How could I not write a blog about Tu B’Shvat?
In the Land of Israel, we’re already happily celebrating Tu B’Shvat, the holiday of the trees. School children sing songs praising the Land of Israel and thanking Hashem for its fruits. Bus loads of students and families go on field trips throughout the country, and saplings are planted with great joy and spirit. And a festive meal of thanksgiving, highlighted by a cornucopia of fruits of the Land, will grace our tables on Shabbat.
This is the holiday of Eretz Yisrael! I suppose next to my love for Hashem, I love the Land of Israel more than anything else in the world. Without Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish Nation is shattered, destroyed. Outside of Eretz Yisrael, we are like fish out of water. We can’t survive as a Nation. We have no national soul. We’re just individuals in other people’s lands, like the dry bones the Prophet Ezekiel describes. Dry bones in the graveyard of foreign lands.
Without Eretz Yisrael, the Torah is a shrunken, truncated, mini-version of the complete Torah of Eretz Yisrael. Two-thirds of the Mishna deals with laws that can only be performed in Israel. Without Eretz Yisrael, God Himself is reduced to a second-string diety, seemingly not strong enough to keep His Chosen People in the Land He gave them, for there is no greater desecration of the Name of God than when the Jewish People are scattered in exile amongst the goyim (Ezekiel, 36:20). Without Eretz Yisrael, there is no prophecy, no Beit HaMikdash, and the Divine Presence doesn’t appear in the world.
I’m not the only one who loves Eretz Yisrael. God also loves the Land of Israel with a towering love, watching over it like a favorite child, from the beginning of the year to its end, just like it says in the Torah.
I love Eretz Yisrael so much, I never want to leave it. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. If I was forced to leave the Land of Israel, it would be a terrible punishment. The worst punishment there could be. The Rambam describes the love of God like a man who is passionately in love with a woman and always wants to be with her – so too a Jew should actively yearn, every single minute, to always be in Israel. It’s part of being a Jew. It’s the integral part of keeping the Torah. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi explains in “The Kuzari,” it’s the main part of serving G-d completely, being in the place where the Torah can be most completely observed. Like with all the commandments of the Land which can only be performed in Israel. Living a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael is what Judaism is all about. If a Jew doesn’t feel a powerful, throbbing yearning to be in Eretz Yisrael, then something is wrong with his understanding of Torah.
On Tu B’Shvat we eat the fruits of Eretz Yisrael as described in the Torah, “For the L-rd your G-d brings you into a good Land, a Land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and date honey; a land where you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack anything in it…” (Devarim, 8:8).
During the festive meal celebrating the holiday, our Sages instruct us to first eat the fruits which appear in the Torah verse closest to the word “Land.” From here, Rabbi Kook writes that the person who is closest to the Land of Israel, and who exerts himself the most in its settlement, is the closest to perfection, and he will be blessed first in the World To Come. (“Ayn Iyah,” Berachot 41; and “Olat Rayah,” Vol. 1, pg. 375). Thus if you have two Jews of equal religious observance, but one lives in the Diaspora and the other in Eretz Yisrael, the Jew who lives in Israel is first in blessing and closer to Jewish perfection.
What an incredible blessing and honor and privilege to live here! In Israel, before you eat fruit that’s grown here, you have to separate the tithes, trumot and ma’aserot, and make the proper blessing (or be sure that the fruit seller has done it for you). You can’t do that with the fruits that grow in the Diaspora. The mitzvah doesn’t apply in the Diaspora. There aren’t any tithes because the fruits there aren’t holy. The land there isn’t holy. The air there isn’t holy. It’s a place of spiritual impurity. In fact, it’s so impure there that Jews forget what real holiness is, and that they are supposed to be living in the Holy Land, and not in the impure lands of the gentiles.
For all of you who are still in exile in foreign lands of the gentiles, at least go out and buy yourself some fruit and wine from the Land of Israel. Make a party! Bless Hashem for the good Land He has given us, and for its fruits and overflowing bounty. As it says in the Gemara, the surest sign of the end of the exile is when the trees in the Land of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance (Sanhedrin 98A, see Rashi there). That time is now! There are fruit trees all over the country. Supermarkets are filled with mountains of fruits. Oranges, apples, peaches, pears, grapefruit, kiwis, bananas, lemons, pomegranates, figs, dates, olives, pomela, avocadoes, and on and on and on. That’s the surest sign of Geula! You don’t have to wait for Mashiach – the Redemption is happening now!
This Tu B’Shvat, may you all be blessed from the Land of Israel and merit to be a part of it as soon as you can.