web analytics
September 17, 2014 / 22 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Tu B’Shevat’

Israel Celebrates Tu B’Shevat

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

School children, families and communities across Israel celebrated the holiday of Tu B’Shevat on Wednesday, planting trees and eating fruits native to the Land of Israel in honor of the New Year of the Trees.

Tu B’Shevat is one of four “New Years” mentioned in the Mishnah.  Occurring on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, it is the first day of the yearly agricultural cycle, and is important in terms of calculating biblical tithes and the appropriate time to begin cultivating fruits for eating.

According to Jewish law, a tree which is under the age of three may not be farmed for its fruits, but must be allowed to grow uninhibited, a law called Orlah.  Only after the tree reaches the age of three may its fruits be taken for eating.  Fourth-year fruits crops are brought to Jerusalem as a tithe, a law called Neta Revai.  Tu B’Shevat is the cut-off date for calculating the age of a fruit-bearing trees, and is important today for maintaining kosher standards  for the religious community, which continues to follow the laws of permitted fruits according to age.

In the 16th century, the great kabbalist and mystic Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat (the Arizal) instituted the tradition of making a Tu B’Shevat seder including fruits grown in the Land of Israel and featuring those which constitute the seven species noted in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 8: “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and honey.” The purpose of conducting the seder, which involves eating specific fruits, drinking four cups of wine, and saying blessings would raise people and even nature up to a higher spirituality.

Tu B’Shevat is also the time when members of the Chassidic and Sephardic communities pray for the etrog they will use during the holiday of Sukkot.

Planting a date palm in Hebron with the Kumah organization, 2006

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin planting a tree with the Jewish National Fund, 2012

Pack containing the Seven Species, all grown in Israel

Tu B’Shevat, Human Beings, And Trees

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The source for Tu B’Shevat is the opening Mishnah of the Talmudic tractate Rosh Hashanah: “The Academy of Hillel taught that the 15th of Shevat is the New Year for the trees.”

What does that mean, “New Year for the trees”?

Tu B’Shevat is technically the day when trees stop absorbing water from the ground and instead draw nourishment from their sap. In halacha, this means fruit that had blossomed prior to the 15th of Shevat could not be used as tithe for fruit that blossomed after that date.

So what relevance does this have for us in the 21st century, when most of us are not farmers?

In various places, the Bible compares a person to a tree:

● “A person is like the tree of a field ” (Devarim 20:19)

● “For as the days of a tree shall be the days of my people.” (Isaiah 65:22)

● “He will be like a tree planted near water ” (Jeremiah 17:8)

Why the comparison? A tree needs the four basic elements in order to survive – earth, water, air and fire (sunshine). Human beings also require the same basic elements. Let us see how by analyzing these four essential elements individually.

Earth: A tree needs to be planted firmly in the earth. The soil is not only the source through which nourishment is absorbed but also provides room for the roots to grow.

This is true of a person as well. The Talmud explains, “A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place” (Avot 3:22).

A person can appear successful on the outside. “But if the roots are few” – if there is little connection to one’s community and Torah heritage – then life can send challenges that are impossible to withstand. “A strong wind can turn the tree upside down.” A person alone is vulnerable to trends and fads that may lead to despair and destruction. But if a person, irrespective of wealth and status, is connected to his community and Torah heritage, then “even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place.”

People require a strong home base, one where Judaism’s values and morals are absorbed and that provides a supportive spiritual growth environment.

Water: Rainwater is absorbed into the ground and, through an elaborate system of roots, is carried throughout the trunk, branches and leaves of the tree. Without water, the tree will wither and die. The Torah is compared to water, as Moses proclaims: “May my teaching drop like the rain” (Devarim 32:2). Both rain and Torah descend from the heavens and provide relief to the thirsty and parched. The Torah flows down from God and has been absorbed by Jews in every generation. Torah gives zest and vitality to the human spirit. A life based on Torah will blossom with wisdom and good deeds.

Deprived of water, a person will become dehydrated and ultimately disoriented, even to the point where he may not be able to recognize his own father. So too, without Torah, a person becomes disoriented – to the extent he may not even recognize his Father in Heaven.

Air: A tree needs air to survive. The air contains oxygen a tree needs for respiration, and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. In an imbalanced atmosphere, the tree would suffocate and die.

