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The Torah teaches, "A person ("adam") is like a tree of the field." The use of the Hebrew word "adam" implies that the reference is to the Jewish people. Adam is related to the word "adameh" (I resemble), as in the phrase, "Adameh L'Elyon - I resemble the One Above."
The Torah describes the Land of Israel as "a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives that produce oil and honey (dates)." (Deut. 8:8) Every Jew has seven spiritual potentials that parallel these seven species of produce. On Tu BeShevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat (this year Monday, January 25) these seven potentials are brought to the forefront. Let's take a few moments to briefly discuss these seven types of produce and how they connect with our lives as Jews:
Wheat: Our Sages described wheat as "food for humans," an allusion to that aspect of our existence that makes us human - the G-dly soul. Like actual food, our G-dly soul's mission must be assimilated into the totality of our being.
Barley: Barley is described as "food for animals." It refers to the elevation of the animal soul.
Grapes: Grapes are used to produce wine, which "gladdens G-d and people."
Figs: The Torah relates that figs were used to make the first garments worn by Adam and Eve. Later, G-d gave man "garments of leather" ("ohr" spelled with the letter "ayin"), which Rabbi Meir in the Talmud refers to as "garments of light" (spelled with an "alef"). From this we learn that a Jew's service must involve spreading G-dly light.
Pomegranates: We must always remember that every Jew is "as filled with mitzvot (commandments and good deeds) as a pomegranate is filled with seeds."
Olives: Olives are bitter. A Jew's life should be characterized by sweetness, but in times of introspection he must come to a state of bitterness when evaluating his spiritual achievements. This should be bitterness that leads to action, not sadness that leads to despondency and inactivity.
Dates: Dates refer to the Torah's mystical dimensions, the study of which strengthens the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul.
Through developing our spiritual potential that relates to all these qualities, and spreading these concepts to others, we will merit to proceed to the Land of Israel with Moshiach, where we will "partake of its produce and be sated with its goodness."
The Torah portion, Beshalach is highlighted by the dramatic account of the splitting of the Red Sea. At this momentous moment in Jewish history, two songs receive mention - the Song of Moses with the men, and the song of Miriam with the women.
The Haftora is the special weekly reading from the Prophets and Writings, and was selected to reflect a main theme of the weekly Torah-reading. There are two portions that would have been suitable for this week's Haftora reading, following the reading of Moses' song and Miriam's song. One is the Song of David, a man, and the other is the Song of Devora (Deborah the Judge and Prophetess), a woman. It is the Song of Devora (recorded in the book of Judges) that was chosen to be read as the Haftora.
The choice of this Haftora underlines the fact that there are certain areas in Jewish life in which the Jewish woman has a particularly crucial role and responsibility. One such area is to lead and ensure that the home is a Jewish home, in the very fullest sense, a home permeated with the light and warmth of Judaism.
When we examine the historical background of the songs of Moses, Miriam and Devora, an interesting and important distinction comes to light. The Torah portion we read this week, in which Moses' and Miriam's songs appear, is describing a period in which the Jews were in the desert on their way to conquer the land of Israel, to gain a home for themselves. In such a time, the men led; it is the Song of Moses that receives the most prominent and detailed mention.
The Haftora however, describes events taking place when the Jews were already in Israel. It was necessary to defend our homeland - and maintain the "Jewish home." It is Devora's song that is most significant here. And it is Devora, a Prophetess and Judge, who leads the Jewish army into battle to fight for the Jewish home. Barak, the general of her army, is secondary and insignificant to her!
And so it is in all generations. In maintaining, supporting and defending the basic fundamentals of the Jewish home, the woman - "The foundation of the home" - leads the way.
From "A Thought for the Week" Detroit. Adapted by Rabbi Y. M. Kagan o.b.m.
Worlds From Sosnowiec
by Steve Lipman
Nearly 74 years ago, a pair of young Jewish women left their hometown in southwest Poland, on a transport to a Nazi concentration camp. Both survived the Holocaust, but went their separate ways after World War II.
A random conversation on Long Island last month led to their unplanned reunion.
Shanie Ellerton, a member of Chabad of West Hempstead, brought her mother, Roz Speiser, to one of the synagogue's Sunday morning social programs for seniors for the first time a few weeks ago. Mother and daughter sat at a table next to a stranger, Ann Welner, a 90-year-old West Hempstead resident who regularly attends the events.
Ellerton detected an accent.
"Where are you from?" she asked.
"Where in Poland?"
"Sosnowiec," Welner answered.
"My mother-in-law is from Sosnowiec," Ellerton said. "Maybe you knew her."
