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"He's a real fruitcake."
"You're the apple of my eye."
"Such a nut case!"
"It's like comparing apples and oranges."
Fruit comes up a lot in our conversations. And why not? It's healthy, natural, delicious and a mitzva!
Actually, eating fruit isn't a mitzva, but it is likened to a mitzva.
To clarify, the Torah likens a person to a tree. And just as all trees bear fruit of some sort (even if the "fruit" is nothing more than seed pods), so too are we expected to produce "fruit." The fruit we produce are the mitzvot we perform, the good deeds we do, the Torah we study.
The fruit that a tree bears is part of its self-perpetuation. New trees grow from the seeds in the fruit, and themselves produce fruit with seeds, ad infinitum. That's how trees regenerate; it's like "Tree Continuity."
Similarly, when we "produce fruit"-perform mitzvot, do good deeds, or study Torah-our fruit should be able to sow the seeds for more new fruit. And in Jewish tree-terminology, new fruit means more Jewish living - in our own lives and in the lives of others. Our mitzvot and good deeds should be done in a way that inspires others to grow as Jews, digging for their roots in Judaism and planting themselves in the warm, rich soil of Torah study. This is how Jews regenerate, it's our way of assuring Jewish Continuity.
Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, corresponding to January 22nd this year) is the New Year for Trees. On this day it is customary to eat one or more of the fruits for which the Land of Israel is praised. These fruits are grapes, dates, pomegranates, olives, figs. (Wheat and barley are the two special grains which, together with the five fruit, comprise the "Seven Species.")
Prior to eating food or partaking of a drink, Jewish teachings explain that we should acknowledge G-d's part in sustaining us by reciting a blessing beforehand. After eating the fruit, we thank G-d once again with a blessing. A special "after blessing" is said following the eating of the five fruits mentioned above.
In this blessing, we appeal to G-d to have pity on His people and to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Then, when we are all united in the Land of Israel, we will rejoice together as one.
Thus, eating the special fruit of the Land of Israel, especially on Tu B'Shevat, reminds us that every time we learn Torah or do mitzvot, we bring closer the climax of creation - mankind's future - the ideal world in which there is no jealousy nor animosity among individuals and nations, but only peace, justice and benevolence under One G-d.
Celebrate Tu B'Shevat: eat fruit, "make fruit," plant seeds.
As we read in this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, the Jewish people engaged in two conflicts on their way to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. One was a battle against Pharaoh, and the other was a war against Amalek.
In connection to the war against Pharaoh G-d told the Jews, "G-d will fight for you and you should hold your peace." However, when it came to the war against Amalek, G-d said, "Go out and fight against Amalek."
In what way did the two wars differ? Why did G-d fight for the Jewish people in one instance, yet command them to fight for themselves in the other?
Pharaoh and his army were not preventing the Jews from reaching Mount Sinai. In fact, the Egyptians were massed behind them, blocking their way back to Egypt. Amalek, by contrast, presented the Jews with an obstacle on their way to receiving the Torah. Amalek was trying to prevent their advance. For this reason G-d commanded them to "Go out and fight against Amalek."
Whenever someone tries to prevent a Jew from accessing the Torah, the greatest efforts must be made to fight against him. True, waging war goes against the nature of the Jewish people; the verse "by your sword you shall live" was said to Esau, not to Isaac. But if fighting is necessary, we are obligated to do so.
The victory of the Children of Israel against Amalek transcended the laws of nature. According to nature, Amalek should have prevailed. But the Jewish people weren't fighting out of a sense of personal power and strength. They went to war with the knowledge that they were Moses' emissaries, that they were fighting to receive the Torah. And when a Jew fights with the power of Torah behind him he will succeed.
Amalek confronted the Jews at a time when they were enthusiastic and were eager to reach Mount Sinai. Amalek attempted to cool off that enthusiasm, to dampen their ardor for receiving the Torah. Amalek "met you (korcha) by the way" - from the Hebrew word for coldness, kor.
It is a mitzva to remember Amalek each and every day. In the spiritual sense, "Amalek" is anything that discourages our enthusiasm for serving G-d.
From the Biblical war against Amalek we learn how to defeat him in the spiritual sense. Whenever something threatens to cool off our enthusiasm for G-dliness and holiness, we must do all in our power to vanquish the enemy and crush it completely.
Furthermore, in the spiritual battle against Amalek we must remember that the power with which we act is not our own. And when we fight with the power of Torah, we will certainly achieve our goal.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1
by Jeff Gelb
Time changes everything. But what changes time?
Thirty-five years ago, I was bar mitzvaed. At the time, the experience was meaningless to me. I just wasn't connecting to the value or meaning attached to the event, beyond the gifts I got from family and friends.
Thirty-four years ago, I made the choice to become an estranged Jew, and was not involved in my religion-or any religion-for the next 30 years.
