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ISRAEL

 
 
 
 

TU BISHVAT

 
 

Tu B'Shvat-Yitro Illumination From the Darkness
By: Rabbi Yonassan Biggs, rabbibiggs@gmail.com

 

Tu B’Shevat-Trees of Life

Shalom and Bracha!

Thursday, January 16th, is Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. The Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah states that the fifteenth of Shevat is the Rosh Hashanah for trees. This is because the sap begins to flow again after the winter. Although the Gemarrah is referring to the agricultural laws of tithing and Shemittah, throughout the world Tu B’Shevat is celebrated as a holiday by not saying Tachanun and by eating special fruits. It is customary to make the blessing on the fruits for which Israel is famous, namely grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives and dates. It is also customary to eat a new fruit and make the blessing “Shehechiyanu,” which shows our gratitude that Hashem has us and allowed us to reach this day. Using fruits to make blessings is a form of supplication to Hashem that He should bless the fruits of this year and by making the blessing on fruits connected with Israel we enhance Hashem’s blessing and protection of the land. The Talmud teaches that the prosperity of all agriculture in the world is channeled through Israel and by making a blessing on fruits connected to Israel we bring a blessing to the entire world. It is desirable to have a gathering and make the blessings together. Unity always brings blessing and adds to the festive spirit. Further, it creates an opportunity to include others who might not celebrate the holiday. The gathering can be Wednesday night or Thursday.
 

The New Year for trees has important lessons for each of us. A person is compared to a tree. Just as a tree constantly grows, a person must constantly progress. A person is also meant to bear fruits. It is not sufficient that we grow ourselves; we must also affect our surroundings. Just as a tree bears fruit from year to year, we mustn’t be satisfied with our effect on the world until now. We must keep giving and doing and growing.
 

The entire Jewish people are compared to a tree. Although each branch grows in its own direction, they are all part of one tree. The strength of each limb of the tree aids the entire tree, and the weakness of any limb effects the other limbs. Whatever directions we take, we are one people. When we strengthen each other, we strengthen ourselves. This is alluded to in the name of the month, Shevat. The word Shevat is related to the Hebrew Shevet, which means branch.
 

The Gemarrah tells us that fruits represent Mitzvot. When a tree bears fruit, it doesn’t lose its power to bear fruit, but instead grows. When we do a Mitzvah, even if it seems difficult or costly, Hashem repays us and gives us the strength to perform another Mitzvah. When we plant a seed, we don’t see the fruits for a very long time. However, from one seed grows a tree that produces thousands of fruits each year, each capable of producing new trees. We don’t always see the effect of the Mitzvot that we do. However, Hashem nurtures them and they bear fruit for us, our children and all of those who follow.
 

May Hashem grant that this Tu B’Shevat usher in a new era of joy, healing, new growth and prosperity, particularly inIsrael. The Tanya explains that all of the good things that will occur when Moshiach comes are a direct result of our service of Hashem in Galut (exile). Each Mitzvah is a seed, whose fruit we will see at that time. May the joy of redemption replace the pain of exile immediately!

Chag Sameach,

 
Rabbi Biggs

The blessing for fruit that grows on trees is Baruch Atta Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam Borei P’ree Haeitz

The blessing Shehechiyanu for new fruits is Baruch Atta Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam Shehechiyanu V’Kiy’manu V’higyanu Lizman Hazeh.

Yitro – Illumination From the Darkness

Shalom and Bracha!

  This Shabbat we read the portion of Yitro, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Yitro was Moshe’s father in law, who left Midian and joined the Jewish people for the receiving of the Torah. The naming of the portion after Yitro rather than Moshe gives a deep insight into the giving of the Torah. Yitro had served all of the idols in the world and was knowledgeable in their belief systems. Upon hearing the miracles of the Exodus he declared now I know that Hashem is greater than all gods. The Zohar teaches that this praise echoed in all of the spheres of heaven and Hashem responded that now is the time to give the Torah. Why was Yitro’s praise so important? Having served every negative force in the world, his subjugation implied the readiness of every aspect of the world to be perfected by Torah. If there were lower forces Yitro hadn’t interacted with, those forces would not have been included in his submission to Hashem. This teaches us that nothing can stand in the way of our service of Hashem and following the commandments of the Torah.

  A deeper translation would be “I appreciate Hashem’s greatness through all other forces,” meaning that every force he worshipped allowed him a deeper understanding of Hashem. This is alluded to in Rashi’s comment that Yitro saw in each of the plagues and punishments Midah Kneged Midah (measure for measure), the correlation of the punishments  to a different negative trait or deed of the Egyptians. The converse thereof is that he perceived that each evil of the Egyptians resulted in an opportunity to reveal Hashem’s greatness. This is very significant to the giving of the Torah, because the Torah allows us to see the light beyond the darkness and through the darkness and transmute the darkness into light.

  Acts of kindness are done in there truest sense when we feel that the needs of the other party are our needs. The act of giving enriches the benefactor more than the recipient.

  The Semak (a famous codifier) explains that the first of the Ten Commandments includes the faith in Moshiach. When the Torah says “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of Egypt,” it is a commandment to believe in G-d and that He will redeem us from every exile. Through seeing the light in every darkness may we speedily see that all of the tribulations of the exile were preparations for the great revelations connected to the coming of Moshiach!

 

  Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Biggs

In memory of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. T’hei Nishmato Tzrurah Btzror Hachaim Im Hashem

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