Tu Bishvat: Party time?

Tu Bishvat is not only the Jewish New Year for the Trees, it also happens to be the Knesset’s birthday.

Big tree 521 (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Big tree 521
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Thankfully, the Israeli elections are now over. We can forget about politics for a little while this weekend and celebrate the non-political holiday of Tu Bishvat.
Or so you’d think.
Tu Bishvat is not only the Jewish New Year for the Trees, it also happens to be the Knesset’s birthday. The Knesset convened for the first time on the 15th of Shvat (February 14, 1949) in the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. Most of the 120 delegates participated in a treeplanting ritual that has become an integral part of the Knesset’s birthday celebration each year.
The elections for the 19th Knesset may be over, but the “fun” is just beginning. Only now, once the ballots have been counted, do we see Israeli politicians really spring into action. As the largest party tries to build a ruling coalition bloc, the wheeling and dealing with the other parties begins in earnest. Like kids in a candy store, Israel’s MKs start grabbing whatever offers they can get their hands on before all the good “jobs” (ministerial portfolios) are taken. Nobody wants to be left without anything.
THE WHOLE post-election situation in Israel reminds me of the following story. Every year on Tu Bishvat, the table of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Ziditchov would be surrounded by many hassidim and guests, and the rebbe would distribute fruits of the land of Israel to everybody present.
One year, more visitors arrived than usual, and even the huge amount of fruit which had been prepared was not enough.
The rebbe looked up and discerned what had happened. He then said, “Is it fruit that you want? Come close and I’ll tell you where you can find them.” He then proceeded to quote from the Mishnah: “These are things the fruits of which a person enjoys in this world, while the principle remains intact for him in the World to Come: Honoring thy father and mother, acts of kindness, and bringing peace between a man and his fellow. And the study of Torah is equal to them all.”
“Now,” said the rebbe, “go and occupy yourselves with Torah, and you will find numerous fruits – without any crowding.”
We may have a long way to go until our Knesset is a model of “acts of kindness” and “bringing peace between a man and his fellow,” but they are certainly worthy goals to strive for.
It reminds me of me of the time I attended a lecture held at a local Israeli synagogue that started out general, but then turned very political.
One fellow in the audience didn’t like what the speaker was saying and interrupted him several times. Finally, the moderator put a stop to the incessant heckler with, “Sir, please remember that we are in a ‘Beit Knesset,’ not ‘the’ Knesset.”
Perhaps all MKs would do well to remember Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s closing remarks exactly one year ago at the Knesset Session Celebrating the 63rd Anniversary of the Founding of the Knesset on Tu Bishvat: “Today I ask of all of us, all members of Knesset, to remember that in addition to our being representatives of certain publics, we are first and foremost public representatives – the entire public. We bear the responsibility for the fate of the entire country and the future of the people of Israel.
“This was the clear mission of the 120 members of the first Knesset and it should be the mission that guides us all today on this day of celebration for the Knesset. The seedlings planted by the first members of Knesset have grown and become a democracy that we can all be proud of, and in the shade of these seedlings, we can all take shelter.”
OF COURSE, my favorite Tu Bishvat story tells how Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk once asked his student, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, to speak at their Tu Bishvat seudah (festive meal) of fruits from the land of Israel.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir chose to discuss the Talmudic section which teaches that Tu Bishvat is The New Year for the Trees and gave a lengthy and complicated discourse on the subject.
When he finally finished, Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied, “If we were in the land of Israel, we could just go out to the fields and look at the trees. We would then understand what ‘The New Year for the Trees’ really means, and we would not need scholarly learning on the subject! For there, in the land of Israel, Tu Bishvat does not say ‘darshuni’ [expound upon me], but ‘asuni’ [Do it]!” Now that the elections are over, it’s time for our politicians to stop “talking” and start “doing.”
The writer has an MA in creative writing from Bar-Ilan University.