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Dear Friends,

“Tu B’Shvat” is the New Year of the Trees. As we shall explain, Tu B’Shvat
is designed to give our spirits a lift when it is still “winter” – in both
the physical and spiritual sense. Given the recent news reports regarding
the well-being of the world, in general, and of the People of Israel, in
particular, we can certainly use a lift!

As we discussed in a previous series, the troubles we are now experiencing
can be viewed as the “birth pangs” of the messianic age that is approaching.
During this period of birth pangs, the old corrupt order will begin to break
down, while the old toxins of hatred will surface in order for the world to
experience the final cleansing of these toxins. Given that this process is
difficult and draining, we need to recharge our spiritual batteries by
reconnecting to Torah teachings regarding personal and collective renewal.
In this spirit, we will devote this week to uplifting Tu B’Shvat teachings
which proclaim a message of renewal for the individual, for our people, and
for the world. These letters on Tu’B’Shvat are dedicated to Hazon
participant, Hershel Zvi Chernofsky, who will be giving a talk on Tu B’Shvat
to a group of elders in Montreal. After Tu B’Shvat, we will continue our
discussion of mitzvos which teach us to avoid or alleviate tzaar baalei
chayim.

Tu B’Shvat falls on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat; in fact, the
literal meaning of Tu B’Shvat is “the 15th of Shvat.” Tu B’Shvat will begin
next Sunday night, Feb 12th. It is the winter day when – in the Land of
Israel – new sap starts to rise within the tree. Although we are still in
the midst of winter and all looks bleak, cold and lifeless, Tu B’Shvat
arrives with the promise of rejuvenation. There is a tradition that the
month of Shvat begins a period of renewal for the individual and the
community. Even though we may be experiencing the “winter” stage of our
lives, there is a new hidden life force that is beginning to emerge within
our being. On the outside, it is still the winter of exile – personal and
collective, but on the inside, the signs of spring’s redemption are
emerging.

There is also an outer sign of renewal that takes place around Tu B’Shvat:
the Almond Tree begins to blossom. This serves as a reminder that there can
also be the sprouting of new life during the final stage of the “winter” of
our exile.

Jewish tradition compares the human being to a tree, as the Torah states:
“For the human being is a tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19). It is also
written: “For as the days of a tree shall be the days of My people” (Isaiah
65:22), and during the messianic age, the Jewish people will be known as
“elms of tzedek (righteousness), the planting of the Compassionate One in
which to glory” (Ibid 61:3). May we therefore merit the fulfillment of the
following prophecy:

“The righteous will flourish like a date palm, and will grow tall like a
cedar in the Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Compassionate One, in the
courtyards of our God they will flourish. They will still be fruitful in old
age, vigorous and fresh they will be” (Psalm 92:13-15).

The Torah portion which is read every year on the Shabbos close to Tu
B’Shvat describes how the People of Israel continued their journey to Mount
Sinai after the splitting of the sea, and how they arrived at a unique
oasis:

“They arrived at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy
date-palms; they encamped there by the water.” (Exodus 15:27)

The noted Sephardic sage and biblical commentator, Rabbenu Bachya, cites a
kabbalistic interpretation of this verse. According to this interpretation,
the twelve springs represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the seventy
date-palms represent the seventy primary nations of the earth. Just as the
twelve springs nourish the seventy date-palms, so too, the Twelve Tribes of
Israel are destined to spiritually nourish the seventy nations. At the oasis
of Elim, we were therefore reminded that our journey to Mount Sinai was not
for ourselves alone, but for all humanity.

Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Related Comments:

1. To celebrate this season of renewal, the teachers of Kabbalah – the
hidden wisdom of Torah – began a tradition of having a Tu B’Shvat Seder
devoted to fruits. This tradition began in Tsfat, a city in Northern Israel,
during the 16th century. The eating of these fruits on Tu B’Shvat is to also
serve as a reminder of the period when we ate the fruits of the Garden of
Eden. An article describing the Tu B’Shvat Seder appears on the following
website: www.aish.com – in the section on Tu B’Shvat. On this site, one
will find other fascinating articles about the significance of this holiday.

2. Canfei Nesharim is an organization of Orthodox Jews that is dedicated to
spreading Torah teachings and halachos – the requirements of the Torah
path – regarding the protection of the environment. Their website now
features a number of articles related to Tu B’Shvat, as part of their Tu
B’Shvat learning campaign: www.canfeinesharim.org.

3. An article titled “The Green Belt of the Torah” appears in the archive
(lower section) on our website. The direct link is:
http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/green.htm

Hazon – Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/


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