Tree, Tree, With What Shall I Bless You? | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Our Sages tell the following story:
"A person was walking in the desert, hungry, tired and thirsty. He came upon a tree with sweet fruits, pleasant shade and a source of water passing beneath it.
"The person ate from its fruit, drank from its water and sat in its shade. And when he was ready to leave he said, 'Tree, tree, with what shall I bless you?
" 'If I say that your fruits should be sweet - why your fruits are already sweet!
" '- that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant!
" '- that water should flow from beneath you, it already does!
" 'Therefore I will pray that it be His will that all of the saplings planted from you will be like you!'" (Talmud Ta'anit)
Especially around the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the new year for trees (which occurs this year on Shabbat), we are reminded of the verse, "Man is like a tree in the field."
Our Sages offer various reasons and explanations as to how a person is similar to a tree. The Bible, commentaries and Talmud are replete with examples of how the Jewish people are analogous to the specific fruits with which Israel has been praised. To mention a few:
- Just as (olive) oil does not mix with other liquids, so too the Children of Israel stand out from other nations.
- The date is all good - its fruit can be eaten, its branches are used as lulavs, its leaves are used for the roof of the suka, its fiber for binding, and it stands straight - so, too, amongst the Jews there are none who are worthless...
- Just as grapes have within them food and drink, so to do the children of Israel have Torah knowledge and good deeds.
- The roots of the fig-tree are delicate, yet they break through the toughest rocks...
- Even the most "empty" amongst the Jewish people is as full of mitzvot (commandments) as a pomegranate [is of seeds].
- We can see from the above sampling how truly rich are the Jewish people. If this is the case, then, like the desert tree are we lacking anything? With what can we be blessed?
The greatest blessing is: "May it be His will that all of the saplings planted from us - all of our actions and deeds (our spiritual offspring) and our children, and may we ourselves, - be sweet and pleasant and nourishing."
In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the splitting of the Sea. This miracle prepared the Jewish people for the giving of the Torah and the Final Redemption.
Concerning the splitting of the sea, the Torah tells us that Nachshon ben Aminadav risked his life to jump into the Sea. It was only after Nachson entered the Sea that the waters parted and the Jews were able to proceed.
How could Nachshon disregard his life and jump into the sea? How could he not! For Nachshon knew that G-d had taken the Jewish people out of Egypt for the sole purpose of giving them His Torah at Mount Sinai. Nachshon was guided by the desire to advance toward the Torah. It mattered not to Nachshon that a body of water obstructed his path; he jumped into the Sea.
Faced with a seemingly impossible situation the Jewish people had been of several opinions. Nachshon, however, was uninterested in any of their "options" - returning, waging battle or running away - for he knew that none of this would bring them closer to Mount Sinai. He was also not interested in arguments or calculations. There was only one solution: to go forward to Mount Sinai. And so he did so, with tremendous mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice).
The portion of Beshalach is generally read on the Shabbat preceeding or following the 10th of Shevat, the anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The circumstances surrounding the splitting of the Sea contain a timeless lesson; so do the actions of the Previous Rebbe. For throughout his life the Previous Rebbe acted with mesirat nefesh and set an example for all future generations.
The Previous Rebbe did not specifically seek out mesirat nefesh; this was not his intent, as his sole objective was to spread Torah. He did not stop to consider if self-sacrifice was necessary, nor did he pay attention to the prevailing opinions and views of the other Jews of his time. To him, their arguments carried no weight at all. The only thing that motivated the Previous Rebbe was the need to get closer to Mount Sinai. Even if a "sea" stood in his way, he would jump in. What would happen next? That was G-d's concern, not his. This was immaterial to the Previous Rebbe. He simply did what he had to in order to reach Mount Sinai.
From this we learn a lesson to apply in our daily lives. Our function on earth is to serve G-d, to love His creations and bring them closer to Torah. Differences of opinion and approach are not our concern. Our only true goal is to draw nearer to Mount Sinai, and to do so without consideration for any obtacles that seem to obstruct our path.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1
Keeping It Covered
by Steve Hyatt
There was a winter chill in the air when I stepped into the cab to the Reno/Tahoe Airport, to begin my day-long journey to my company's corporate headquarters in McLain, Virginia.
