Monday, January 21, 2008

Tu Bishvat and the Process of Redemption

Why do we celebrate Tu Bishvat? This isn’t quite clear. The holiday of Tu Bishvat does not appear in the Torah. It does not appear in the Mishna. It does not appear in the Gemara. I does not even appear in Geonim or Rishonim. The first time the holiday of Tu Bishvat was celebrated was with the students of the GRA and other mekubalim, who then instituted a minhag of eating fruits on that day. Before that, this day was simply a technical halachic day for the calculation of years. Yet, these mekubalim started a new minhag of eating fruits on that day. Why is the meaning of this minhag and why on this day?

In the gemara, we are told that the day of Tu Bishvat was used to calculate a technical halachic year. Again, there was no mention of it being a holiday. Yet, we are told that the reason why we are to use this day in our calculations is because it is the day in which fruits start to ripen. They are still not eatable but they start the process of ripening which eventually will lead them to become eatable. Our previous question now becomes stronger! Why did the mekubalim institute a minhag of eating fruits, of celebrating fruits, on the day in which the fruits are not even eatable? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have this holiday on the date in which most fruits are eatable?


The mekubalim have an approach to things that we can learn a lot from. For example: There are many different opinions as to when the day comes. Some people will only recognize the day when it is sunny outside, at noon. Others say it is day when the sun rises. Others say it is day when the first glimpse of light comes out. The Mekubalim do something amazing: In the middle of the night, at hatzot, (where the middle of the night is also the start of the end of the night, since the night is not starting to end), the mekubalim wake up and say tikkun hatzot. They already wake up, already start feeling that the day is coming.

This is what is happening with the fruit. The fruit is just starting the ripening process, but the mekubalim decide that this is already a time to start celebrating what the process will lead to. As the fruits start ripening, we already start eating fully ripened fruits.

This is a lesson we can apply in many aspects of our lives. On a very individual, personal level, we all often go through times which are not always the easiest. During these times, the traditional Jewish saying is: “Hakol Letova”! Everything is “for the good”. No, we’re not blind, we’re not naïve, we know there are some things which are bad… But we also have faith in God that ultimately, this is all part of a greater process which is for the good, and therefore, even if right now, the fruits of this process are not ripened, we can still celebrate the ripened fruit and say, everything is for the good. Eventually, we will understand that it is for the best.

On a national level, this teaching takes such an incredible meaning in our generation! Some people will only recognize that the redemption has come once the beit hamikdash has been rebuilt and we have a king once again. The mekubalim teach us to look deeper and to try and feel the coming of the mashiach from its first steps. In our generation, we are smack in the middle of this amazing process of the coming of the redemption! Once, someone told Rav Tzvi Yehuda: “If Rav Kook called the start of the settlements in Israel atchalta digueoula, a lot of time has already passed since, when will the redemption actually come?” Rav Tzvi Yehuda answered in a very short answer, with so much meaning, like he is accustomed to: “Kvar Ktzat Ba – It has already come a bit”. We are in the middle of the process! We might not have malchut yet, but jewish sovereignty has returned to Am Israel! We might not have a beit hamikdash, but Jerusalem is being rebuilt! There might be people left in chutz Laaretz, but there are over 5 million Jews living in Israel today, more then anywhere else in the world! The process is really picking up and moving forward!
During this process, however, we have a lot of hardships. Just recently, I had a very good friend of mine that mamash broke my heart when he told me he’s turning his back to the State of Israel because of the disengagement. He said he looks around Israel today and he doesn’t see the Zionism he used to support. This is not a reason to pack your bags and leave this amazing process! Even though the fruits are not ripened yet, we can already start blessing on them because we know they will ripen! We need to be patient. Human nature is always want to skip processes but sometimes they are necessary in order to get to an incredible goal and trying to skip them can bring disaster.

In the gemara, it states the following: “Ulah stated: “Let the Messiah come as long as I will not see him.” Raba also stated: “Let the Messiah come as long as I will not see him.” However, the rabbi which we all follow said something completely different. Rav Yossef said: “Let the Messiah come even when I will have to sit in the shadow of his donkey’s dung”. The donkey symbolizes the material world. In Hebrew, the word donkey comes from the world “material”. Rav Yossef knew there would be a time where Zionism would loose its idealism and would become a materialistic movement often engaged in things which do not follow the torah. Yet, he said: we know there will be tough times, we know it will not be simple, but we keep moving forward, we don’t pack our bags until the fruits have ripened. If I have to sit on the shadow of the dung of the donkey, I will, because I know that once the fruit ripens, this whole process will have been worth it.
As Am Israel continues the slow step by step process towards redemption, it is no surprise that Tu Bishvat suddenly became one of the most popular holidays in the Jewish World. A holiday which did not exist 1000 years ago is now celebrated by absolutely every community. I don't know of one Jew in the world who says tachanunim on that day. The message of Tu bishvat is needed for our generation to, each of us in our own way, help this process of redemption move forward, and keep blessing and Thanking god every day for each step of this process even if the redemption is not complete yet. As we bless the fruits this Tu Bishvat, lets all also bless our unfolding redemption and and each take practical steps of how to ensure our part is done to ripen the fruits of our redemption! more...

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