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Haftarah: Shoftim 5:1-31

JANUARY 22-23, 2016 13 SHEBAT 5776

Tu Bishbat will be celebrated on Monday, January 25


"On the first of Shebat is the new year of the trees, these are the words of Bet Shamai. Bet Hillel say on the fifteenth" (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1)

Next week, on Monday, is Tu B'Shvat, the Rosh Hashanah for trees. It is a time to thank Hashem for all the magnificent fruits He created, but it is also a time for spiritual growth. Rabbi Paysach Krohn quoted a sentence from a book by C.L. Kramer, "Any fool can count the seeds in one apple, but only the Highest Power (Hashem) can count the apples in one seed." You need little wisdom to cut open an apple and count the seeds in its core, but only Hashem knows the potential that lies in each tiny seed. It can be a seed from which a mighty tree will grow, or homiletically speaking, one "seed" could be a word of encouragement that sparks another person who is down to become uplifted and move on to accomplish great things. One "seed" could be a small loan that allows a person to regain his financial footing. One "seed" could be a listening ear to validate someone else's pain and give him strength to continue. We must never underestimate the value of one kind word, one kind deed, one small seed.

The Torah (Debarim 20:19) writes, "man is like a tree in the field," which is homiletically understood to mean that just as a tree has roots and fruits, man too has ancestors and offspring. However, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt"l of Mir would often say that just as a tree must be nurtured with sunshine and water so that it continues to grow, man too must be nurtured with the study of Torah and performance of misvot, so that he continues to grow. Otherwise, tree or man will wither.

One great Rabbi said, "A great man takes an apple so that he can bless Hashem with a berachah, a plain man says a berachah to eat an apple." The message is that all the material matter that Hashem has blessed us with - be it food, a home, finances, a car - are to be used as a means to sanctify Hashem and to fulfill His misvot. Everything we own should be used as a means to a holy end - to recognize Hashem and the needs of His people. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

As we sit and eat our variety of fruits and delicacies this Monday, which is Tu Bishbat, we should take a moment and dwell on the significance of this day. The custom is to make berachot on different species of fruits and nuts, especially those which Eress Yisrael is noted for, such as grains, wine, etc. By doing so we cause Hashem to bless these items, which in turn produce more bounty.

When we say Boreh Nefashot, the after-blessing for many foods, the blessing encompasses two main categories: Our necessities, iburxju ,uCr ,ua?pb truc, like bread and water, and all the luxury foods with which man could live without, but make life so enjoyable, ov?C ,uhjvk Ttr?Ca vn k?F kg. On both of these we thank Hashem in the ,ua?pb truc. During Tu Bishbat, when we see the vast abundance of special fruits and nuts that Hashem created for our enjoyment, we should be ever grateful that He gave us so many ways to enjoy this world.

Another lesson for Tu Bishbat is the following. It is freezing outside and all trees have shut down for the season. However, the Rabbis say that on Tu Bishbat the sap begins to rise in these dead-looking trees, getting ready for a new season. So too, we have to see people (and ourselves) in that vein. Even if it looks like they (or we) are not producing, the potential is there to start producing again. We have to let the "sap flow." Happy Tu Bishbat and Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


There are two very puzzling commentaries on this verse that require explanation. The Targum Yonatan translates this verse to say that every family came out of Egypt with five children. Is it really plausible that every family had exactly five children at the time they left Egypt?

Another interesting comment on this verse is found in the Targum Yerushalmi which explains that "the Jews left Egypt armed - with many good deeds." This too is difficult to understand since we find that the verse in Yehezkel says, "you were naked and bare," in reference to the Jewish people, who were "naked and bare" of all misvot as they left Egypt, and therefore did not merit to be taken out at all. It is for this reason, adds the Mechilta, that on the eve of their departure from Egypt, Hashem gave the Jewish People two misvot - the Pesah offering and Berit Milah, in order to provide them with at least something to merit redemption. Since they had no misvot the day before they left, and were given only two misvot, how is it appropriate to say that they left "armed with many good deeds"?

A possible answer to the second question is found in Pirkei Abot which states that "a misvah leads to more misvot." Therefore, even though the Jewish People only received two misvot, this alone gave them the inner strength to set into motion a cycle of doing more and more misvot, and this was the commitment that each of them made. This argument is strengthened when we look closer at the two misvot that Hashem gave to them; by slaughtering the Pesah lamb which was an Egyptian god, the Jewish People were declaring their distance from that idolatrous society and by performing Berit Milah, they were making a commitment to dedicate themselves to Hashem through His covenant. With one misvah, they withdrew from idolatry, and with the second, they drew close to Hashem. Therefore, it makes sense to say that from that moment on they performed many misvot - since they were essentially committing to a lifestyle of many misvot.

However, this does not answer our first question; how could every family leave with exactly five children?

The Be'er Yosef answers both of these questions by reminding us of Rashi's comment that Hashem brought the plague of darkness, in part, so that the Jews could bury those wicked individuals who did not wish to leave Egypt. In addition, the Mechilta explains that four-fifths of the Jewish People were buried during those three days of darkness, meaning that only one-fifth of the Jewish People left Egypt. However, this can only be said of the adults who chose to stay in Egypt. Their children, on the other hand, were not at an age deemed responsible for their actions, and consequently were not killed in the plague of darkness. Therefore, the Be'er Yosef concludes that the Targum Yonatan which claims that "the Jews left Egypt with five children each," does not mean five children literally, rather, five sets of children - for each family adopted and raised the children of four-fifths of the adults that did not leave Egypt, together with their own. This also explains the Targum Yerushalmi that all of the Jewish People left with many good deeds - to take on the burden of an additional four families of children before journeying into the wilderness and an unknown land surely merited their title of being armed with many good deeds. (Short Vort)


A winter storm can really upset the lives of thousands of people, with airport delays, road closings, downed electrical wires, and business and school closings. There are some, however, who anticipate - and even pray - that a minor storm will turn into a real blizzard and close the city down. The other day, I was sitting in the bet midrash, brushing up on my learning. A young student - maybe a sixth- or seventh-grader - came in and asked, "Did you hear the weather report? Do you know if the snow is going to stick?"

"No, I'm sorry," I replied. "I've been too busy to check on the weather. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I have a test tomorrow, and I was hoping the snow would pile up and they would cancel classes."

Facing a difficult or unpleasant task can make you dream of a solution that won't solve the problem, but will allow you to avoid or delay dealing with it. Shelomo Hamelech said, "A lazy person won't leave the house for fear there is a lion in the streets" (Mishlei 22:13). Indolence can even reach the point where a lazy soul won't carry a spoon of food from plate to mouth. Food does not jump into a person's mouth by itself, and facts and information will not fly into a student's head without some effort being made to get them there. Simply dreaming of a miraculous salvation to make a desired outcome occur, or to prevent a feared one from happening, will not generally produce results.

When you are tempted to dream up an avoidance or denial response to a task or problem, change your attitude. Dig down deep into your latent strength and draw on your reserves of energy. Face the problem squarely. It only takes a little effort to spin your negativism into a positive attitude, but you will learn to succeed in even the most difficult circumstances. (One Minute with Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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