My plane was leaving at 6:00 a.m. so it was way too early to start my morning prayers. Since I had yet to pray on an airplane in front of strangers, I decided to wait until I arrived in Washington D.C. before praying.
Before boarding the plane I donned my kipa, pulled out my prayerbook and read the prayer for travelers, asking G-d's blessing during the trip. When I was done I noticed a rather smartly dressed fellow walk by wearing a brightly colored beret. As he walked through the terminal I noticed how proud he was of his beret and how he appeared to enjoy showing it off.
I reached for my kipa, to tuck it away, when I suddenly felt compelled to leave it on. I've had a lot of "firsts" since discovering Chabad, but I can honestly say I've never worn my kipa outside of my home or shul, for any great length of time.
Watching the fellow proudly wear his beret made me think, "This is the day to wear my kipa in public." Filled with great trepidation over what my fellow passengers would think, I pushed my kipa to the back of my head like a confused cowboy, and boarded the plane. My plan was to wear it until I arrived in Denver and then take it off while running to my connecting flight.
The trip to Denver was a long two hours. I felt very self-conscious. I thought everyone was looking at me, judging me, laughing at me! In truth my fellow passengers were more interested in their morning copy of USA Today than they were about the Jew with the kipa, but you don't always notice the truth when you are filled with anxiety.
As we approached the Denver airport a flight attendant informed us that the Denver to Washington D.C. flight was delayed two hours. Suddenly I had plenty of time for my morning prayers. After disembarking I strolled through the airport until I found a nice, quiet, private place to pray. When I was done, I carefully rewrapped my tefilin, folded my talit and put them away in my bag. As I reached up to grab my kipa and put it away, the guy with the brightly colored beret strolled by.
I left the kipa on my head. Walking to the gate I decided to leave it on until I arrived at my hotel room later that day. "Go for it Shlomo Yakov" I told myself, "make your dearly departed Great Grandfather Charlie proud."
When I found my seat on my connecting flight there was a rather sad looking woman sitting next to me. We exchanged "good mornings" and got ready for take-off. As the flight attendant showed us how to buckle our seat belts, I quietly asked if there was anyone who doesn't know how to buckle a seat belt.
For the first time since I sat down the woman next to me smiled. The ice broken, we started talking.
As time passed she shared a sad tale about her son, who was mentally challenged, as a result of surgery that went horribly wrong. With tears in her eyes, she told me that he was in a special rehab center and would require care for the rest of his life. She told me she was terribly angry with the doctor and just didn't know if she believes in G-d anymore.
I asked her if she had prayed to G-d while her son was in the operating room. She had. "So you do believe in G-d," I said. "But you're angry at Him."
"I guess you're right," she said. "I just don't understand how this could happen or how G-d could let it happen." Drawing upon the many lessons my good friend Rabbi Chuni Vogel from Chabad of Delaware has shared with me over the years, I spoke with her for over four hours. We talked about her feelings toward the surgeon who operated on her son, her husband who never wanted the surgery in the first place and her inability to do anything constructive for her son or about the situation.
We discussed how it often takes time to recognize what we can learn from a "negative" experience. We also agreed that sometimes it is impossible to understand why bad things happen to good people, because as human beings, it is impossible to truly understand G-d's plan.
As the hours rolled by my newfound friend began to brighten up and literally surge with energy. When we were moments away from landing, my neighbor began to cry. She said that she NEVER speaks to strangers when she travels but this time she felt it was okay. I asked her why and she said she was born into an observant Jewish family but had married a non-Jew and had lost her Jewish identity. But when she saw the kipa on my head, she realized I was an observant Jew and felt compelled to speak with me.
I smiled and she asked why. I told her that I have been on a spiritual journey for a number of years but this was the first time I had worn my kipa in public.
"Why of all days did you decided to wear your kipa toda?" she asked me. I told her about the guy with the beret and she laughed. I went on to say that due to myriad problems, my seat had been changed at least four times. "I guess it was meant to be," she whispered. "I guess so," I whispered back.
