israeli hills nature 88.
(photo credit: )
Now that Tu Bishvat is behind us we can confidently look forward to the coming of the spring season.
The Jewish calendar and tradition marches along with the seasons of the year. It is interesting that the Torah itself assigns to springtime the role of representing freedom, redemption and a new beginning. In its introductory words to the Pessah holiday - which cannot be far off judging by the number of advertisements for Pessah vacations that now appear in this newspaper - the Torah emphasizes: "Now you are going out [of Egyptian bondage] in the month of springtime."
The entire concept of the Jewish calendar and its necessity to reconcile in 19-year cycles the solar and lunar calendars is predicated on the fact that Pessah must always fall "in the month of springtime." It is not only good weather that we are looking for; it is the symbolism of renewal and growth that springtime represents that is the driving force behind this Torah requirement.
Tu Bishvat is therefore the harbinger of the turn of winter towards springtime. Maybe that is why it is such a popular and beloved day on everyone's Jewish calendar; for if anything is necessary in the dark and short days of winter, it is the belief in the power of hope, faith and optimism regarding better days ahead and continued renewal of body and soul that sustains us.
The seasons in Jewish life are marked by the seasons as they occur in the Land of Israel. Thus even though Nissan in South Africa and South America falls in the autumn season of those climes, it is nevertheless "the month of springtime," since it is then springtime in the Land of Israel. The prayers for rain in our daily prayer service are for rain primarily to fall in the Land of Israel.
Jews prayed with fervor for the fertility and climate of the Land of Israel even when there was only a minuscule Jewish population living there and there was no Jewish agriculture present to speak of. The love of the Jewish people for the Land of Israel was unconditional, unequivocal and always had supernatural qualities to it. The Land of Israel was the physical springtime of the Jewish people in the long and bitter winter of its exile and dispersion. Jews in the farthest reaches of the exile longed to taste a fruit grown in the Land of Israel on Tu Bishvat.
Zionism was built on such religious and traditional customs and halachic rulings. Too bad, that in its strident secularism, it threw out the baby with the perceived bathwater. It is hard to imagine a meaningful wave of aliya coming from an assimilated Jewish population that barely knows what Pessah is, let alone Tu Bishvat. The Land of Israel and its future growth and prosperity is dependent upon Jews viewing it as the springtime of our existence. It cannot just be another piece of our winter landscape.
Because the springtime has not yet arrived, and we are yet in the month of Shvat, it requires imagination and anticipation to look forward to the springtime. It is imagination and anticipation that has always fired the Jewish mind and soul and helped us survive triumphantly to this very day.
I had a member of my congregation in the United States who once shared with me his secret of survival in the German concentration camps in which he was incarcerated in World War II. Sometime before the war, on a whim, he purchased an apartment in Jerusalem, though he certainly did not intend as of yet to move there. He had the plans of the layout of the apartment sent to him and he enjoyed perusing the plans in his spare time. Then the war and all of its horrors descended upon him. He told me: "Every night, after a backbreaking day of forced labor, lying amongst the dead and dying on my wooden plank, I furnished and refurnished my Jerusalem apartment in my mind's eye and in my dreams. It kept me sane and it kept me alive. I had a purpose to attempt to stay alive while others threw themselves on the electrified fence."
His Jerusalem apartment was his springtime, his future and hope for survival. All of us need springtime to look forward to. The Torah guarantees us generations in the future if we adhere to its words and teachings. It guarantees us that the springtime will come, and with it our renewal and redemption. In the still cold and dark days of our diplomatic, political and societal winter, it will help us to remember that springtime is really on the way.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator (rabbiwein.com).
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