Nineteen years ago, I married Terry, a wonderful Jewish woman. Like myself, at that time she was not an observant Jew. We were not involved in any temple or Jewish pursuit. The holidays were only observed if they fit our active Southern California lifestyles. For several years, we even had a "Hanukkah bush" to please our son Lindsey. Oy vey.
Four years ago, Lindsey turned 11. Our parents were asking whether he was going to be bar mitzvaed. I shrugged off the question as I had been shrugging off my religion for so long.
But then some very interesting things started happening. My son decided independently that he wanted to become bar mitzvaed. Undoubtedly peer group pressure from his many Jewish friends had something to do with it, but in any case, the clock was ticking and he had a lot of catching up to do.
Meanwhile, Terry had begun to explore her Jewish roots in a class with a very helpful, supportive Rebbetzin named Fayge Yemini at the Chabad Israel Center in Los Angeles. She put us in touch with a group of young rabbis-in-training at a local yeshiva, who quickly brought our son up to speed in Hebrew and gave him at least an overview of Jewish history, practices and values. Their efforts on his behalf were invaluable.
Six months before his bar mitzva, the rabbi who was teaching our son returned to New York. At that same time, a young rabbi from New York named Yossi Mintz and his wife Sarah opened the Chabad Jewish Community Center just down the street from us.
We live in an area of Southern California called the South Bay, an aggregate of cities in Los Angeles County that include Hermoso, Redondo and Manhattan Beaches, as well as Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills, and slightly inland from the coast, the communities of Torrance and Lomita. For such a widespread area, I had to wonder why this friendly rabbi opened a warm and comfortable shul so conveniently close to our house.
But I wasn't too eager to put two and two together yet. My wife was quickly falling in love with Judaism, embracing its traditions. I was fond of telling friends that I was "trailing in her wake," but truthfully, her enthusiasm forced me to look at my soul and admit how dormant it was. Maybe religion wasn't what I'd thought it was-or wasn't-some 35 years ago. It became evident that it was time for me to pack up my religious baggage and send it on a long voyage-a one-way ticket to a destination unknown. It was time for me to move on, and even to grow up.
Slowly, I embraced the changes I saw our family going through. The first big one was the idea of attending weekly services, something I'd never even done as a kid. Rabbi Mintz and Rabbi Yochanan Ivry took over training for Lindsey's bar mitzva, and when that day finally arrived, I was filled with pride. After Lindsey's bar mitzva, I found myself in the odd position of encouraging him to continue his Jewish studies, something I had opted against as a youth. What was happening here?
The big change was the decision to kosher our house. With the help of Fayge and Rabbi Yemini, that hurdle too was passed. Once we'd done that and I realized that life would go on very much as it had in the past, only better, it gradually became easier to embrace Jewish values and rituals. Free of the shackles of my teen-age struggles with religion, it was obvious these were the right things to do.
Indeed, time changes everything. But time does not exist in a vacuum. What changed time? What was with all those well-timed coincidences? Was it in fact Divine intervention? A few years ago, that would have been a mighty big admission on my part, and an uncomfortable idea for my beliefs at the time. But now, I've reconnected with Judaism, explored the tip of the iceberg of its depths, and become willing to grow while letting go of the past. So, I can now comfortably credit and thank G-d for enabling some very big, very important and very good changes to happen for my family and me.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
The internationally-renowned Bais Chana Women's Institute is holding four seminars throughout the month of February. Featuring Rabbi Manis Friedman, Sarah Karmely and Chana Rachel Shusterman, the seminars will take place in the Sheraton S. Diego, California. The first session, from Feb 1 - 8 is entitled "Getaway" and is for married women (child care available). "Match Made in Heaven," Feb. 9 - 13, is for couples and will explore relationships. "Live and Learn," for single women, will take place Feb. 14 - 21. There will be a special program for girls ages 15-18 from Feb. 18 - 21. For more info call 718-756-2657 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Financial aid is available.
In a ceremony held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, the President of Kazakhstan, Norsultan Nazerbayev, gave representatives of Chabad a copy of the files pertaining to the imprisonment and subsequent exile of Rav Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Rebbe. Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen, emissary of the Rebbe and Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan, awarded the president a Medal of Peace and Fellowship on behalf of the United Jewish Communities of Kazakhstan as a token of appreciation for his work.
28th of Shevat, 5725 
I received your letter written on the day before the hilula [yartzeit-anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law of saintly memory. As requested, I will remember you in prayer in the matters about which you write.
I trust that you participated in the observance of the hilula, and may the inspiration be with you throughout the year.
P.S. In reply to your question how to divide your time between self-advancement in study and helping others, it is of course impossible to set definite limits. However, it is clear that provision should be made for both, as our Sages ruled (which you quote), "He who declares I will have nothing but Torah, etc."