The Torah (Bereishis 2:7) states that “God breathed life into the form of Man.” The Hebrew word for “breath” – neshima – is the same as the word for “soul” – neshama. Our spiritual life force comes, metaphorically, by way of air and respiration.

We use our senses of taste, touch and sight to perceive physical matter. (Even hearing involves the perception of sound waves). But smelling is the most spiritual of senses, since the least “physical matter” is involved. As the Talmud says (Berachot 43b), “Smell is that which the soul benefits from and the body does not.”

Memories Of A Beautiful Jew

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

He was a beautiful Jew.

Anyone – Jew or non-Jew, religious or secular, chassidic or yeshivish, man or woman – who encountered or exchanged words with Rabbi Chaskel Besser came away with a smile, feeling a little more pleasantly disposed about the topic at hand or the world at large.

Rabbi Besser had a way with words and a way with people that made you feel you were the only person in the world he wanted to talk with at that moment. I was privileged to know him for almost 20 years, from the time I began my association with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation in 1992.

Rabbi Besser had joined forces with Ambassador Lauder in the mid-1980s and in the first few years of their association had already launched schools in Hungary, Poland and Vienna, as well as youth centers, summer camps, community education programs, and a host of other ventures aimed at building Jewish life in Central Europe.

Rabbi Besser knew this territory well, as it had been his home. His family, the Koschitzkys, had already become successful businesspeople in Poland and Germany by the time Rabbi Besser was born in Katowice, Poland in 1923. Much of the world he knew as a child had vanished. But there were still a few Jews scattered throughout this part of the world, and Rabbi Besser and Mr. Lauder laboured to give them a chance at Jewish life and Jewish hope after the catastrophes of the Holocaust and Communism.

Rabbi Besser had numerous callings or careers before this one, as a businessman and investor in his own right, rabbi of a modest synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (he is the subject of a delightful biography, The Rabbi of 84th Street), Presidium member of Agudath Israel, and international chairman of Daf Yomi. He was a confidant and friend of chassidic rebbes, roshei yeshiva, and Jewish community leaders.

As the Lauder Foundation’s director for Poland (though his influence extended far beyond projects in that country alone), Rabbi Besser seemed to be in his element, juggling phone calls, correspondence, and meetings with community officials and staff in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, German, and English – his desk teemed with newspapers and faxes in all those languages.

Rabbi Besser’s concern and care for each child in the Lauder Foundation’s numerous Jewish day schools, for the anxieties of their parents, for the programs of the summer camps, and for the hiring and retention of qualified staff were as broad as they were deep.

In the hours I was privileged to sit in his office high above central Manhattan or at his Shabbat table on Riverside Drive, or the times I was privileged to carry his suitcase as he checked in to the Bristol Hotel in Warsaw as he arrived to help facilitate another multilateral conference on restitution of Jewish property seized during the war, I never saw him waver from his standard operating procedure: thoughtful, engaged, a crinkle of a smile playing around his mouth, ready with a wry witticism, a sparkle of kindness and delight in his eyes – and throughout, a true European gentleman.

Most significantly for me, I never saw him show fear of what others might say or think or write about him. He felt no need to defend his traditional Jewish beliefs or practices. He never evinced hesitation about joining forces with Jews and non-Jews-some who shared his way of life and others who did not – to build a better future for others.

There will always be those who divide up the Jewish world into “us” and “them,” and write, speak, or think of “them” as wholly other. One of the most valuable gifts I received from Rabbi Besser was the living example of how truly to look at every Jew as one of the family.

Rabbi Besser impressed me as a complete Jew, fully engaged in the world. To those who say one must either give up much of one’s particularistic Jewish lifestyle to have an influence in the world as well as those who question whether a deeply pious and strictly Orthodox person can connect meaningfully with the larger world without losing his bearings, I can only offer the following story (he related it to others as well, but when he told it to me he made me feel as if I were the first one to hear it):

Q & A: Tu B’Shevat

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

   QUESTION: Since on Tu B’Shevat we do not celebrate with a festive meal. Then how do we mark this date on our calendar? Additionally is one allowed to fast on this day?