Ellerton's mother-in-law, Bella - maiden name, Baila Steiglitz - was at home that Sunday morning, but Welner remembered the name Baila Steiglitz from Sosnowiec. "You have to bring her," Welner told Ellerton. She did, the next week.
While they hadn't known each other growing up in their hometown, Welner (née Hanka Jerzy) and Steiglitz were together later.
"We were together on the transport, we were together in the camps," Welner said.
Welner and Bella were on the first major deportation of Jews from Sosnowiec in May 1942. The pair of teenagers was sent to Waldenburg, a labor camp in what is now southwest Poland. They remained together until liberation came in early 1945.
The two women eventually found husbands, immigrated to the United States, had children and made careers. Several years ago they both moved to West Hempstead to be near their children. Although they live about a half-mile from each other, they never crossed paths.
Until Ellerton brought her mother-in-law to the Chabad seniors program.
When Bella was introduced to Welner, she "lit up," Ellerton said. They started talking in Polish.
"I was just shocked. I didn't think this was possible," Welner said.
They've since gone back each Sunday, renewing their long-interrupted friendship.
What do they talk about?
They're not telling. And since the conversations are in Polish, Ellerton doesn't know. Probably not the war years. Bella never talks about that time, Ellerton said. She said her mother-in-law was born in 1922 or 1923. "No one knows."
Bella's memory about details of that time is fuzzy. "I don't want to remember," she said.
Ellerton has managed over the years to put together scraps of information about what happened to her mother-in-law during the war - a series of concentration camps and escape from a death march, a story that parallels Welner's. Both women lost their parents in the Shoah.
Sosnowiec had a Jewish population of 28,000 in September 1939, at the start of the war. About 700 returned after, but most quickly left for the United States or Israel. Today, only a handful of Jews live there.
Both women enjoy the weekly reunion.
Watching the two women get together after all these decades is "an incredible feeling," said Rabbi Yossi Lieberman, who has served as the Chabad emissary in West Hempstead for the past 14 years. If you do something to bring people together, sometimes they come together in surprising ways, he said.
Welner believes the reunion was not random.
"There are no coincidences," she said. "Everything is being made above."
Reprinted from the New York Jewish Week
A Baby of Our Own
Using simple text and basic concepts, A Baby of Our Own shows young children what's involved in welcoming and caring for a newborn... and how exiting a time it is for the entire family! The big brother in this story is only three, but he quickly learns to wash his hands before holding his new sibling, practices using a soft and gentle touch, and marvels at how small she is! He really enjoys the extra mitzvos all big brothers and sisters can do, like bringing diapers or the pacifier. The baby's loud cries are startling, but he soon learns they have an important purpose. Most of all, this big boy realizes that when Hashem sends a new baby, there's plenty of love to go around! The heartwarming illustrations are filled with wonder and curiosity as the new baby settles in and becomes part of the family. A perfect book for preparing young children for the birth or adoption of a new baby! Written by Sara Blau, illustrated by Tova Leff and published by HaChai Publications.
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 25, 2016 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 sun rays 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 Knowledge] 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
At the Hakhel assembly, the king reads from the Torah in Hebrew. Among those required to be present are converts who may not even understand Hebrew. Also, in an assembly of this size, it is inevitable that many who are present won't be able to hear the king's reading. How are they to participate? Maimonides explains that the objective of this assembly is to strengthen our commitment to the Torah. We are to attend in awe and as if we are reliving the Revelation at Sinai. Serious, attentive participation in the event is an end in itself. The experience of this participation is achieved regardless of whether the participant can fully understand, or even hear, the reading.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees, is upon us. This year Tu B'Shvat falls on Monday, January 25. But what does that have to do with us, other than eating some extra fruit, etc?
Let's take a moment to consider the fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed as enumerated by the Torah:
Two of them, wheat and barley, are grains. The other five, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates, are fruits.
One difference between grain and fruit is that grain is a staple food, necessary for the maintenance of our well-being. Fruits are delicacies, eaten for pleasure.
Tu B'Shvat gives us the potential to carry out our service, not only according to the very minimum necessary to maintain our existence, but rather in a manner that leads to pleasure - our own and our Creator's.
There is another area in which grains and fruits differ. When grain is harvested, though there is an abundant increase in quantity, the grain is of the same nature as the kernals which were originally planted. In contrast, the seed of a fruit tree is of an entirely different nature than the fruit that is later harvested.
Similarly, in regard to our service of G-d, the metaphor of fruit trees alludes to a service which is not limited to the basic necessities, but rather generates pleasure. It reveals the potential for growth, not only a quantitative increase, but also, a leap to a higher level, a new framework of reference altogether.
Since Tu B'Shvat is the "New Year of the Trees," it generates new life energy for those dimensions of a Jew's service which are compared to trees.