As for your question whether you should learn Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy] in view of your difficulty to understand it- this is obviously a surprising question. Why should you not understand it? If you will only learn with a desire to understand, you will certainly understand. And while you will not understand it as deeply as those who have been learning it for a long time, you should remember that the same applies to the learning of Chumash [Five Books of Moses], Gemara [Talmud], etc. There is the principle which applies to all parts of the Torah: "If one says, he has tried hard but did not succeed, don't believe him." The reverse is also true, and likewise in all parts of the Torah: "If one says, he has not tried but succeeded, do not believe him." See more on this subject in [the booklet] Kuntres Limud Hachasidus.
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your letter of January the 15th.
In general, anything which may have even the remotest connection with Avoda Zara [idolatry] is something which a Jew should give a wide berth to and have nothing to do with it, not even to have any discussions about it, either with one's self or with others. Even if there is doubt whether it is Avoda Zara, it is sufficient reason for a Jew to run away from it.
Needless to say, any possible "benefit" that you mention that one might get from it, you could certainly get through Lehavdil ["to separate"] the observance of the Mitzvah of prayer in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], which goes back to Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah] at Sinai, and which a Jew is duty-bound to observe three times a day. Rabbi Lipskar could explain to you in greater detail all about it. It is hardly necessary to emphasize that the benefit you will get from observing Tefillah [prayer] three times a day is a true and lasting benefit, and incomparably greater to any benefit that one can find in strange pastures, G-d forbid. There is no need to elaborate on this.
I would suggest that you should have your Tefillin checked to make sure they are Kosher, and it would be good also to have the Mezuzos of your home checked.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the above, especially that you are firmly and confidently walking in the path of Torah with inspiration and joy.
Since you wrote your letter in proximity to the Yartzeit [anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law of saintly memory on the tenth of Shevat, about which you no doubt heard from Rabbi Lipskar, I trust that you are familiar with the significance of this day, especially with the life and work of the Baal Hahilulo [person whose yartzeit is being observed], and how much hope and confidence he placed in our Jewish youth for the preservation of our sacred heritage.
16 Shevat 5960
Positive mitzva 197: lending money to the poor
By this injunction we are commanded to lend money to a poor person so as to help him and ease his position. This is an even greater and weightier obligation than giving charity. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 22:24): "If you lend money to any of My people, even to the poor with you, etc."
This Shabbat is the Fifteenth of Shevat, the New Year for trees. Just as Rosh Hashana, the First of Tishrei, is the Day of Judgment for all mankind, so too is Tu B'Shevat the Day of Judgment for everything that grows.
From the verse "For man is like a tree of the field" we learn that there are many similarities between a person and a tree. One way in which a person should try to emulate the tree is the manner in which it grows.
A tree is categorized as tzomei'ach (literally "growing") because its growth is constant. It starts off as a tiny seed, develops into a small sapling, and eventually turns into a mighty tree that bears fruit.
A human being must also strive for perpetual growth. It isn't enough that today we have learned Torah and performed mitzvot; tomorrow we must strive even higher, learning more Torah and observing mitzvot in an even more perfect manner. A person must never content himself with what he has already achieved. Whenever a Jew strives to elevate himself, he can rest assured that G-d will assist him.
It is no coincidence that Tu B'Shevat occurs in the winter, when most of the trees outside have been stripped of their foliage. Bereft of their summer beauty and seemingly frozen, they must contend with harsh winds and winter storms which threaten to uproot them. To the naked eye it seems as if they will never come to life.
Yet it is precisely now, in the dead of winter, that we celebrate Tu B'Shevat. For we have complete faith that the trees will be rejuvenated by summer, leafy and green and covered with fruit.
So too is it with the Jewish people. Even though the darkness of exile is all around us, we have complete faith that the light of the Final Redemption is on its way, just around the corner...
