Food For the Soul
The 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar—celebrated this year on Thursday, January 28, 2021—is the day that marks the beginning of a “new year” for trees. Commonly known as Tu Bishvat, this day marks the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.
We mark the 15th of Shevat by eating fruit, particularly from the kinds that are singled out by the Torah in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. On this day we remember that “man is a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19), and reflect on the lessons we can derive from our botanical analogue. (See Tu Bishvat on Chabad.org). Rabbi Naftali Silberberg adds: “If tasting any of these fruit for the first time this season, remember to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing. (A blessing recited on joyous occasions, thanking G‑d for “sustaining us and enabling us to reach this occasion.” This blessing is recited before the standard “Ha’etz” blessing recited on fruit.). Due to the festive nature of the day, we omit the Tachanun sections (petitions for forgiveness and confession) from the prayers.”
Although Tu Bishvat falls smack in the middle of our cold, dark Montreal winter, Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin encourages us to take heart. He wrote: “The 15th of Shevat marks a turning point, a time when under all that cold and snow the sap of the trees is rising, readying for spring. In a sense, the 15th of Shevat signifies that sometimes it is precisely from within the darkest and coldest moments of our lives that the new blossoms burst forth!”
We make the Shabbat
Shabbat is more than a breathing spell. “The seventh day is Shabbat, for G‑d.” Only a Shabbat can give us the tranquility necessary to reassess our strivings, to perceive a goal different from the means toward it, so that we will work and live for a worthwhile purpose. Shabbat is the climax of the week, not just a preparation for next week’s work. Is there a better day for quiet unhurried worship, for study or simply browsing in Torah? Is there a better way to bring Jewishness and human warmth into our homes than through a traditional Shabbat? There is sanctity inherent in Shabbat, for “G‑d hallowed it.” But the perfection of Shabbat depends on us, it seems, because we were “commanded to make the Shabbat.”
From an article by Rabbi Zalman Posner
Mind Over Matter
There are no journeys that take you nowhere. The Baal Shem Tov taught that each of our lives is comprised of forty-two journeys, corresponding to the forty-two journeys of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Some of those journeys have pleasant names. Others don’t sound so nice. Some even appear to backtrack. Yet, in truth, none are inherently bad.
It is only that you may have to dig deeper and yet deeper to find the purpose and the good within them.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Come” vs. “Go”
There is a fundamental difference between bo (come) and lech (go). To go to something may imply no more than a superficial involvement. For example, you may “go” to study Torah and do your learning, but it will not affect you to the fullest extent. To come to something, however, implies that the subject-matter will “enter” your mind and heart, affect and influence you to the point of absorbing unification. Everything in the service of G‑d must be done in a way of penetrating to one’s very core. The approach of bo (come) hastens the coming of Moshiach and the redemption from the galut, speedily in our very own days.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
I see miracles all the time. Walking, talking miracles. If I would be on the lookout, I would notice many more of these living miracles. But every once in a while, a miracle just stares me in the eye and it becomes too hard to ignore.
Like the Holocaust survivor I met, who saw horrors that no mortal eye should see, yet refuses to miss his daily prayers. Or the young woman with flaming red curls who approached me after my lecture about why Jewish married women cover their hair. She told me that she plans to cover her beautiful locks once she marries, but wants advice on how to sensitively approach her parents so they don’t feel rejected by her lifestyle change.
Or the woman who had an abusive childhood and who would be justified in giving in to bouts of depression, but is determined to use her experience instead to grow spiritually and bring joy to our world.
Or the man I met in a small European town who decided to uproot himself and move to a new country, a new language, and a new career in order to find and marry a Jewish woman.
These are all miracles. The repercussions of each of these nature-defying acts are world-shattering. These are people inspired to bring positive change to their lives. People who don’t allow the natural heavy pull of inertia, their pain or disillusionment, to hold them back from achieving greatness. People who break all barriers, to connect with their divine soul.
In this week’s Torah portion (Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:16) after the miraculous ten plagues are visited on the Egyptians, G‑d commanded Moses, “This month shall be to you the head of the months; to you it shall be the first of the months of the year.” (Exodus 12:12). Up until this point, Tishrei, the month of creation, was considered the first month of the year. Although Tishrei still begins the new year—when counting the months, Nisan is considered the first month, and Tishrei the seventh.
When G‑d created the world, He set up divine forces, which we call nature, to govern it. Miracles were the exception. Therefore, Tishrei, the month in which the world and its natural forces came into being, was considered the primary month. Then came the birth of the Jewish people, a nation that would become living, walking miracles. Once the Jewish people become a nation, this month is counted as the first month.
The miraculous Exodus and our subsequent survival throughout our tumultuous history defy the very laws of nature. The existence of the Jewish people proves that when you are attached to G‑d and His Torah, you are not subject to natural limitations.
And the most profound way in which we transcend nature is by fusing heaven and earth, by breaking through our physical and emotional limitations, striving higher and bringing an awareness of an infinite G‑d into this finite, material world. Look around and you will also see so many living miracles!