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Blossoms in the Winter?

Blossoms in the Winter?


The calendar on my wall says January. But it's also the Jewish month of Shevat, which means that Tu B'Shevat ("the fifteenth of Shevat"), the New Year for Trees, is coming up, marking the beginning of the growing season for fruit trees. It is a day in which we thank G‑d for all the utility, beauty and pleasure that trees -- and fruit trees in particular -- give us.

In the Land of Israel the almond trees are blossoming. But I live in Connecticut, and all I see is snow and bare branches. This is because many of the celebrations in the course of the Jewish year -- irrespective of where we actually live -- follow the climactic cycle of the Holy Land.

This is because the ideal place for a Jew to live is in the Land of Israel. And not just the geographical Land of Israel: our ideal is to live there with a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) and all the mitzvot associated with the land and the cycle of the year that is dependent upon the Beit Hamikdash.

After all, the need for a "new year for trees" is to mark the end of the "fiscal year" for the tithes that we gave to the Levites and the poor, and the portion of our produce that we took up to Jerusalem when the Temple was standing.

Most of the Jewish people, at this point in time, live outside the land of Israel. Even in Israel, the tithes are not fully functional today as we do not have a Beit Hamikdash presently. This of course raises the question -- why celebrate Tu B'Shvat at all?

Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of humankind -- which is everywhere. Passover celebrates the Exodus, which lies at the heart of our peoplehood wherever we are. But Tu B'Shvat - why celebrate it now and in the Diaspora?

I believe the reason is twofold:

1) To express our hope, desire and faith that very soon we will all be in the Land of Israel, with the Holy Temple rebuilt, and thus be able to fulfill all the special mitzvot that are relevant only in that spiritually ideal state. Our current-day celebration of Tu B'Shvat makes the mitzvah of fruit tithes -- and Redemption itself -- a very real and anticipated possibility in our lives

2) Tu B'Shvat reminds us that we each have within ourselves, in microcosm, the capacity to attain the state of a "Land of Israel."

The Prophet Malachi (3:12) states that G‑d tells the Jewish people "You shall be for me the Land of my Desire" (a term also used for the Land of Israel).

The Baal Shem Tov explains that the prophet is implying that just as the earth conceals the greatest treasures beneath its surface -- both in the form of precious metals and gems that lie buried in the depths of the earth, as well as in the productive energies locked in its soil -- so, too, each one of us has the capacity to discover huge reserves and potentials of good and holiness hidden within him or herself. We simply need to mine the spiritual treasures hidden beneath our mundane exterior, and "dig up the earth" of our surface selves to plant the seeds -- the good deeds -- that will take root, blossom and multiply.

We need to "dig" for a deeper purpose in every basic activity we do. This is why we have blessings for all sorts of activities and laws for even more -- so that there should never be "just another day in the office." By looking carefully at the Torah, we discover opportunities to connect to G‑d meaningfully in every aspect of our lives. As long as we don't leave our earth untilled -- as long as we do not accept life as it comes but make the effort to actualize our potentials --- we will find great treasure.

We can take the opportunity to make a blessing on our lunch. We can find time for an afternoon Minchah prayer, creating an island of introspection in the midst of the helter-skelter of the business day. We can make the effort to speak kind and encouraging words to someone at work who needs them. We can give charity on the way into and the way out of our workplaces. In our financial dealings, we can adopt an active focus on insisting -- of ourselves and others -- on absolute honesty in every aspect of our economic activity.

When we live this way, we mine true treasure from the very bedrock of our souls. We plant trees of G‑dliness in the soil of out lives that give off beautiful, G‑dly "fruit." We become a flourishing microcosmic "Land of Desire" -- a land of fulfillment of G‑d's desire that we attain our full spiritual and ethical potential.

As we create these many "micro-Israels," these in turn create a critical mass of good that coalesces and causes the "macro" Land of Israel to reach its true potential. This actualized potential will be expressed in the return of all of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, where they will experience G‑dliness revealed in the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash from which good and harmony will shine forth to embrace the entirety of humankind.

May we all enjoy a healthy and fruitful winter.

Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe, a frequent contributor of articles and media to, is Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, N.Y., and director of the Institute for Judaic Knowledge, based in Newton, Mass. Rabbi Yaffe has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.
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Matityahu Birnberg beer sheva, israel January 20, 2013

When living in Minnesota, the winter snow and low temperatures all but
obscured the reality of the contrast between this season and the budding
spring in Israel, a few weeks away.

Now, at home in Southern Israel, there is no jarring contrast seasonally and the holiday seems to make more sense. No longer in the Diaspora,
Tu B'Shvat seems to return to its original setting. It is gratifying. Reply

ariel los angeles, ca January 19, 2011

thank you for your words - we're having a tu beshvat class at my house and the gems of your words will be spread and sprout into new "trees" with our friends. Reply