M. Goldblum

(Via E-Mail)
   ANSWER: Before we answer your question we must first discuss the significance of this important date on our calendar.
   The first Mishna in Tractate Rosh Hashanah states that there are four New Years (lit. “heads of the year”), namely, in Nissan, in Elul, in Tishrei and in Shevat. These new years, according to the Mishna, are regarded as the beginning of the year for the fulfillment of various precepts:
   “On the first of Nissan is the new year for kings and for festivals. On the first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of cattle – R. Eleazar and R. Shimon [who dispute this statement] say it is on the first of Tishrei.
   “On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for years (such as the reckoning of dates for shetarot, or promissory notes), for Sabbatical years (the seven-year cycle of shemittah in Eretz Yisrael, when the earth lies fallow), for Jubilee years (the culmination of seven seven-year cycles, i.e., the 50th year), for planting (calculating the first three years when a newly planted tree is considered orlah and its fruit may not be eaten), and for [the tithe of] vegetables.
   “On the first of Shevat is the newyear for [tithing the fruit of] the tree, according to the ruling of Beit Shammai; Beit Hillel [disagree and] say, ‘on the 15th of that month.’ “
   We can easily see that these various “calendar” years are intertwined with the laws of tithes which are stated in Parashat Korach (Numbers 18:21-32), Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 14:22-29) and Parashat Ki Tavo (ibid. 26:12‑15). Our sages expounded there from the laws regarding the various tithes: ma’aser rishon, the first tithe that is given to the Levites; ma’aser sheni, a second tithe set aside the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the shemittah cycle, and which had to be eaten in Jerusalem; and ma’aser ani, the tithe set aside for the poor during the third and sixth years of the Sabbatical cycle, replacing ma’aser sheni.
   Rambam (Hilchot Ma’aser Sheni 1:2 and Hilchot Terumot 5:11), based on Tractate Rosh Hashanah 14b (the baraita of R. Shimon b. Eleazar) and 15b (stating, “If the fruit of a tree blossoms before the 15th of Shevat …”), rules that we follow the view of Beit Hillel. In fact, the discussion in the Gemara (ibid.) sets the date of the 15th (tet vav or “tu“) of Shevat as the dividing line to determine for which year fruits of various trees are to be tithed.
   In Bnei Yissaschar, the Dinover Rebbe, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Spero, derives from the wording of the Mishna “the New Year of the tree” (in the singular, as opposed to the plural used in the other cases) that on the 15th of Shevat every Jew should pray for a choice etrog that is beautiful to look at and in accordance with the most meticulous requirements (mehudar). He understands “the tree” to refer to one particular tree, the citron tree.
   As relates to fasting on Tu B’Shevat, we cite the Mechaber who states (Orach Chayyim 572:3 regarding the laws of fasting) that, “If a community desires to proclaim a public fast for a Monday and the Thursday and Monday that follows (Ta’anit B’Hav), and [one of] the fast day[s] would fall on Tu B’Shevat, the fast [schedule] is deferred to the following week in order that a fast not be decreed on Tu B’Shevat, which is the new year for the trees.”
   The Rema adds that if they have already started the fast [schedule], it is not canceled, as would be the case on rosh chodesh and chol hamo’ed.
   The Magen Avraham and the Ba’er Heitev both relate the incident when the Maharil had decreed that the community refrain from eating meat every Monday until Rosh Hashanah. That year, the 15th of Av (which is comparable in status to the 15th of Shevat) fell on a Monday, and the Maharil refused to eat meat.
   However, on the eve of Yom Kippur (when it is customary to eat two seudot with meat) and on the occasion of aseudat mitzvah he opined that it was permitted because of his [original] intention – he had not intended to include these days in his decree.
   This would conform with the view of the Rema (supra) who indicates the lesser status of Tu B’Shevat in regard to fasting. It is a progression from the preceding halacha (572:2) which states that if the community had already started a fast on rosh chodesh, Chanukah, Purim or chol hamo’ed, they are allowed to complete the fast – but they incur the obligation of another fast day for having fasted on that day.
   Magen Avraham explains that even though rosh chodesh is referred to as a “mo’ed” (a festival), it is not a yom mishteh ve’simcha (a day of feasting and rejoicing). The Yad Ephraim points out that Purim is indeed referred to as “yom mishteh ve’simcha” (Megillat Esther 9:17), but he notes that rosh chodesh is de’oraita (Biblical) while Purim is not.
