Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
February 10th 2017 -Volume 7 Issue 16 14th Shevat 5777
Parshat Beshalach / Tu B’Shvat
Trick or Tree
It was my least favorite topic in Tour guide school. To me a tree is a tree. There are trees that have delicious fruit that I can eat and trees that are there to just decorate the plate, so to speak. Like that green leafy stuff that they put on the plates with chopped liver in a nice ball in the middle. I think they call it lettuce, cabbage, parsley or something like that. It’s pretty, but does they name really matter? And yet scientists seem to have nothing better to do than to develop courses of study like botany or dendrology-bet you didn’t even know it was called that huh? See of how little importance it is. Well in tour guiding school we had to learn this stuff. They knew that people would be in our cars or minibuses on tours and feel the need to get their money’s worth by asking their tour guide endless questions about things they really don’t care much about and are really not even interested in. But we’re paying good money for this guide and you bet your shekel’s bottom he is going to talk to the entire time, even if it is about trees…
When I first started tour guiding even, even before I finished my course…shhhhh…don’t tell anybody it’s technically illegal, but the masses were impatient, what could I do? How could I say no? And I had to pay for this course somehow or another. Besides you really can’t pass the tests by just taking the course and without any experience guiding. Anyways when I started guiding people would inevitably ask me The Question. “What type of tree is that?” So the standard answer that I would give, which generally worked was obviously it was an avocado. Why an avocado? I don’t know. I barely know what an avocado is. I think it’s the green mushy thing that I pick out of my sushi. But I figured neither did anyone else. It was working fine until one day some really smart kid asked me why there were oranges growing on the avocado tree. Uh Oh… Thank god I was a very experienced Rabbi for a very long time and well trained in making up wise things as I go along and stating them with quite a bit off confidence. Many times even quoting ancient sources from great Rabbis to support my penetrating insight is. So I very quickly explained that it was part of the genius of Israel; that we could make anything happen and grow in this country. Even oranges on avocado trees. He nodded, truly inspired by the brilliance of our people and country and the tour guides infallible integrity was intact. The parents didn’t notice my little tree trick because they were playing on their smartphones. Whewwww…. Saved.
This Shabbos is Tu B’Shvat; The New Year for trees. Since those years when I first started guiding, I have become a bit more knowledgeable about those tall leafy things that adorn our beautiful country. But a good tour guide is not there to just talk about trees and know which one is which. Any dendrologist can do that. My job is to make it interesting, inspiring, and connect those who are coming to Israel with the incredible holiness and meaning everything here has to offer. So we talk about the tzadik connection of palm trees, the profound significance of almond/shkeidiya trees have, the connection between sabras and Israelis and of course all the different hints and secrets of the pomegranate trees. But it’s Tu B’Shvat so we have to go deeper.
What does it mean to be the New Year of trees? What is Tu B’Shvat all about? The holiday as celebrated today really starts around the time of the great Kabbalist of Tzfat, the ARI”ZL. The Talmud and early sources do not mention it at all. The Mishna in Rosh Hashana states that there are four New Years.
The New Year for the establishment of Kings and for holidays is Nissan. The new Year for the tithes of cattle is the first of Elul (or Tishrei according to Rebbi Elazar and Rebbi Shimon), the New Year for Shemitta Yovel and vegetable tithes is Rosh Hashana, and then the Mishna states
“The first of Shevat is the New Year for tree like the words of Beit Shamai, Beit Hillel says it is the 15th.”
Rashi explains that the law is that tithes cannot be taken off from one’s year crop for a previous year’s crop. The cut-off point that divides the crops is either Rosh Chodesh or TU-(the 15th) of Shvat according to Beith Hillel and Shammai. The reason for Shvat being the cutoff point is because the majority of the winter rains have fallen and thus the sap begins to rise signifying new growth.
Yet there is something much deeper in the words of the Mishna. For the Mishna describes this New Year as the New Year of the Tree-singular. Unlike the other items mentioned in the Mishna such as holidays, kings, vegetables and the like. What tree are we talking about? Rabbi Tzadok HaKohein of Lublin notes rather cryptically that this is referring to “The Tree”, you know, the famous one; The Tree of Knowledge where it all started from. Tu B’Shvat, he suggests is the day that we atone and rectify that original sin of Adam and Chava who ate from the tree and thereby caused the “earth to be cursed”. We therefore eat all types of fruits and make blessings upon them in order to inject them with holiness.
