egypt, man and beast alike. I, therefore, offer to G-d all male first-born (animals) and redeem all the first-born of sons. And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes, for with a strong hand the Almighty removed us from Egypt." (Ex. 13:15)


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states, "And Moshe said, 'This is what the Almighty said, "Around midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt will die" ' " Exodus 11:4). Rashi cites the Sages of the Talmud that the Almighty actually told Moshe that exactly at midnight He would cause the plague of the death of the firstborn. Why did Moshe then change His words to "around midnight" when he repeated the Almighty's words to the Egyptians?

Rashi brings the answer of the Sages that "Perhaps Pharaoh's astrologers will err in their calculation of the precise midpoint of the night and say that 'Moses is a liar' " (Talmud Bavli, Berachot 4a).

Amazing! Nine plagues have already hit the Egyptians. Moshe has warned them and been correct each time. Now the firstborn of each family throughout Egypt dies. What difference does it make whether it is a few minutes before or after midnight?

The answer: This illustrates the power of a person to find fault. From what might have been a minor discrepancy -- and perhaps a discrepancy due to their own calculations -- they would seek to call Moshe a liar and discredit him totally. When a person wants to find fault, he will find something.

Our lesson:

  1. Be aware of when we fall into the trap of finding fault when we should be seeing the bigger picture.

  2. Be aware when others are fault-finders ... and tread gently because these personalities are easily irritated and difficult to deal with.