“Days are coming when Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill the face of the earth like fruit…. It will be on that day that Hashem shall thresh from the surging river to the brook of Egypt and you will be gathered up one by one, oh Children of Israel. And it will be on that day that a great Shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come, and they shall prostrate themselves to Hashem on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 27
Thus the navi, the prophet, predicts the homecoming of Am Yisrael.
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Why does the Torah so often relate prophesies of redemption to images of flowers and fruit? For example, we find in the second berachah of the Shemoneh Esrei that Hashem is referred to as a “a King Who…makes salvation unfold like a flower.” The fifteenth berachah in Shemoneh Esrei begins with “the flowering of David” and ends with “Who causes the flowering of salvation….”
Before I became observant, when I was running away from Hashem and His Torah, I used to think that nature was god. I wanted to believe that “Mother Nature” was an object of worship and truth, and that a person could find the essence of life by immersing himself in the natural world. This is real avodah zarah, idol worship. For one who worships idols, there are no rules. A tree does not tell us how to live. Only Hashem gives us a Torah.
Avodah zarah occurs when one attributes power to a creation of Hashem rather than Hashem Himself. As the navi says, “The woodcutter stretches a line and marks [the wood] with chalk…. It will be fuel for man; he will take from it and warm himself or even kindle a fire and bake bread. Yet he also makes a god and prostrates himself; he makes it a graven idol and bows to [it]. He burns half of it in fire, or with half he prepares meat to eat, roasting it and sating himself or he warms himself…. The rest of it he makes into a god as his graven image. He will bow to it and prostrate himself and pray to it and say, ‘Rescue me, for you are my god!’ ” (Isaiah 44)
Isaiah makes it all so obvious. The trick is to listen to the navi.
“Understand, you boors among the people, and you fools, when will you gain wisdom? He Who implants the ear, shall He not hear? He Who fashions the eye, shall He not see? He Who chastises nations, shall He not rebuke? (Psalm 94)
Dovid HaMelech tells us that nature is not an independent being. Rather (Psalm 19), “the heavens declare the glory of God and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork….” Thus, we can learn about the ways of Hashem from the operation of nature.
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What is Tu B’Shevat?
“Our Sages,” writes Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov in The Book of Our Heritage, “designated the Fifteenth of Shevat as the boundary between one year and another regarding fruit-bearing trees, for, by this date, most of the annual rain has already fallen. Fruits that grow after this date are therefore considered to be produce of a new year. Additionally, by the Fifteenth of Shevat, the soil is already saturated with the winter rains, so that trees planted after Tu B’Shevat are assured of taking firm root and producing fruit.”
This scenario seems to have been fulfilled in the Holy Land this year. After an exceedingly slow start to the rainy season, Eretz Yisrael was buffeted several weeks ago by what many were calling “the storm of the century.” At first a powerful rain fell, and then, at higher elevations, up to two or three feet of snow covered the ground. This amounted in a few days to about half the annual winter precipitation for a thirsty land.
“On the First of Shevat is the New Year for the trees [according to Bais Shammai; but Bais Hillel says on the Fifteenth of Shevat]. What is the reason? Rabbi Eliezer said in the name of Rabbi Oshaya: ‘Because most of the rain [days] of the year have passed [by this time], and most of the winter season is yet to come.’ What does [Rabbi Oshaya] mean? This is what he means: Even though most of the [winter] season is yet to come, [the New Year for the trees is still in Shevat] because most of the rain [days] of the year have [already] passed” (Rosh Hashanah 14a).
In Bereishis 8:21-22 we learn that following the Great Flood “Hashem said…‘I will not continue to curse again the ground because of man…nor will I again continue to smite every living being, as I have done. Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ ”
At the end of the harvest, winter begins. The earth becomes cold and hard, nights are long, and the sun seems far away in the southern sky. The sap ceases to flow in the trees. But in this season of temporary “death” Hashem sends down harbingers of coming life in the form of tal u’matar livrachah – dew and rain for a blessing – upon the earth. These are referred to in the second berachah of Shemoneh Esrei, which is the berachah praising Hashem for techias hameisim, the resurrection of the dead.
It is amazing to think that right after the introductory berachah, which describes the merit of the Patriarchs, we say the berachah relating to the subject of the resurrection of the dead. This indicates the vital importance of this subject. Our sages arranged the order of the berachos in Shemoneh Esrei not only with great care but actually with ruach haKodesh, divine inspiration.
We read in the Gemara (Megillah 17b), “From where do we know [that the blessings of] the Shemoneh Esrei [must be recited in sequence?] As it was taught in a beraisa, Shimon Hapakuli arranged the Eighteen Blessings in order before Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh. Rabbi Yochanan said, and some say it was taught in a beraisa: ‘One hundred and twenty elders, among whom were many prophets, formulated eighteen blessings in a specific order.’ ” When mankind lived in the Garden of Eden, there was no such thing as death. We were connected seamlessly to Hashem, so to speak. Because we were so close to the Source of Life, we did not die. When we were expelled from the Garden, however, death became part of our reality. Since then, people who seek connection with God are constantly striving to return to the Garden, to once again pass trough the place now sealed shut by “the Keruvim [angels] and the flame of the ever-turning sword [that guards] the way to the Tree of Life” (Bereishis 3:24).
By what means do we hope to return to the Garden? By the Torah, which gives us the power to reestablish man’s former relationship with the Creator and transcend death. And so there is a gift from Hashem called techias hameisim, resurrection of the dead, which allows those who have left this world to return to the world of the living.
We say at least three times a day, every day of the year, that Hashem “sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined and maintains His faith with those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds and who is comparable to You, Oh King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout? And You are faithful to revive the dead. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who revives the dead.”
The Rambam states in his Thirteen Middos, “I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator, Blessed is His Name….”
This Shabbos we will read the following in Parshas Beshalach: “On that day, Hashem saved Israel from the hand of Egypt and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt and the people revered Hashem and they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant. Then Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem, and they said the following, ‘I shall sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea. The might and vengeance of God was salvation for me. This is my God and I will build Him a Sanctuary, the God of my father and I will exalt Him.’ ”
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Where in fact do we learn from the Torah that there is something called resurrection of the dead? There is no direct statement. But there is a hint, a remez, in the passage quoted above.
We learn in Sanhedrin 91b, “It was taught in a beraisa: Where [do we find an allusion] to the resurrection of the dead in the [Written] Torah? For it is stated, ‘Then Moshe and the children of Israel will sing this song to Hashem.’ ‘He sang’ is not stated, but rather ‘He will sing.’ Here [we have an allusion] to the resurrection of the dead in the [Written] Torah.”
Why did the Torah choose to place the hint of techias hameisim precisely in this place? The Torah is so big. Why here? I once heard a magnificent answer to that question.
A few years after the Second World War, a small group of survivors from Europe arrived in Israel by ship. They were physically and spiritually like dead men, having lost everything in the torture and chaos of wartime Europe. Docking in Tel Aviv, they felt they had no strength or hope to go on with their lives. They had heard, however, that the Belzer Rebbe (who himself had lost almost his entire family in the Holocaust), was in Tel Aviv and they decided to go to the Rebbe for chizuk, for strength to go on.
This is what he told them:
“Do you know where in the Torah we find a reference to techias hameisim? It is well known that our rabbis found a hint in the Song that the Children of Israel sang at the Red Sea after their escape from Egypt and the drowning of their pursuers. The words ‘az yashir Moshe’ imply a future redemption after our final escape from our enemies at the end of history, implying that ‘Moshe will sing’ a song in the future, rather than that ‘Moshe sang a song.’ But why did the Torah insert the reference at this particular place? It could have been anywhere.
“Try to understand what was happening to the Children of Israel at that time: they had just come from Egypt. Our rabbis tell us that during the Ninth Plague [darkness] four-fifths of the Children of Israel had died, possibly because they were reluctant to follow Moshe Rabbeinu out of Egypt. Whatever the reason, there was not one person among Am Yisrael who was not in mourning as they left Egypt. All of them had lost close family members.
“How is it possible that a nation in mourning should be able to stand at the shores of the Red Sea and sing Shira, a song praising God, which is considered the highest level of simcha, happiness? How can one person, let alone an entire nation, be transformed in one moment from a state of mourning to the highest level of happiness?
“The answer is that they understood at that moment the concept of techias hameisim. Those who had left them would come back.”
Once the Children of Israel learned that death is not final, we ceased to fear death. Once we ceased to fear death, it was as if we had returned to the Garden of Eden and we could once again sing with simcha, and that is when “Moshe and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem…. ”
Now we can begin to understand more about the significance of Tu B’Shevat. It’s not only a lesson about techias hameisim. It’s more than that. We learn something very important about the process of Redemption and how it will come about.
We know that the most holy things in life are hidden. In fact, the Gemara tells us that blessing comes only from that which is hidden from sight, as it says, “A beraisa was taught in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael: Blessing is not found except in something at which the eye cannot gaze” (Taanis 8b). For example, the Torah only hints at the identity and location of Yerushalayim before it is actually revealed. The identity of Mashiach is hidden as well, as is the time he will be revealed.
Of course, the supreme example of that which is hidden is Hashem Himself.
Tu B’Shevat teaches us that Redemption is hidden until the time comes for it to be revealed. We cannot see when the sap begins to flow within the tree. We cannot see the moment when the rains are absorbed into the roots and new life begins to flow, the moment the grip of winter loosens. We cannot see it – but we know that it occurs. The beginnings of Redemption are hidden until the glorious moment will burst upon us. In the spring of the year, the flowing of the sap is hidden from us, but the tree is coming back to life. Only when magnificent flowers suddenly burst into bloom do we see the actualization of what was hidden. How appropriate that this occurs around the time of Pesach, the Season of our Redemption, Z’man Cheiruseinu.
Let us remember, as we endure dark days in the midst of winter, that springtime is not far away. Mashiach may be hidden now, but soon we will see the glorious King of Israel in all his majesty and the Beis HaMikdash on Har HaBayis in the midst of the Holy City.
“Blessed Are You, Hashem, Who revives the dead.”Roy S. Neuberger
About the Author: Roy Neuberger’s latest book, “Working Toward Moshiach,” is now available in Israel and the U. S. His book “2020 Vision” is available in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Russian, and Georgian. Roy is also the author of “From Central Park To Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul,” available in English, Hebrew, Russian, and Georgian, and “Worldstorm: Finding Meaning and Direction Amidst Today’s World Crisis.” Roy and his wife, Leah, speak publicly on topics related to his books and articles. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.2020vision.co.il.
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