But why TU B’Shvat? And what is the significance of the dispute between Hillel and Shamai over the 1st or the 15th of the month? So Reb Shmuel Engel suggests a fascinating idea. He notes that the 1/3 is halachically the tipping point when something becomes recognized and viable. When a fetus is 3 months old it is considered to have reached the stage of hukar ubber (no not the car service app) the fetus is recognizable. Similarly in the laws of Shemita produce 1/3 growth defines which year it is part of. Even in the laws of Shabbos food is considered minimally cooked already at the point of 1/3. That being the case he suggests that the Teshuva that we do during the High Holidays comes to fruition in the month of Shvat 4 month or 1/3 of the year later. There are though two types of teshuva that we do. On Rosh Hashana we repent out of yirah/ fear of Hashem. Sukkos however in the Torah refers to the mitzva of taking the lulav as
“And you shall take on the First day”- by which the Midrash explains that although it is on the 15th of the month rather than the 1st it is called the First because it is the “First of the accounting of sins”
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains this by noting that when one repents out of fear then he can achieve atonement for his sins. However on Sukkot the days of joy that follow the High Holidays we repent out of love for Hashem. When one repents out of love then his previous sins not only get forgiven but in fact they become merits for him. Thus on Sukkos Hashem calculates our sins for he then turns them all into merits on our behalf.
This being the case Rav Engel suggest is the dispute between Shamai and Hillel. For Shamai represents strict and harsh judgement. It was Shamai that could not convert the individual who came to him on the condition he teach him the entire Torah on one foot. For if the concept is fear and judgement then one has to learn all of the Torah. Hillel on the other hand- or foot J, had no problem. He taught him that he should not doing anything hateful to his friend that he wouldn’t want done to him. That is love. His friend can even be interpreted as Hashem. If one has love for Hashem and for others than he can transform any wrong doing into a merit. This is therefore their dispute in regards to the holiday of the New Year for the Tree- the original Tree, the original sin. Shamai says that the day of the recognition of the atonement is 4 months or 1/3 of the year after the original Rosh Hashana when Adam sinned and did teshuva out of fear and awe of Hashem. It is why the Mishna says like the words of Beit Shamai- referring to the previous positions of Shamai that favor an outlook of strict judgement and service of Hashem through yirah. Hillel on the other hand sees love and kindness and the holiday of Sukkot as the starting point for teshuva, he thus learns that the day of its fruition is on Tu Bshvat.
Pretty deep, no? The day of the fruition of teshuva of love. The blossoming of that joy that we experienced when we took those four species on Sukkos in our Sukka. Under the stars, beneath the freshly cut tree branches that serve as our schach in the shade of Hashem. The winter is not the most romantic or loving time of year. It’s cold, it’s wet It’s rainy and dark. It’s like Adam HaRishon after the first sin of the tree. But from that sin Teshuva was born. We were given a second chance. We have the opportunity to return to Eden. To turn that cursed dark dirty earth into holy trees infused with blessing and the fruits of Hashem. The sap is rising, the flowers are starting grow on the almonds already. Hashkediya Porachat. It is time for the eternal Chag Ha’Ilanot.
Have fruitful Shabbos and delicious Tu BShvat,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
RABBI SCHWARTZ COOL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
https://youtu.be/hyfnXUQz9z8 -worst Tu Bshvat rap ever
https://youtu.be/6bxYvcByTg0 –Ilan Bama Avarechicha- Tree with what shall I bless you medley
https://youtu.be/B90edi_4AWI – Sheweky Ilan Ilan song
https://youtu.be/2uj7tEHiFZ8 - And my favorite version from Abie Rottenberg
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S FAVORITE YIDDISH PROVERB OF THE WEEK
“A yung baimeleh baigt zikh; an alter brecht zikh”- A young tree bends; an old tree breaks
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TOUR GUIDE EXAM QUESTION OF THE WEEK
answer below at end of Email
Q. The burial place of two women whose names are “Etio” is located in:
a. The Beit Jamal Monastery
b. The Protestant cemetery on Mt. Zion
c. The Tombs of the Kings
d. Beit Shearim
a. The Beit Jamal Monastery
b. The Protestant cemetery on Mt. Zion
c. The Tombs of the Kings
d. Beit Shearim
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S ILLUMINATING RASHI OF THE WEEK
We daven every day. Much of our daily prayers come from verses in the Torah. Yet as we know there is so much depth to the words that we use in our prayers that we barely have time to focus on, as we are rushed and have to get going, to much more important things in life than talk to the Master and Creator of the World and the King of all Kings right? Yeah… I know the feeling. Yet when we arrive at the Torah portions that include parts of our prayers it is worthwhile to really pay attention to those Rashi’s for those insights that he gives are really ones that can enhance our daily prayers to Hashem as we get a deeper insight into some of the words and verses.
In this week’s Torah portion we have the song the Jews sang at the sea that we recite each morning before the blessings of Shema. The concluding verses say
Shemos (15:19) Ki Va Sus-when the horse Pharaoh with his chariots and horsemen came in the sea
Rashi on the words Ki Va- writes two words K’aasher Ba- As Pharaoh came.
What is Rashi trying to say? What is the difference between when he came or as he came? Rashi is not merely translating he is highlighting this for us. And it is so easy to miss his point.
