Tu B’Shvat’s Hope for an Early Spring

By Alan Jay Gerber To Unify a Nation

This coming Wednesday, Feb. 4, we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the beginning of spring on the Jewish calendar. The very thought of spring, especially given recent climatic events, is a bit of a stretch. Yet, spring is here, albeit a spiritual spring.

This week I will present several literary pieces drawn from varied sources that will hopefully give you a better appreciation of this unique holiday, and hopefully add extra warmth to our frigid lives.

First, we have an interview with Knesset member Rabbi Dov Lipman. Rabbi Lipman made some interesting observations that I will share without comment:

“Trees are often a metaphor for humans. Many of us have heard the injunction that during war one may lay siege to a town, but one may not cut down the trees. The entire verse, Devarim 20:19, reads, ‘When you lay siege to a city for many days to capture it by making war against it, you shall not destroy its tree, wielding an axe against it; for you shall eat of it but not cut it down; for a man is a tree of the field.’

“I should hasten to point out that halachically-speaking, one is only prohibited from cutting down trees that bear fruit. Others consider the fruit of one’s tree as the mitzvot that we do. And, indeed, trees are often a metaphor for Torah. The most famous expression of this is in Mishlei 3:18, ‘It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it’.”

We learn from Rabbi Lipman the following:

“We see that the 15th of Shevat is an important growth period for trees. We also see that trees, in our tradition, are related to both Torah and to mankind, and that the 15th of Shevat was a time when there was major spiritual growth among Jews. So, Tu B’Shevat is a time for Jews to focus on ‘the tree’ — the Tree of Torah and the tree of our own spiritual growth, and our potential for growth.” (Based on an interview with Eric Simon, Torah.org).

Rabbi Dov Lipman recently authored a simple yet eloquent autobiography entitled, “To Unify A Nation” (Urim Publcations) in which he, a musmach of Ner Yisrael, explains the motivations and beliefs behind his heartfelt activities on behalf of the Jewish people. This work deserves your attention for its honesty and a quality of chessed that he represents.

We learn the follow from historian Rabbi Berel Wein, in his essay “As The Season Turns”:

“Tu B’Shvat marks the turning point of the winter season. Even though there are many weeks of winter still ahead of us, there is no doubt that the season is turning. The days are becoming longer, the sun higher and brighter in the sky and the advertisements for Pesach accommodations more urgent and frenzied in tone. Tu B’Shvat is thus not only a new beginning for the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel, it is meant to signal a new beginning for us as individuals and as a people and a Jewish society.” Rabbi Wein always writes with a smile.

A unique booklet is still extant in its fourth edition entitled, “Haggadah Shel Tu B”Shvat,” by Seymour Hefter, a resident of Cedarhurst and a member of the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst. Within this brief booklet can be found an interesting collection of verses, teachings, songs and rituals all patterned as the liturgy of the Pesach Haggadah.

“This Haggadah captures the holiday spirit to be shared with family and friends,” Hefter writes. “I firmly believe in the centrality of community, caring, and doing things Jewish. This work is intended to complement your enjoyment of this special day.”

And, truly, so it is.

This article appears on The Jewish Star 

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