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Haftarah: Shoftim 5:1-31

FEBRUARY 10-11, 2017 15 SHEBAT 5777

Tu B’Shebat will be celebrated on Shabbat, February 11.


“On the first of Shebat is the New Year for the tree according to Bet Shammai, Bet Hillel says the fifteenth (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1)

This Shabbat will be Tu B’Shvat. We celebrate this day by enjoying the fruits of the trees, and thereby appreciating Hashem’s kindness. Hashem made a beautiful world full of pleasure and we must pause and make note of it and thank Him. Rosh Hashanah La’Ilanot impacts upon us on a symbolic level as on a practical one. It is closely linked to our spirituality.

For one thing, man is likened to a tree. The Gemara (Taanit 5b) talks about a blessing given to a beautiful tree “that all of your saplings should be just like you.” In the same manner, the Jew is blessed, as per the blessing that Rav Yitzhak offered to Rav Nahman, that his children shall resemble him. Rashi explains, “in Torah, wealth and honor.”

There is a single pasuk in the Torah in which man is directly compared to a tree of the field: “Is, then, the tree of field a man…” (Debarim 20:19). In this context, the Torah urges us to maintain the vitality of the fruit tree. On the symbolic level, we must do all we can to protect the transmission of Torah from one generation to the next, to ensure its vibrancy, for Torah is our greatest fruit.

Let us consider a basic scientific fact that we all remember having learned in our youth. The three components that are necessary for the growth of trees are: soil, water, and sun. A tree that lacks any one of these will not flourish. Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Klein learns that the things that are crucial for the proper development of the spirituality of our children are analogous to soil, water, and sun.

Water, of course, represents Torah itself, as Yeshayahu Hanabi said, “Ho, he who is thirsty go to the water,” and the Gemara derives that there is “no meaning of water other than Torah.” Hence, the first message of Tu B’Shvat is that just as a tree requires water, so too a Jew requires Torah.

In a like fashion we can explain that the significance of soil is the idea of environment, the medium in which growth occurs, and its importance to the upbringing of our children. The appropriate environment is necessary for the spiritual growth of our children. Vegetation stands little or no chance of growth in a soil that is toxic. Similarly, cultural toxicity imperils the growth of our children. As we find with Sarah Imenu, she noted Yishmael toying with idols and concluded that this was not an environment for her son Yitzhak. By the same token, young Jews will flourish better if their environment is devoid of the technological and informational trappings. Although they might be the source of much good, they are the source of much that is detrimental. The third component is sun. The light and the warmth provided by the sun represents warmth that is needed for today’s Jewish child to develop. Positive orientation, an upbeat mood, and the building of self-esteem are all crucial. These three ingredients will enable the production of beautiful fruit.

Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

The Midrash in this week’s perashah compares the Jewish people to a young woman who was in mortal danger, crying out for help. A king happened to be nearby, heard her cries and saved her from her tormentors. She was so grateful to him that eventually they got married, and she became the queen. One day the king realized that his wife was no longer close to him and speaking to him. He devised a plot where she could again think that that she is in danger, and she began to call out for help, whereupon he saved her again and their relationship was restored.

So, too, says the Midrash, the Jewish people cried out to Hashem and He saved them from Egypt. But when they stopped calling out to Him after they left Egypt, He devised a way that they should be up against the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptians behind them and nowhere else to turn but to Hashem. That’s when they cried out to Him and He split the sea, and they sang the song of “Az Yashir”

The Rabbis point out from this Midrash a very important lesson. We think that if everything is OK, we don’t need to call out to Hashem, but if there’s a problem, then we cry out to Him. This is called a fire engine mentality; we don’t call the fire engines unless, G-d forbid, there’s a fire. But in reality, it’s the other way around. Hashem wants us to call out to Him at all times, and when we don’t, that’s when he brings the problems which force us to turn to Him. Hashem is not a fire engine! He is our Father, our King, Who wants us to be in touch always. When things are going good, that’s all the more reason to pray to Him that everything should continue, and our relationship must become stronger. That way, we won’t need any “plots” to wake us up to turn to Him! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

Small Pieces

Most people want to work on themselves and reach new heights in knowledge and spirituality. The problem they often face, however, is not what to do, but when to do it. The job of changing a character trait or mastering a complete topic of Jewish law takes a great deal of time, and free time is a rare commodity. Maybe people lived simpler lives in days of old, but today, all of our modern, “time-saving” devices have resulted in a life that is fast and furious and over-scheduled. What is a well-intentioned person to do to achieve spiritual success?

The answer is to take “small pieces.” You probably will not find huge blocks of free time in your busy lifestyle. Grabbing a minute here and a minute there is the best way to be efficient with time management.

The time spent waiting for a train is valuable time, and so are the minutes of standing on line. Waiting for your spouse can be used for learning rather than getting impatient. Waiting for others to arrive for a lunch or dinner engagement or business meeting can also be productive. All you have to do is be prepared. Carry one of the great classics of Jewish thought or one of the new self-help books now available in light, small pocket sizes. Then, when the opportunity arises, don’t get nervous. Pull out your book and work on yourself.

Train yourself to think when you encounter “gaps” in your day. Then, if you don’t have a book, you can use the time for reflection.

You may only find a minute at a time, but minutes make up hours, and hours turn into days. The sum total of all your little acts will be a number large enough to call success. (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)

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