As we got up to leave the plane she said, "Steve this has been an enlightening experience. All of the pain and guilt I've carried around for the past six months is gone. When I leave here I am going to channel my energies into positive efforts. I am going home and will become an advocate for mentally challenged patients like my son. The next time you see me I'll be on C-SPAN talking to a congressional panel about benefits for the mentally disabled."
And with that she said goodbye. I couldn't help but marvel at the many separate events that had transpired that day, resulting in this memorable meeting. I never saw the guy with the beret again!
- (Back to text) Ed.'s note: Consult your rabbi for an appropriate custom of when to say the traveler's prayer if traveling by air.
Next week, thousands of shluchos (emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) will convene at World Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn for the annual Shluchos Convention. Hailing from nearly every country on each continent, the over 2,000 women who comprise the cadre of shluchos, are Jewish leaders in their communities and throughout the world. Whether it's through spearheading novel approaches to Jewish education for children or adults, offering classes on the intricasies of Jewish law, creating innovative holiday progamming or teaching how to braid challa, these dynamic women are at the forefront of Jewish outreach. The Shluchos Convention takes place in proximity to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson's yartzeit. The men's Shluchim Convention takes place earlier in the winter.
1st of Shevat
...Apropos of our last personal conversation concerning the question of good and evil, namely that G-d who is essentially good created a universe which is likewise good in essence, but that it is the purpose of man to bring forth the latent forces of good both within him and in the world that surrounds him, from the potential into the factual.
For this purpose man was given reason and intellect, so that by his powers of understanding and deduction he can see, even in the most ordinary things in life, a lesson and moral encouragement in his duties and conduct both with regard to his Creator and to his fellow man.
Take for example the tree - an example I choose here because of the New Year for Trees which we marked last Wednesday [the New Year for Trees is January 8, this year] What can be more common and usual a sight than an ordinary tree? There seems at first glance, nothing in it to arouse in us any special meditation. Yet we Jews have a New Year for Trees (on the 15th of Shevat), and besides the appertaining reasons for such an occasion, we can, if we stop to ponder, learn quite a few useful lessons from it.
Let me just point out one: Most of the plants, and especially trees, consist of several component parts which are classified into three main groups: the root, the axis or main shaft (which bears the branches and leaves) and the fruit (the shell, the fruit and seed).
These three main parts have their own functions. The root is the means of obtaining the nourishing substances necessary to the plant's life from the earth. It also provides a firm entrenchment for the plant against the wind. It is by far the most important life-giving agent of the plant, though the leaves also contribute towards the living plasma of the plant by obtaining from the air and from the sunrays essential substances for the plant's existence.
The stem provides the main body of the tree, and clearly marks the growth and development of the tree.
But the tree obtains perfection only upon producing fruit, for in it lies the seed for the procreation of its kind, generation after generation.
Now, man is likened to a tree (Deut. 20:19). This likeness is particularly marked in the spiritual sense:
The root is his faith which links the Jew with his origin, and which constantly obtains for him his spiritual nourishment.
The stem - the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments]; these must grow even as the age of a tree increases its stem and branches.
But the fruit, which more than anything else justifies the existence of the tree-is the good deeds of man, those Mitzvoth which benefit others as well as self, and which have within them the seed that produce similar good deeds.
To sum up. The roots of the Jew and his very link with the origin of his life lie in his true faith in G-d and in all the fundamental principles of our religion.
Unless the roots are firm, branches and leaves will not withstand the strong wind. The development and advancement and in fact the entire stature of the Jew can be seen through his good deeds, in the practice of the Torah and Mitzvoth.
Finally, his perfection comes through the fruit, by benefiting others, and helping to perpetuate our great national heritage. "Before the sin of the Etz Hadaas [Tree of Knoweldge] all trees were fruit bearing, and in the future all trees will bear fruit," and as our sages told us: The first command in the Torah is that of procreation-a Jew must, must see that there be another Jew.
"And this is the meaning of "He who benefits the many the virtue of the many is credited to him" which I quote in my last letter to you, for this is the highest form of virtue.
