My good friend Yonina Pritzker is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohr Yisrael in Newton, Massachusetts. In addition to her congregational and community work, she has worked at The David Project on curricula related to Israel, and at CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) as a Research Analyst. She is also the most pro-Israel leader around! In honor of Tu B’Shvat she has written a reminder of what Israel is all about:
When the ancient Temple stood in Jerusalem, and even after its destruction, the income of Israelite farmers was taxed by one tenth. The date which marked the end of one fruit crop and the beginning of the next fruit crop was the 15th day of the month of Shevat. This day, known as Tu B’Shvat, celebrated this year on Thursday, January 16, was considered to be the New Year for trees, just as Rosh HaShanah is our New Year. It was thought that the trees also stood in judgment that day, and their fruitfulness in the upcoming year was decided.
In celebration of Tu B’Shvat, Ashkenazi Jews in Europe would sing Psalms and eat different kinds of fruit from the trees of Israel. During the sixteenth century, the Kabbalists and mystics of Tzfat in Israel developed a Tu B’Shvat Seder, patterned after our Passover Seder. Amidst the drinking of four cups of wine, a multitude of fruit would be eaten
We are taught in the Torah, For the L-rd your G-d is bringing you to a good land: … A land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-yielding olives and honey. Deuteronomy 8:8
These are the seven species which are associated with the Land of Israel and which we traditionally eat on Tu B’Shvat.
Fifteen times, the Torah refers to the Land of Israel as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” The commentary Rashi explains that “milk” refers to goat’s milk, while “honey” refers to “any sweet juice of a fruit.”
In Midarkai Hailanos we are taught that the Ramban, or Nachmanides, understands “‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ as the highest of praise: It is a good land, its air is good and pleasant for people, and every good thing can be found in it…Its fruit are so plump and sweet that the land runs with their honey.” While Rabbenu Bachyei “insists that ‘all the praises of the Land allude to the Torah itself…’ Even the air of Eretz Yisrael, say our Chachamim, has the capacity to make one wiser. In Rabbenu Bachyei’s opinion this is the ‘milk and honey’ of Eretz Yisrael.”
Our love of and connection to the Land of Israel is as old as our people itself. Israel and Jerusalem hold the deepest religious significance for Jews. Although there are those who keep trying to deny this connection, as well as, politicize Jerusalem, this land and city, which are the objects of our eternal love, will never be a political issue. On the contrary, Israel, the land which bears our name, and Jerusalem, our eternal capital, are the very soul of the Jewish People.
Israel is the religious and spiritual center of the Jewish world. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel from ancient times until today. The centrality of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people cannot be overstated. Over the millennia, many conquerors tried to absorb Israel within their empires; but in all of these attempts, the land of Israel remained the country of our people, and Jerusalem has served as the capital of only one nation – that of our Jewish nation.