And the waters were a wall unto them (Ex. 14:22)
When a Jew observes Torah and mitzvot faithfully to the extent that he is willing to jump into the sea, not only does the "sea" disperse, but it is transformed into a protective wall that safeguards him. (Likutei Sichot)
And Israel saw the great power which the L-rd had shown on the Egyptians...and they believed in G-d (Ex. 14:31)
Even though the Jewish people had witnessed many wonders and miracles firsthand they still needed to have faith in G-d. For faith is on a higher level than sight; indeed, it enables a person to see more than the physical eye can ever observe. (Chidushei HaRim)
And they believed in G-d (Ex. 14:31)
The Hebrew word for faith, emuna, has a dual meaning. Etymologically, it is related to the word meaning to train or accustom oneself, and also to the word for power and strength. However, these two meanings are interrelated. In the merit of emuna, i.e., by virtue of the strength and certitude of the G-dly soul, a Jew is able to overcome the downward pull of the animal soul and ascend from one spiritual level to the next, till he merits the very highest revelations of G-dliness. Indeed, the Jewish people merited to sing the "Song of the Sea" solely because of their emuna. (Sefer HaMaamarim 5680)
I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought on the Egyptians; I am the L-rd Who heals you (Ex. 15:26)
A "house doctor" who isn't paid according to how many visits he makes has a vested interest in keeping his patients well. Rather than curing people once they're ill, his whole aim is to keep them healthy in the first place. Similarly, G-d is our "in-house doctor" Who has given us the Torah for our spiritual health. When we follow His "prescription" by observing the commandments, it prevents all kinds of spiritual maladies. (Torat Moshe)
The wheel of fortune had taken a downturn for a once-wealthy Jew who lived in the Moroccan city of Rabat. He was forced to leave home and wander from city to city and town to town, in search of an appropriate business opportunity that would enable him to support the large extended family that had come to depend on him. His faith in the One that provides all was strong, but still, the forging of the vessel was proving to be difficult.
Finally, after several failed attempts, he succeeded in amassing a significant amount of money. Now he would be able to return home.
On the way, he passed through the town of Sali, which is not far from Rabat. But as it was already fairly late on Friday, he figured he had better remain in Sali for Shabbat. A good friend from his youth whom he had not seen in many years lived there, and he knew he would find a warm welcome at his house.
Indeed, as soon as his friend saw him, he insisted that his surprise guest remain for Shabbos. The weary traveler accepted the invitation happily. Before candle lighting, he gave his money pouch to his host for safekeeping, so that he wouldn't have to worry about it during the Day of Rest.
By Saturday night, the traveler was anxious to reach home. Immediately after the close of Shabbat, he requested his money pouch back from his friend.
"What are you talking about?" denied his host. "You never left any money with me."
The stunned guest could not believe his ears. He almost fainted. When he recovered his senses, he begged his (former) friend to return to him the money he had labored so long and hard for, and that was critical to his family's survival .
The host blew up. "You have some nerve!" he yelled. "Aren't you embarrassed? You slept in my house, you ate at my table, and now you dare to hurl at me these false accusations!"
Seeing the "righteous" indignation on his host's face, the man realized there was no chance that this conniver would admit what he had done and give back the money willingly. He decided he had better go right away to make a claim at beit din (rabbinical court).
The Rabbi of Sali at the time was the famous Ohr HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim Ibn Atar. The two men went to his house. Rabbi Chaim listened carefully to both sides. He then addressed the host: "This Jew claims that he deposited money with you on the eve of Shabbat. What do you say?"
"It never happened," the man answered glibly. "He is making it up and slandering me."
Rabbi Chaim turned to the hapless guest. "Perhaps there was a witness at the time you say you handed your money to him?"
The dejected man now felt even worse. "No, there was no witness there. Just before Shabbat we sat under a tree. That is when I took my pouch out of my pocket and gave it to him to hold for me until Saturday night."
"Under a tree? Very good!" cried out the Ohr HaChaim excitedly. "Go back and summon that tree to be a witness on your behalf!"
The traveler was shocked when it sunk in what the Rabbi wanted him to do, but being well aware of the Ohr HaChaim's reputation as a miracle-worker he stood up and left the house, without questioning the great Rabbi's instructions.
After just a few minutes, the Ohr HaChaim remarked, casually, that for sure the man has already reached the tree.
"What do you mean, Rabbi?" responded the other man spontaneously. "That tree is quite far from here."
With a hard stare right at the man's eyes, the Ohr HaChaim declared: "Give that poor innocent Jew his money back, right now!" Seeing the surprise on the man's face, the Rabbi stroked his beard and added: "If you didn't receive the money from him under that tree, how is it that you know where the tree is?"
The man turned pale. Without saying another word, he promptly returned the money that had been entrusted to him.
After he finally reached home, the merchant utilized most of his hard-earned savings for wise investments, and with G-d's help became wealthy again as he had been once before.
Note: Rabbi Chaim (ben Moshe) Ibn Atar (1696-1743) is best known as the author of one of the most important and popular commentaries on the Torah: the Ohr HaChaim. He established a major yeshiva in Israel, after moving there from Morocco. Chasidic tradition holds that the main reason the Baal Shem Tov twice tried so hard (and failed) to get to the Holy Land was that he said if he could join the Ohr HaChaim there, together they could bring Moshiach. He is buried outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles for the Ascent Quarterly, Tzfat, Israel www.ascent.org.il
Ezekiel's vision concerning the time of the Third Holy Temple includes the prophecy (ch. 47:12): "And by the stream, upon its bank, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for food, whose leaf shall not wither, nor shall its fruit fail; it shall bring forth fresh fruit every month, because the waters for them flow from the Sanctuary; and their fruit shall be for food, and their leaves for healing."