With kindest personal regards,
Very sincerely yours
12 Shevat, 5763 - January 15, 2003
Positive mitzva 157: recounting the departure from Egypt. By this injunction we are commanded to recite the story of the Exodus from Egypt, with all the eloquence at our command, on the eve of the 15th of Nisan. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 13:8): "You shall tell your son on that day, [saying: It is because of that which the L-rd did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.]"
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira, when we read the Torah portion about the song - shira - of praise the Jews sang after crossing the Red Sea. Our Sages taught that the "Song of the Sea" hints at the Redemption. For it says, "Then Moses will sing with the Children of Israel..." From this verse our Sages derive the principle of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Messianic Era, when Moses and all the Jewish people will arise and sing G-d's praise.
However, the song we will sing will differ from the Song of the Sea as related in the following Midrash: "It will be said on that day: 'Behold, this is our G-d in whom we put our hope... this is the L-rd for whom we hoped...' "
We say "this" when something is standing before our eyes. When the Jews said, "This is my G-d," after the Splitting of the Sea, it was because they actually saw G-d, as it were. They were able to point to Him and say, "This is my G-d." But in the future, there will be an additional revelation, therefore we will sing "this" twice.
At the Red Sea, there was a revelation of G-d's miracles, and a supernatural event took place. But this type of revelation has a deficiency; the world could not contain it. It was possible only because G-d created a situation at that instant in which His unlimited power could be revealed. Thus, when the revelation and the miracle passed, the world had not changed at all.
But there is a second type of revelation, when the world's essence is revealed for what it truly is - G-d's energy. G-d reveals that the laws of nature themselves, and even the entire material world - are pure G-dliness.
The advantage of this kind of revelation is that it is within the limitations of the world, it is the truth of the world itself. When this truth is revealed, it is like solving a mystery. For, as soon as the mystery is solved, it is no longer a mystery. Similarly, once the G-dliness intrinsically within the world is revealed, then it can no longer be hidden and everyone sees that G-d directs and fills the whole world.
This type of revelation, the uncovering of all that is hidden, will take place in the future redemption.
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him (Ex. 13:19)
In the Midrash, Moses is described as "wise of heart" for concerning himself with Joseph's bones when the rest of the Jews were helping themselves to the riches that were washed up on the shores of the Red Sea. This is obviously a pious deed, but what does it have to do with wisdom? Moses, as leader of the Jewish people, was like the kohanim (priests) when it came to the prohibition against defiling oneself with the dead. However, by waiting until everyone else was busy, Moses was permitted to do so (indeed, it was a great mitzva), as no one else was free to attend to the task...
Every year when Parshat Beshalach was read, the Maharal of Prague would instruct the teachers to gather their students (and their parents) in the courtyard of the synagogue to tell them the story of how the birds sang and danced during the splitting of the Red Sea. As related in the Midrash, the Jewish children plucked fruit from the branches of the trees that sprang up on either side and fed them to the birds. After the story was told, kasha (groats) was distributed to the children to scatter about for the birds and chickens in commemoration of this event. The Maharal would then bless the children and their parents that they raise them to a life of Torah and good deeds and lead them to the marriage canopy.
(Sefer HaSichot 5702 of the Previous Rebbe)
And you shall hold your peace (Ex. 14:14)
This command was directed against those Jews who wished to engage in prayer instead of actually proceeding into the riverbed. We learn from this that there are times when a Jew must close his prayer book, remove his tefilin, fold his talit and leave the synagogue - in order to save the thousands of Jews who are in danger of drowning in the sea of assimilation, "splitting the sea" and uncovering the light of the Jewish soul that exists within.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Many years ago in the Land of Israel, there lived a man named Reb Nisim. He and his family lived in a small stone house, very much like all the other houses in his village, with one exception. Next to his house there grew the most beautiful tree, which produced a crop of luscious pomegranates. People traveled from far and wide to purchase these special "Nisim" fruit. In fact, they were so much in demand that the family was able to live all year on the profits they made from selling these pomegranates.