May we all truly avail ourselves of this new life energy to fulfill our potential in making this world a fitting home for G-d and G-dliness.
And G-d led them not by the way of the land (Ex. 13:17)
The manner in which G-d led His people through the desert was above the limitations of the laws of nature. The natural way of the world is for rain to fall from the sky and bread to be sown from the earth, but for forty years, the opposite held true for the Jews: their bread fell from the sky, and their drinking water was provided by a well that traveled with them.
And they were very fearful, and the Children of Israel cried out (Ex. 14:10)
The reason the Children of Israel cried out was the fact that "they were fearful." It disturbed them greatly that they were afraid of the mortal Egyptians, rather than only of G-d.
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 sea. 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.
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.
On the sixth day, they will prepare what they bring in, and it will be twice as much as they gather daily. (Ex. 16:5)
On every weekday during their sojourn in the desert, the Children of Israel were commanded to collect just one portion of the manna. But on the sixth day, they were told to collect two portions: one for Friday and one for Shabbat. It is for this reason that we say the blessing "hamotzi" over two loaves of bread on Shabbat.
During one of the Roman Emperor Hadrian's tours through Israel, he happened upon an elderly Jew, digging holes in the soil, about to plant young saplings.
Looking at the grey hairs of the old man, the Emperor exclaimed, "Hey, Greybeard. Surely you did not work in your youthful days that you have to work in your old age!"
"Nay, sir," replied the old man, "I have worked both in my youth, and am not loath to work in my old age, as long as G-d will grant me strength."
"But surely you do not expect to eat of the fruit of your labor! Where will you be by the time these saplings bring forth their fruit?"
"If it be G-d's will," answered the old man, "I might yet enjoy the fruits of these young trees."
"You are very hopeful, old man. How old are you?"
"This is my hundredth birthday today."
"You are a hundred years old, and yet hope to eat the fruit of these trees? Why work so hard for so slim a chance?"
"Even should G-d not spare me long, I will not have worked in vain. Just as my grandfathers planted for me, so do I plant for my grandchildren."
"Upon your life, sage," exclaimed the Emperor, "if you live long enough to eat this fruit, please let me know."
Years went by, and the young fig trees brought forth their fruit. The old man remembered his conversation with Hadrian and decided it was time to keep his appointment with the Emperor. He selected a basketful of choice figs, and off he went. When the guards finally admitted him, the Emperor did not recognize him.
"What brings you here, old man?" Hadrian asked impatiently.
"I am the man you saw planting saplings near Tiberias, a few years ago. You requested me to let you know should I live long enough to enjoy their fruits. Well, here I am, and here is a basket of figs for the Emperor's pleasure."
Hadrian opened his eyes wide in astonishment. He ordered that a golden chair be placed before the old man, and begged him to be seated. The Emperor ordered his servants to empty out the basketful of figs and replace them with gold coins. Hadrian's ministers were shocked at his respectful treatment of the old Jew. But when they voiced their displeasure, he reprimanded them, saying, "If the Creator of the World has so honored this man, granting him so many years, surely he is deserving that I honor him as well!"
When the old man returned home, with gold and glory, his neighbors came out to congratulate him.
One couple, however, became very envious. The wife suggested to her husband, "It seems that the Emperor loves figs! Why don't you take some figs to him, and fetch home their weight in gold also! And don't be foolish, bringing only a small basketful! Make sure you take a big sack, and you'll bring home a veritable treasure!"
The man did as his wife suggested. When he arrived at the Emperor's gates, he said to the guard, "I heard that the Emperor is very fond of figs and exchanges them for gold coins. I brought a sack full of juicy figs. Won't you let me bring them in to the Emperor?"
"Wait here," said the Captain of the guards.
"Have that silly man stand by the gates of the palace," the Emperor commanded, angrily. "Place the sack of figs that he brought at the entrance, and let everyone entering and leaving the palace throw a fig at him!"
The Emperor's orders were carried out to the letter. Towards evening, when the 'ammunition' was exhausted, the man was released and sent home.
Upon seeing him bruised and disheveled, his wife exclaimed, "What happened to you? Where's the gold?"
"I wish you had been there to share my wealth," the husband said, and related to her all that had happened.
From Talks and Tales
Many miracles are predicted in the Messianic era, such as "grapes as large as hen's eggs, and grains of wheat as big as a fist" (Ketubot l l lb). All this can be possible with a technology not far removed from that of today. Indeed, when Rabban Gamaliel spoke of these predicted miracles, he stated that they would not involve any change in the laws of nature; they are allusions to a highly advanced technology. Thus, so little labor will be needed to process agricultural products that clothing and loaves of bread will seem to grow on trees.