Issue 4 – February 8, 2006
Thoughts on Ancient Times & Current Events by Ashirah Yosefah
THOUGHTS OF TREES & THE SEA
Reflections on Shabbat Shirah & Tu b’Shevat
A fig rests upon the branch of a fig tree in Kfar Etsion, its
inner sweetness curiously laid bare to passersby.
(© Ashirah Yosefah Photo)
The annual semi-holiday of Tu
b’Shevat is fast approaching. Throughout
In truth, Tu b’Shevat actually goes back far beyond the 1600’s. Its true origins can be found in the observance of the Torah commandment to tithe the produce of fruit trees in Eretz Yisrael. Tu b’Shevat (the 15th of the month of Shevat) marks the being the beginning of a new annual cycle for the tithing of fruit trees, hence it is also called the New Year for Trees.
Prior to the destruction of
The truth is that mankind has a lot of responsibilities towards G-d’s Creation, and for Jews there are some very special responsibilities with respect to Eretz Yisrael. Tehillim 24:1 tells us that “The earth is Hashem’s and all that it holds.” Simply put, it is not ours to squander or abuse, although that seems to be a prevailing pattern by times. We are to be good stewards of the land and its produce; G-d gave both to us for our benefit and blessing. In Eretz Yisrael, being responsible stewards also includes heeding the Torah commands to share the bounty of the land with those in need, allow the land to rest during the sabbatical year (every seventh year), redistribute land every fifty years (the Yovel or Jubilee Year), and maintain the integrity of the land so it will sustain future generations.
Now, getting to the real crux of responsible stewardship, the Children of Israel are explicitly told in Torah: "The Land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine." (Leviticus 25:23). One has to ask, given events of late, does not the act of giving away ‘carte blanche’ the heartland and coastland of Eretz Yisrael fall well within the prohibitions of this commandment?
In Jewish thought, nothing is a coincidence. “Lo miqrei”, we say in Hebrew. It just so happens that this Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah, so named because it is the Shabbat in which we read Parasha Beshelach that contains the Song at the Sea, also part of our daily prayers. The Sages tell us that we can get a glimpse of the true reason for the events happening in our world by carefully studying each week’s Parasha and its accompanying Haftorah. In my own experience, this has proven to be true, and sometimes ‘too true for comfort’.
Parasha Beshelach actually contains significant references to the Messianic era within the words and content of Shirat haYam (the Song at the Sea). The song is intriguing and contains allusions to future events, especially the last two verses of the song:
“You will bring them and plant them on the mount of Your portion, in the foundation of the place that You, G-d, have made for Your residence – the sanctuary of G-d that Your Hands will establish. G-d will reign forever and ever!” (Exodus 15:17-18)
Rabbi Uziel Milevsky in his Torah commentary, Ner Uziel, Volume 1, explains the significance the above verses as follows:
“Rashi explains that the
phrase ‘the sanctuary of G-d that Your Hands will establish’ is a reference to
Another illusion to the
Messianic aspects of the parting of the
‘Nations heard and
shuddered; terror gripped the inhabitants of Pelashes [
The narrative here veers from its original course – the Jewish people’s praise of G-d – focusing instead on the terrified reactions of the nations. This, too, alludes to the Messianic era, when G-d will avenge the many crimes perpetrated against the Jewish people by wicked nations, and all of mankind will tremble with fright.”
As we look about us here in Eretz Yisrael and watch the progressively more ominous events that transpire with each passing week, we can only take hold of the future promises of Shirat haYam and pray that G-d hastens their fulfillment. In the meantime, it is a mitzvah for us to build this Land, to observe the precept of settling the Land of Israel and planting it, and to cling to our G-d, looking forward to the day foretold by Isaiah when "And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time; they are the shoot that I planted, My handiwork in which I glory. (Isaiah 60: 21). To this end, we must actively participate in the redemption of the Land and labor towards to the building of the country, not its demise and destruction.
So amidst all of the world’s present turmoil, how do we cling to our G-d? We can barely cling to our sanity some days. In Vayikra Rabba 25:3, the wisdom of our Sages gives us an insight that we should remember as we prepare to celebrate Tu b’Shevat:
“Is it really possible
for a human being to ‘climb’ up to heaven and ‘cling’ to G-d, of whom it is
written, ‘For G-d is an all-consuming fire’?
Rather, the Torah is telling us to emulate the middot (character traits)
of G-d. When G-d first created the
world, He was occupied with planting trees, as it is written, ‘And G-d planted
a garden in
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, in his
book Moadim LeSimcha, page 76, explains the deeper
significance of Hashem having ‘planted a garden in
“… when we read in the
Torah that G-d planted a garden in
May Hashem hasten the day
when “every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to
disturb him” (Micah 4:4), and when