   The day also seems to take on a festive status as regards the Tachanun prayer and nefilat appayim (lit. falling on one’s face during prostration), the Mechaber states (Orach Chayyim 131:6) that the custom is not to do so on Tu B’Shevat and other semi-holidays.
   (Note: The Talmud, Megilla 22b, refers to the custom of falling on the face when prostrating during the Tachanun prayer on a public fast day. Rav, who happened to be in a synagogue in Babylon on a public fast day, did not “fall on his face” when the rest of the congregation did so.)
   The Gemara assumes that the reason was that the floor of the synagogue was made of stone, and we are taught (Leviticus 26:1), “Ve’even maskit lo titnu be’artzechem le’hishtachavot ale’ha – You shall not place a stone covering in your land to prostrate yourselves upon it.” “Ale’ha” is understood to refer to a stone covering “in your land,” meaning wherever you live, but not in the Temple, where it is permitted.
   The Gemara also offers an alternative answer – that it is only full prostration with arms and legs extended that is prohibited everywhere but in the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, today we make sure that there is something, such as the arm, that separates between the face and [any] floor.)
   However as regards a seuda, there is no mention of a formal seuda in regard to Tu B’Shevat, just as there is none for rosh chodesh. But both Magen Avraham and Ba’er Heitev (loc. cit.) cite two interesting minhagim (customs). One is that on days when we do not say Tachanun Jews living in Austria did not eat lentils since these denote mourning.
   The other custom mentioned is that Ashkenazic Jews eat many kinds of fruits growing on trees. Of course, we have to be careful to recite the shehecheyanu blessing on new fruits in addition to the regular blessing we make before eating fruit (see Shevet Mussar quoting the testament of R. Eliezer Hagadol to his son).
   Although Ashkenazic Jews are mentioned specifically, the Sephardim also celebrate Tu B’Shevat. In fact, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, rosh kollel of Chazon Ovadyahu and the son of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Rishon LeTziyyon, devotes no less than nine paragraphs to the laws of Tu B’Shevat in his halachic work Yalkut Yosef.
   He notes (Hilchot Tu B’Shevat, Siman 4) the custom [of Sephardic Jews] to learn Mishna and Zohar on the night of Tu B’Shevat, including, of course, the laws pertaining to orlah, terumah (the first produce offered to the kohanim), and tithes.
   In Siman 6 he examines the situation when Tu B’Shevat occurs on the Sabbath, and the question when the new fruits are to be brought to say the shehecheyanu blessing over them. If the fruit is served after Kiddush, but before washing for the meal, there is a dispute among poskim whether the Grace After Meals serves as a substitute for the beracha acharona, the blessing that is normally said after eating fruit, based on the principle “safek berachot lehakel,” namely, when there is a doubt about the requirement for a blessing we tend to be lenient.
   He expresses the opinion that it is therefore proper to serve the new fruits during the meal, before Birkat Hamazon, so that the fruits are definitely included in the Grace After Meals.
   We have a glimpse of the importance of trees in our life when we read in Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 20:19) the admonition not to destroy fruit-bearing trees when we lay siege to a city. The phrase, “Ki ha’adam etz hasadeh” is taken to mean that we should not destroy trees because they do not attack us as people do, and also that man depends on the tree, “For man is the tree of the field.” All the commentators refer to man’s dependence on the fruit of the tree for his sustenance. The tree is considered as a source of life and we are anxious to preserve it.

   The Talmud (Ta’anit 7a) relates that when R. Zera was not feeling well enough to teach the law, R. Jeremiah asked him to expound something of an aggadic character. He replied by quoting R. Yochanan on the verse, “‘But is man a tree of the field?” Since it states, ‘From it you shall eat,’ and ‘it you shall not destroy,’ and states further [in the following verse], ‘It (a non fruit-bearing tree) you may destroy,’ we derive from the wording that only if a scholar (who is compared to a fruit-bearing tree) is worthy, should we eat (i.e., learn) from him…”

 

 

Rabbi Klass can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-tu-bshevat/2010/01/27/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: