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Tu B'Shevat - the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Shevat - is the New Year for trees. In practical terms, this means any fruit produced before that day counts towards the tithes of the previous year. Any fruit produced after that date counts towards the tithes of the coming year.
But our purpose here is not to go into all the details of Jewish law that apply to trees or to their "New Year" - although it's a fascinating subject. Rather, we want to look a little deeper at what lesson a New Year for Trees can contain for us. If we don't live in Israel, if we don't own trees, does this date have a spiritual significance to us?
Granted that there must be a New Year for trees, since we need to know what to tithe when, but why does it have to be on the fifteenth of Shevat? Why can't it be on the first? For that matter, why does it have to be in the month of Shevat altogether?
For trees, the main source of nourishment is water. So, to determine the New Year for trees, we have to determine when the water of the new year begins to nourish the trees. According to our Sages, the new waters begin to reach, affect and nourish the trees four months after the Day of Judgment for the world - Rosh Hashana.
The High Holiday of Rosh Hashana, celebrated on the first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, is the time of general renewal. Tu B'Shevat four months later is when the trees actually experience a new growth - by receiving nourishment from the renewal that occurs on Rosh Hashana.
But then, shouldn't the New Year for trees be the first of Shevat, four full months (not 4 1/2!) after Rosh Hashana itself?
In fact, that's the opinion of the "school" of Shammai of Talmudic fame. But we follow the ruling of the "school" of Hillel, which declares the New Year for trees should be on the fifteenth, four full months after the festival of Sukkot. While Rosh Hashana serves as the general day of judgment, Sukkot is when the judgment for water is actualized and revealed.
Whereas Shammai looks at potential, Hillel rules that we judge - and enact into law - according to the actual. The trees actually begin to grow anew on the fifteenth of Shevat, linked to the actualization of the blessing on Sukkot.
The lesson for each of us is that we should not rely on our potential. We have an obligation to actualize it. Specifically, a person resembles a tree in that he, like the tree, must produce fruit. The "fruit" we produce is our influence on our environment, our ability to transform our homes, our workplaces, our everyday encounters, to make them fruitful.
It is not sufficient to draw within ourselves the new waters, to grow Jewishly ourselves, any more than a tree exists only to grow more branches and more leaves. We must not be satisfied with the potential to be fruitful in Jewish knowledge and observance. We must actualize that potential, practically applying our Jewish feelings toward doing more mitzvot (commandments) and acquiring more Jewish knowledge.
At the end of this week's Torah portion, B'shalach, we read of the war between Amalek and the Jewish people. The battle which Amalek initiated against the Jews had such impact that each day, after the morning prayers we read, "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt; how he met you on the way, and cut down all the weak who straggled behind you, when you were weary and exhausted...you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven. Do not forget!" (Deut. 25:17-19)
Amalek is more than just an ancient Biblical people. The commentator Rashi explains that Amalek cooled off the warmth and enthusiasm that the Jews felt after leaving Egypt and experiencing G-d's miracles, especially the tangible revelation of G-dliness at the Red Sea.
Amalek represents negative traits that can manifest themselves within every Jew. Amalek fought against the Jews, hardening them and making an opening for coldness toward Judaism to seep in. Amalek, then, is symbolic of a Jew's spiritless, unenthusiastic, passionless attitude toward the observance of Torah and mitzvot. We are enjoined to remember every day what Amalek did to us so that we can constantly be on the look-out for and fight against any personal negativity toward Judaism or our spiritual service.
Amalek was the first to attempt to fight against the Jewish people, for all the nations of the world feared the Jews, having heard about the miracles with which G-d brought them out of Egypt, and about the splitting of the Sea. Amalek could not stand the greatness of the Jewish people and the miracle G-d had wrought for them. Amalek, therefore, is also symbolic of brashness and arrogance; only such a nation would have the audacity to fight against those who were so obviously chosen by G-d.
"Amalek" can manifest itself within every person - rudeness, ego, and haughtiness - finding it intolerable that there are others greater than oneself.
When the war against Amalek became inevitable, Moses commanded his disciple Joshua, "Choose us men and go out and fight Amalek." Moses told Joshua that in this war, Joshua had to choose us, men like Moses, who was the epitome of humility and modesty. In order to rid oneself of the egotism and haughtiness of Amalek, one must work on becoming like Moses - humble, modest, and nullified before G-d.
There is a Moses in every generation. And the "men of Moses" are those people who fight against the Amalek who attempt to cool down the fire, warmth and enthusiasm one has toward Judaism.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
A Lofty Experience in Chelsea
by Naftali Friedman
Imagine an eclectic group of Manhattanites gathered one evening in a spacious downtown loft. The chatter in the room, a cacophony of accents, languages and stories, reflects the urban diversity that attracts artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers and other bohemian types to trendy neighborhoods like Chelsea. A long table is artfully set with a potpourri of dishes and bowls filled with multi-colored organic salads and other healthy looking foods.
Now imagine that the group of several dozen people - some sporting trendy oval eyeglasses, some dressed like they're cast members of The Apprentice and others decked mostly in black - abruptly end their spirited conversations for a moment of group meditation and personal mind clearing.
Are you at the opening of a new gallery show at a gallery? Is it a new age literary salon? Maybe a private Kabala class? Not exactly.
Hint: some in black wore matching hats and the meal began with a blessing on a cup of wine. And the gathering was, in fact, one of the weekly organic Shabbat dinners hosted by Yosefa and Yakov Bankhalter who, with the help of friends and a few Japanese screens, transform their loft on 17th street into a synagogue and party space. Rabbi Bankhalter together with Rabbi Dov Yonah Korn, who first met his wife Sarah at a Grateful Dead concert in Las Vegas, directs Chabad activities in the areas around Union Square and Washington Square and at NYU.
It was on Simchat Torah, when the Rabbis and friends in the community were dancing the hora in Washington Square Park, that another "deadhead" (and Phish follower), a curious Mathew Miller, joined the circle. Miller, now known as Matisyahu, is a Hasidic Reggae singer, beatboxer and rising star who sells out at rooms like New York's hip Mercury Lounge, the Knitting Factory and Southpaw. With the recent release of his debut album, Shake Off The Dust...Arise, he's appeared several times on network TV and will be touring nationally. Interestingly, while studying at the New School before he ever connected with the Rabbis, Matisyahu foretold his future with a play he wrote entitled Echad (One) about a boy who becomes a better Jew through his relationship with a Hasidic rabbi that he first meets in Washington Square Park. Life imitated art, in a strange twist of faith, and the real Rabbis (Yakov and Dov Yonah) introduced Matisyahu to his wife, Thalia, who was then a student at NYU.
Rabbi Yakov's wife, Yosefa, who spent summers in Santa Barbara, California, growing vegetables and cooking with her aunt Dianne, a professional organic gardener, directs the preparation of the Shabbat dinners, which are generally organic, and range from Ashkenazic delicacies, to Middle Eastern dips to themed evenings, like a planned Japanese dinner. Yosefa had a typical Long Island upbringing, but after graduating from Amherst, where she majored in dance therapy, she wanted to returned to her Jewish roots and spent some time in a women's Yeshiva Crown Heights, the center of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. Her interest in food and cooking led to a job at Ithaca College where she undertook the roles of caterer, chef and masgicha (the female form of the Hebrew mashgiach, or kashrut (kosher) supervisor).
Rabbi Yakov, who also grew up in Long Island and graduated from Ohio State where he first began his journey to traditional Judaism at the Chabad house, and he and Yosefa were married in 1995. After several years at the Chabad yeshiva in Morristown New Jersey they came to the Village, and eventually moved with their four children to Chelsea.
Beyond the culinary talents in display, the melodious Kabbalat Shabbat Tefillah (welcoming Shabbat prayer) preceding the dinner and the warmth, Zemirot (songs) and open discussion during the evening were a testimony to a dynamic couple and the vibrant Jewish community that is emerging downtown that they are helping to build.
For more info about Chabad on Washington Square, visit chabadwashingtonsquare.com or call (212) 674-1950. Reprinted with permission from nyblueprint.com
The Great Mission
Who was the Baal Shem Tov? Who was the spiritual mystic of the Carpathian Mountains, hidden tzadik, humble kindergarten assistant who revolutionized and revitalized Jewish life? Collected in one volume is the epic story of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement over 250 years ago. His Torah teachings, life lessons and documented accounts of the wonders that occurred in his name make The Great Mission more than a biography, but a helpful companion to all those wishing to understand the roots of Chasidic philosophy. This latest release from Kehot Publication Society, was complied by Rabbi Eli Friedman and translated by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches.
16th of Shevat, 5723 
New England Convention of
N'shei u'Bnois Chabad
Blessing and Greeting:
I trust that all of you - delegates and members of the various branches convening today - come imbued with a goodly measure of in spiration drawn from the two very recent auspicious days of this month, the Yahrzeit-Hilulo [anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory - on the 10th, and of the New Year for Trees - yesterday.
Among the topics discussed at the Farbrengens [Chasidic fatherings] on both these occasions, occurring within one week, was the affinity between these two notable days, and how their instructive messages are related.
The Torah likens a human being to a tree, and the Tzaddik [righteous person] to a flourishing date palm. In a remarkable statement in the Talmud our Sages declare, moreover, that a Tzaddik lives on forever, "for just as his seed is alive, so is he alive." It is noteworthy that the word "seed" is used here, rather than "descendants" or "children," or "disciples," though all these are included in the word "seed." In choosing the word "seed" in this connection, our Sages conveyed to us the specific images and ideas which this word brings to our minds:
The wonderful process of growth, which transforms a tiny seed into a multiple reproduction of the same, be it an earful of grains or, in the case of a fruit seed, a fruit-bearing tree; the care which the growth process requires, and how a little extra care at an early stage is multiplied in the final product; the fact that the more advanced and more highly developed the fruit, the longer it takes to grow and ripen, so that grain, for example, takes but a few months to reproduce itself, while it takes a fruit-bearing many years to mature, etc.
All these principles apply in a very practical way in the performance of our daily service to G-d, which, of course, embraces our whole daily life, since it is our duty to serve G-d in all our ways.
The New England Convention of the N'shei u'Bnois Chabad will surely give full expression to the spirit of the Yahrzeit-Hilulo of the Rebbe and to the feeling that it is a branch of his planting.
I hope and pray that each and every one of you will endeavor to emulate his dedicated work, and to live up to the high esteem and great expectations which he so often and so earnestly expressed in regard to the Jewish woman in general, and the Chabad woman in particular.
Wishing you the utmost success,
17 Shevat, 5765 - January 27, 2005
Prohibition 217: It is forbidden to breed two types of animals together
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:19) "You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind" We are not allowed to breed one type of animal with another animal of a different species. This is also known as Kelayim.
Prohibition 218: It is fobidden to work with two different kinds of animals together
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 22:10) "You shall not plow with an ox and donkey together" This is another type of "forbidden mixture" or Kelayim, concerning animals. We are not allowed to do any work while harnessing two different kinds of animals together.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The New Year for trees takes place this coming Tuesday, the 15th of Shevat (January 25).
Our Sages tell us that man is likened to a tree of the field. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds...is like a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few, and the wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down...But anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom...is like a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous, so that even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow against it, they could not move it from its place...in the year of drought it shall not worry, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit (Avot 3:17).
Our mitzvot are like roots that go deeper and deeper in to the earth, truly giving us not only stability but nourishment, as well. But, what, we might ask, is the "fruit" that a person bears? When he is involved with good deeds, his family, friends, co-workers, see the beauty of what he is doing and want to follow in his footsteps. They begin to act similarly and they, too, perform good deeds and establish strong roots with which to nourish their souls and bodies.
Let us hope that, by our own example, we can, indeed, influence our family and friends to perform deeds of great worth.
The Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Yehuda Lowe) had a special custom for the Shabbat B'shalach, also known as "Shabbat Shira." He asked all of the teachers and parents to bring their children to the synagogue courtyard to retell the story of the Splitting of the Red Sea. The teachers related how the birds sang and danced with Moses and the Jews during the "Song of the Sea," and how the little children plucked fruits from the trees which grew in the sea-bed and gave them to the birds. After this, the Maharal instructed the children to give groats to the birds in the courtyard in remembrance of the fruits that the children gave the birds at the sea. At the end of the gathering, the Maharal blessed the children, and wished the parents success in meriting to raise their children "to Torah, to Marriage and to good deeds."
And behold the Egyptians were marching after them... and the Children of Israel cried out to G-d. (Ex. 14:10)
If, G-d forbid, a person is suffering from an illness, and he tries to escape his sickness by running to another place, what will he accomplish? Certainly his aches and pains will travel with him wherever he goes! His preferred course of action is rather to cry out to G-d and ask that He heal him and make him well. So it was with the Jews. Even though they had finally left Egypt, they had not yet rid themselves of the threat of the Egyptians. Therefore, "the Children of Israel cried out to G-d."
(Baal Shem Tov)
Many years ago, when the Jews of Spain were suffering from the Inquisition, a famous doctor by the name of Avitar Ibn Karashkash lived in Madrid. To escape the wrath of the Inquisition, he left his beautiful and his prestigious job as a skilled surgeon, and exiled himself to a small town. There, he hoped he would be left to live out his life in peace.
Avitar had a young son, Avraham. Avraham was delighted with his new life in the small town where Avitar was able to devote many hours of attention to Avraham and personally supervise his Torah studies. In addition, Avitar carefully instructed Avraham about the special garden he had planted, discussing with Avraham each plant growing there.
One day Avitar called his son into the garden and said, "Today is Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees. On this day it is decided in the Heavenly Courts which trees will bear fruit and which trees will dry up. What is within our power is to plant trees, to care for them and to hope that they will grow and bear fruit. However, this is not dependent on us."
Avraham would never forget that special Tu B'Shevat when his father permitted him, for the first time, to plant saplings. And he would never forget his father's serious words. "Avraham, promise me that you will always try to be a good Jew, to grow upright and faithful to our people."
Twelve saplings Avraham planted that day, according to the years of his life. Then, Avitar took Avraham to a part of the garden where no one else was permitted; Avitar was experimenting with certain plants there. "Avraham," Avitar said quietly to his son, "Remember what I am telling you. If ever you need to leave here and I am not with you, come here first. Take out this sapling and you will find something underneath that will have a tremendous influence on you in the future."
A few months later, in the middle of the night, the hoof-beats of a horse were heard near the Karashkash house. There was a sharp knock on the door.
"What do you want?" asked Avitar.
"Are you Avitar Ibn Karashkash, the man to whom G-d has given the strength to heal the sick?" asked the stranger.
"That is my name," answered Avitar. "But I am no longer permitted to work in my profession."
"I am Duke Fransicso Alba. My dear wife, the Duchess, is very sick and needs an operation urgently. You must come and operate on her or else she'll die. You cannot let her die," begged the Duke in a plaintive voice.
"Certainly you have access to great doctors in Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona," said Avitar. "Why me? You surely know that I am forbidden to practice my profession. Doing so could only endanger my life."
"I have been everywhere and have approached everyone. No one will perform the dangerous operation. I beg of you, help me," the Duke cried. "I will make sure no one harms you. I will bring a ship to take you and your family to safety if necessary. My wife is suffering. Please, help."
The Duke broke out in uncontrollable tears. "I will do what you ask of me," said Avitar. "But one thing you must promise. If anything happens to me, you must take my son to safety." The Duke agreed readily.
Avitar hadn't lost his skill as an expert surgeon. The operation went well and the Duchess's life was saved. But when he returned home, he found the officers of the Inquisition awaiting him.
Avraham broke out in a bitter cry as his father was taken away. Soon, though, the Duke's men arrived; they had heard what happened to the faithful doctor and would take Avraham to a safe haven. They promised him that the Duke would do everything in his power to save Avitar.
Avraham didn't want to go with the Duke's men, but he had no choice. He asked them to wait a moment until he got his things together. Avraham quickly made his way to the special part of the garden. He carefully dug up the sapling and uncovered a box. Opening the waterproof box he found a pair of tefilin and a note. "These tefilin will give you strength and encourage you in Judaism so that you not, G-d forbid, fall into despair and dejection. In addition, carefully take the sapling you have uprooted, and plant it in new earth. Guard it and care for it painstakingly, and it will be the source of great livelihood for you. For this sapling is from a far-off land. It provides food for the special silkworms that produce the valuable silk material purchased from abroad. Remain a good Jew, my dear son, and the good L-rd will bless you and help you like the blessing of your father who loves you - Avitar Ibn Karashkash."
Avraham wiped away his tears and went to join the Duke's men. He wondered if he would ever see his father alive again.
Months later, while Avraham was living on the island of Majorca, he turned thirteen. Precisely at the moment when he first put on his tefilin he saw a small boat coming closer to the port. As it got closer he couldn't believe what he saw. His father was getting out of the boat!
After an emotional meeting, Avraham found out that the Duke had finally been able to save Avitar from the Inquisition. Avitar explained that he had not come earlier because he had been sick. He did not, however, explain that his "sickness" was due to the terrible torture he had suffered at the hands of the inquisitors.
In due time, Avitar and Avraham gathered around themselves a group of Jews and set up a Jewish settlement on the island. And each year, on Tu B'Shevat, they planted saplings according to Avraham's years.
On "Shabbat Shira - the Sabbath of Song," we read in the Torah the song that the Children of Israel sang at the splitting of the Red Sea. The song begins, "Az yashir Moshe - then Moses sang." The Baal HaTurim explains: The word "yashir" is composed of the letter "yud" (the numerical equivalent of ten) and the word "shir" ("sing"). This alludes to the ten songs sung by the Jews in praise of G-d:the song at the Sea; the song at the well; the song "Give ear, O ye heavens"; the song of Joshua; the song of Deborah; the song of Chana; the song of King David; the song of King Solomon; the song of Hezekiah; and the song that will be sung in the Messianic era.