Rabbeinu Bachaya explains this Rashi that this is a continuation and a recap of the beginning of the song. The song started off Az Yashir Moshe- then Moshe and the children of Israel. The song is concluding and explaining that this actually took place as Pharaoh and his horsemen entered the sea. This insight he explains is an entirely different perspective of the story. The Jews didn’t sing the song when they arrived on the other end and saw the Egyptians dead on the shore. Rather, this is the song they sung as they were crossing while the Egyptians were coming in after them. Can you imagine the fear and the pounding of the Egyptian hooves coming in as they were crossing the split sea. Yet the Jewish people had faith. They continued singing and then their enemies were washed away. It is the song of the sea literally, the song that was sung while still in the sea. That is the song of faith that we sing each day, right before we announce Shema Yisrael. Pretty amazing. Now go to work.
Rabbeinu Bachaya ben Asher- (1255 - 1340) A student of the Rashba Rabbeinu Bachaya one of the most basic Rishonim and commentaries on the Torah was one of the greatest commentaries and sages in Spain. His work on the Torah begins with a verse in Mishlei and continues to explain questions on the text and he uses midrash and Kabalistic sources very similar to the style of Nachaminides in his commentary. He served as a a darshan ("preacher") in his native city of Zaragoza, sharing this position with several others, and he received a small salary, which was scarcely enough to support him and his family; but neither his struggle for daily bread nor the reverses that he suffered (to which he referred in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah) diminished his zeal for in Torah study in general, and in Biblical exegesis in particular. His other famous Mussar and philosophy work the Kad Hakemach contains 60 chapters which discusses the following subjects: belief and faith in God; the divine attributes and the nature of providence; the duty of loving God, and of walking before God in simplicity and humility of heart; the fear of God; Jewish prayer; benevolence, and the love of mankind; peace; the administration of justice, and the sacredness of the oath; the duty of respecting the property and honor of one's fellow man; the Jewish holidays, and halakha.
RABBI SCHWARTZ'S TYPES OF JEWS IN ISRAEL OF THE WEEK
Hikers – Israel has one of the greatest network of hikes in the entire world with more than 9000 km (5500 miles) of marked trails for hiking, biking or jeep driving, and sometimes even for horse or camel rides. The trails cover most of the country including the West Bank. Israel has many different hiking options, from very short hikes that can take less than an hour to multi-day hikes that can take up to many weeks. The longest hike Shvil Haaretz or Israel trail runs 950 kilometers from Kibbutz Dan, near the border with Lebanon in the Upper Galilee in the far north of Israel, to Eilat in the far south of the country. Split into manageable daily stages, there are places to stop and stay along the way. The Yam lYam Hike (Sea to Sea) is one of the most popular hiking trails in Israel literally crossing the country from west to east, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, crossing some of Israel’s most beautiful scenery in the Western Galilee and Upper Galilee regions. The Sea to Sea hike is walked by thousands of Israelis and tourists every year, and takes between three to five days depending on how fast you walk, along marked scenic trails. It starts by Nahariya through the upper Galile and Meron and Tzfat and ends by the banks of the Kinneret.
Almost all Israelis are hikers. The vacation times during the year are packed with hikers of all ages. The truth is there is a mitzva and kiyum of walking the land to its length and breadth and showing that it is all our land as part of the mitzva of settling the land. The tradition goes back to Avraham Avinu. When we walk and hike we imagine how much Moshe Rabbeinu wished he would have been able to do what we are doing. The beauty of Israel is that there is so many different climates, topographies and natural phenomena. We have volcanoes, waterfalls, lush hills and valleys and beautiful deserts and wilderness. There are of course Israelis that do this as a full time occupation for month on end, and then you have the beginners and tourists from all over the world that come to experience the beauty of Israel. The most important thing, of course, is a good map and lots of water. Dehydration can come very quick and it is not fun and dangerous. A tour guide is also not a bad thing to bring along as well.
RABBI SCHWARTZ’S TERRIBLE TREE JOKES OF THE WEEK
How do trees access the internet? They log on.
What did the tree do when the bank closed? It started its own branch.
What type of tree fits in your hand? A palm tree.
Where do saplings go to learn? Elementree school.
What is an Oaks Favorite school subject? Treegonometree.
What is every single tree’s least favorite month? SepTIMMMBERRR!
What must trees drink responsibly? Root beer.
Why do trees hate tests? Because they get stumped by the questions.
Q: What did the tree wear to the pool party? A: Swimming trunks!
Q: What did the little tree say to the big tree? A: Leaf me alone!
What did one tree say to the other tree? Eitz nice to see you.
Answer is D – I lucked out on this one. I have no idea who is buried in bait jamal monastery, or in the protestant cemetery on Mt Zion and I’m no even interested enough to google it. The cemetery of the Kings is north of Shaar Shechem not the safest place to visit and according to traditions Kalba Savua the father in law of Rabbi Akiva is buried there and according the Ari”Zl Nakdimon Ben Gurion is buried there although some archeologists believe that it was the Jewish queen Helene is buried there. The correct answer though and I know this because I go there all the time, is Beit Shearim. Beit Shearim, located in the lower Galile, the burial place of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasai was the central burial place in Israel after the destruction of the Temple and the Bar Kochva revolt. There the Etio women are buried an aunt and niece.