“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.”