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GOOD MORNING! It's time for the annual Super Bowl joke! During the game, a man turns to the lady on his left and says, "You and I are sitting next to the only empty seat in the stadium and these seats are being scalped at $1000 a pop!" The lady replies, "Yes, it was my late husband's seat." The man offers condolences and says, "But I would have thought a friend or a relative would have wanted to make use of it." "Yes," says the lady, "I would have thought so, too ... but they all insisted on going to the funeral." In life, one must have his priorities in order ... so, today we'll deal with the Jewish New Year and Tu B'shvat!

When is the New Year? Would you be surprised to know that there are 4 New Years in the Jewish calendar - and this Shabbat, Saturday, February 3rd is Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat) and the New Year for trees!

The first Mishna - teaching - in the Talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashanah informs us of the 4 New Years:

  1. The first of the Hebrew month 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 from the Hebrew month of Elul until the beginning of Elul the following year was given to the Temple.)

  3. The first of Tishrei is the New Year for the judgment of mankind -for life or 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'Shvat is a festive day. 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 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.

It is celebrated by eating the special types of fruits for which Israel is renowned: olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates - and also buxer (carob). 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 the Jewish National Fund (jnf.org or call 800-542-TREE). Just as others have planted for us, we plant for the future and those who will come after us.

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! The Kabbalists in Safad created a Tu B'Shevat Seder (similar to the Passover Seder) with explanations and meditations where the inner dimensions of fruits are expounded, along with blessings, songs and deep discussion. You can find it at http://www.aish.com/tubshvat.

Man is compared to a tree. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers found in the back of most Siddurim, Jewish prayer books, available at your local Jewish bookstore, at http://www.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)

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. Also, worth reading: Rabbi Avi Geller's "Lively Overview." Both are available at http://www.aish.com/tubshvat .

For more on "Tu B'Shvat" go to ShabbatShalomAudio.com!

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Torah Portion of the Week

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 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."

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And the Children of Israel came to Marah. And they were not able to drink the water at Marah for they were bitter." (Exodus 15:23)

Why does the Torah use the word "they" were bitter rather than specifying "the waters were bitter"?

The Kotzker Rebbe explains that "they were bitter" refers to the people themselves. When someone is bitter, then everything tastes bitter. To a bitter person nothing in life is positive. He makes himself miserable and those around him suffer. He thinks that he has valid reasons for his bitterness, but the source is within himself.

Our lesson: Take responsibility for your own life! Work on seeing the positive - keep a running list of positive things you have to be grateful for from large to small and then prioritize them. This will focus you on the positive. Sweeten your outlook and you'll live in a much sweeter world!

(or go to http://www.aish.com/shabbat/candlelighting.asp)

Jerusalem 4:39
Guatemala 5:44 - Hong Kong 5:54 - Honolulu 6:04
J'Burg 6:41 - London 4:33 - Los Angeles 5:06
Melbourne 8:15 - Mexico City 6:11 - Miami 5:48
New York 4:56 - Singapore 7:02 - Toronto 5:11


You can complain because roses have thorns, or
you can rejoice because thorns have roses.
-- Ziggy

In Blessed Memory of
Mordichai ben Aaron
my father, Shlomo ben Mordichai
with love, Jeffrey Pasler