Every summer the tree was heavy with the beautiful, red fruits. But one summer not even one pomegranate could be seen. Reb Nisim called his eldest son and told him, "Climb up to the top of the tree; perhaps there are some fruits there that we don't see." The boy climbed to the top, and indeed, hidden from view were three precious fruits - the most beautiful they had ever seen.
When Shabbat came, Reb Nisim put two of the pomegranates on the table for a special Shabbat treat. The third, he put away to eat on the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of the Trees.
That was a difficult year for the family, as they had always depended on the tree for their livelihood. Finally Reb Nisim's wife suggested that he travel outside the Holy Land to earn or raise some money. He was very reluctant to leave. He had lived his entire life surrounded by the holiness of the Land of Israel, and he didn't want to "shame" the land by admitting that he could not make a livelihood there. He tried in various ways to earn some money, but every effort met with failure, and it seemed that he had no choice but to do as his wife had suggested. "All right," he said. "I will go, but I will never reveal to any soul that I come from the Holy Land."
For many months he traveled from city to city, but each place had its own poor to support, and he had no luck. Since it is a great mitzva (commandment) to support the poor of the Land of Israel, he would have received alms had he identified himself, but this he refused to do.
It was Tu B'Shevat when Reb Nisim arrived in the city of Koshta, Turkey. When he came to the local synagogue, a shocking sight met his eyes. All the Jews of the city were gathered there, weeping, mourning and reciting Psalms. "What has happened?" asked Reb Nisim, in alarm.
The sexton of the synagogue explained, "The son of the Sultan is very ill. He knows that Jews are accomplished doctors, and he has decreed that every Jew will be expelled from his realm unless we produce a doctor or a cure for his son. So far, we have failed." As Reb Nisim was absorbing this terrible news, the rabbi's assistant asked Reb Nisim to accompany him to the rabbi, saying, "Our rabbi says he is very happy to have a guest from the Holy Land."
Reb Nisim went as requested, but he was puzzled. How did the rabbi know? He had been so careful to tell no one where he was from. He decided to ask the rabbi directly.
"There is a special fragrance about you. I feel it is the holiness of the land which adheres to you," the rabbi replied.
"What you are smelling must be the fragrance of the pomegranate I have brought with me," Reb Nisim explained. "I carried it with me especially for Tu B'Shevat, and since that is today, I beg you to partake of it with me."
The rabbi was overjoyed. "Please, tell me your name," he asked.
"My name is Reb Nisim." When the rabbi heard that he smiled broadly. "This surely is a sign of Divine Providence. In honor of Tu B'Shevat, I have been studying about the different types of fruits that are described in the holy books." The rabbi described what he had learned. Then he said, "The acronym of the word rimonim (pomegranates) is 'refua melech u'bno nisim yaviya meheira.' - the recovery for the king and his son, Nisim will bring quickly. Let us bring some of your pomegranate juice to the king's son at once. Perhaps, in the merit of the fruits of the Holy Land, G-d will bring us success."
The two men were admitted to the room of sick prince, who was lying close to death. They approached the bed and administered a few drops of juice into the unconscious boy's mouth. Suddenly color rose into his his pallid complexion. They gave him a few more drops, and there was a weak but unmistakable flicker of the prince's eyelids.
The Sultan grasped the hand of his beloved child, and tears of joy welled in his eyes. He turned to the two Jews and said, "I will never forget what you have done for my son."
The next day Reb Nisim and the rabbi were summoned to the palace. The prince was sitting up in bed, a happy smile on his tired face. The Sultan's servants brought in large velvet bags bulging with gold coins and jewels. "Reb Nisim, this is just a small token of my gratitude to you for having saved my son. As for the Jews in my realm, they may stay and live in peace."
Reb Nisim returned home laden with riches. The next summer, the wondrous pomegranate tree produced as many beautiful fruits as ever. Its fame spread as the story of the prince was retold throughout the Holy Land.
At the present time, when the world trembles, when all the world shudders with the birth-pangs of Moshiach, for G-d has set fire to the walls of the Exile... it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask themselves: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total Redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach?
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe)