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Tu B'Shevat is just around the corner. As kids, many of us saved our pennies and bought trees to be planted in Israel in honor of Tu B'Shevat. We knew that it was the "New Year for Trees," whatever that meant, and that was about it. But why the big emphasis on trees? So much so that there is a special mitzva in the Torah not to destroy fruit-bearing trees when conquering enemy lands, and that we are told that if one is planting a tree and is informed that Moshiach has arrived he should finish planting the tree before going to greet Moshiach.
The Torah itself tells us that a person is similar to a tree. This likeness is particularly noticeable in a spiritual sense.
A tree has roots, a trunk and branches, and fruit or seed.
The root is the means of obtaining the nourishing substances from the earth necessary to the tree's life. 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 toward the nourishment of the tree.
The trunk and branches provide the main body of the tree, and clearly mark the growth and development of the tree.
But the tree reaches perfection only upon producing a nut, or seed, or seed-bearing fruit, for in it lies the potential for the procreation of its kind, generation after generation.
How are these three components similar to a person's spiritual life?
The root is his faith which links the Jew with his origin, and which constantly obtains for him his spiritual nourishment.
The trunk and branches are the Torah and mitzvot. 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 mitzvot which benefit others as well as self, and which have within them the seed that produces similar good deeds.
The roots of the Jew and his very link with the origin of this life lie in his true faith in G-d and in all the fundamental
principles of our religion. Unless the roots are firm, and firmly embodied in the soil, the tree, despite its trunk and 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 the performance of mitzvot. Finally, his perfection comes through the fruit, by benefitting others, and helping to perpetuate our great heritage.
Based on a letter of the Rebbe.
In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we read of the circuitous route the Jewish people took in the desert after leaving Egypt. G-d tells Moses to have the Children of Israel backtrack and encamp along the Red Sea. The Egyptians think that the Jewish people were lost, they regretted having let them go free, and pursued them to try and bring them back to Egypt.
Now the Children of Israel find themselves stuck between the nearing Egyptian war machine and the raging sea. They turn to Moses and he turns to G-d in prayer. G-d says to Moses, "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them journey forward."
Ultimately, by journeying forward they miraculously cross the sea to freedom. The Egyptians following in hot pursuit, are drowned in the sea.
What lessons can we take from this?
We have been in exile for 2,000 years. Our ultimate purpose is to transform this world into a place where G-d's presence can dwell openly. That will happen with the coming of Moshiach.
Sometimes it feels like we are in an impossible situation, the whole world seems to be against us and we are fighting against a raging tide.
At times like these, we need to realize that it is G-d Who put us into this situation. He wants us there. There is a purpose that can only be realized through this difficult situation.
Will we complain? Will we cry out to G-d? Of course. But then we must lift our heads and go forward, obstacles notwithstanding. When we do that G-d splits seas for us.
Since I was diagnosed with ALS, I have been in a difficult predicament that seems to only get worse. Do I pray? Do I cry out to G-d that He heal me? Yes, all the time. However, the illness has not broken my spirit because I know that G-d put me here and that He wants me here. I don't like it, but I continue to do what I can to bring Moshiach, through my difficulties and even more, using my difficulties as a platform to lift others up.
The main thing, is to use our strengths, talents and situation to accomplish our mission.
You can do it, don't be afraid, G-d is with you.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
From Darkness to Light
by Sara Yitta Gopin
"Every Jew has 42 journeys in his or her lifetime. When one ends, the next one begins. Everything is from G-d." With these words Ilana Omansky began our inspiring interview.
"I always felt a strong connection to our forefather Abraham as I, too, left my home and birthplace in order to become part of the Jewish nation," Ilana shares. "I was born in a small town in western Siberia, a faraway place where 400 years ago those who opposed the Czar were exiled. My parents were intelligent people, my mother was a librarian and my father was the head of the cultural center of the town. In that period following World War II there was a severe shortage of food and of every basic necessity. Who ever heard of the luxury of candy and toys? We did not even have a refrigerator and lacked running water in our home!
"Even as a child I always felt different from the other children at school and in the neighborhood. I preferred to be by myself and to spend my time discovering and developing my talents in the world of music. At the tender age of seven I enrolled in a music program and learned to play piano. I continued these supplementary music classes throughout high school, and eventually studied in a college for musicians and trained as an orchestra conductor.
"At the time I met and married my future husband, Netanel Omansky, who was Jewish. There were 12 children in Netanel's family, which was an extremely unusual phenomenon in Russia. Unfortunately the atmosphere of Netanel's home was totally void of Jewish tradition. Both sides of parents accepted our marriage without any opposition whatsoever, which was a common tragedy in the atheistic environment of the Soviet Union.
"We set up our new home in Kazachstan, where our two children were born. I was teaching music, and Netanel, who is also blessed with creativity, was the photographer of the town. In those days the Perestroika was beginning and many people took advantage of their new freedom and left Russia. Netanel's family moved to Israel. We decided to move to a small village near Rostov, where I had lived before as a child, and again as a teenager. Now I understand that the extreme spiritual darkness of that faraway place is what awakened our desire for a new, enlightened journey."
A series of events occured through which Ilana and Netanel realized that it was time for a change. "One day a stranger gave my mother, who held anti-religious communist ideology, a (secular) book on 'Kabbala.' My mother handed this book over to me. Suddenly I was able to read about the Creation, the rectification of the souls and the Next World. There was even a picture of a charm with Hebrew letters! Upon seeing it I understood that the wisdom of G-d is found among the Jewish people."
At the same time Ilana was facing difficulty breathing and went for treatment to a "healer," dressed in a long robe. He explained that in order for there to be the peaceful home environment necessary for health, the wife must always follow the path of her husband. The healer then said that he believed that when one marries a Jew, the non-Jewish spouse is obligated to follow the Jewish traditions. "His words were an eye-opening discovery for me. Afterwards I couldn't stop crying, as it was finally clear that something was not right in my life," Ilana describes that fateful moment.
Ilana and Netanel decided that it was time to move to Israel. Netanel had a brit (circumcision), learned to pray, and began to keep the kosher dietary laws and observe Shabbat.
This "confusing" situation lasted a few months, until one day Ilana's inner voice told her, "Your husband is moving in the path towards G-d, who is the source of life. You must now make the choice that will determine your fate and decide whether to follow the path of your husband towards G-d."
Ilana felt a strong desire to convert to Judaism. She began a course under the direction of Rabbi Aharon Fradkin, and after the conversion the family became part of the Chabad community in Rechovot. "It suits my nature to use the powers of the intellect, which is the approach of Chabad," Ilana emphasizes. "The directives of the Rebbe have helped me to overcome every challenge."
More than ten years have passed and the Omanskys serve as a "foster family" offering support and guidance to men and women who are already in the process of conversion and under the supervision of the Rabbinical Court. Ilana also teaches a weekly Tanya class in Russian to a group of women coming from a similar background.
For several hours every day Ilana sits at the piano and plays her favorite melodies. After the conversion she discovered her talent as a composer. Her capabilities became known to Lubavich emissaries in Russia who asked Ilana to prepare a program of songs on the topic of Shabbos and holidays for educational activities in the preschools. Her path went "full circle" when her talents were enlisted to strengthen Shabbat observance in Kazachstan, where she once lived.
In the last year, since Ilana's creativity began to express itself in her magnificent artwork, she feels as if "G-d is moving her fingers." The vibrant colors reflecting Jewish themes in her paintings and mixed media pictures arouse spiritual awakening and renewal. Her artwork expresses the Divine light overcoming the darkness, which is symbolic of Ilana's diversified path and miraculous journey towards her personal redemption.
Bronx Hall of Fame
The Bronx Jewish Historical Initiative, in conjunction with the Bronx Borough President's office, inducted its Hall of Fame class of 2018. Rabbi Levi Shemtov who directs Chabad of the Bronx with his wife, Sarah, for the past 27 years was one of the inductees. Held at the Bronx Museum of Art, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. awarded the honorees with a plaque.
Rabbi Choli and Chana Mushka Mishulovin recently arrived in South Bronx, New York to open Chabad of South Bronx. In the 60s the South Bronx boasted a thriving Jewish community of 200,000 but it's already been 12 years since the last surviving synagogue closed its doors. The Mishulovins are optimistic, though, saying that they meet someone new almost every week.
6th of Shevat, 5728 
Blessing and Greeting:
I duly received your letter with the enclosed copy of a proposed will.
First of all, I wish to refer to the first part of your letter in which you write about the birthdays of yourself, husband and children. I wish each and every one of you hatzlocho [success] materially and spiritually. These generally go hand in hand together, and insofar as a Jew is concerned they not only go together, but with the supremacy of the spiritual over the material. Such supremacy does not mean the negation of the material but, on the contrary, to make the material a means and a vehicle for all things good and holy. I particularly send you my prayerful wishes that you and your husband should bring up your children to a life of Torah, chupah [marriage canopy] and good deeds, in good health and happiness with much hatzlocho for your husband in his field and for you in yours.
The present days, approaching the yartzeit of my father-in-law of saintly memory, at whose holy resting place each one and all of you will be remembered, are especially auspicious.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the above.
P.S. Inasmuch as you invite my suggestions in regard to your proposed will, a matter which in this country is an accepted practice to make it early in life, and it is a segula for long life - I will offer the following suggestions, although I do not, of course, touch upon any of the aspects relating to investments and the commercial handling of the estate, etc.
Firstly, there is in my opinion an omission of an essential point, namely the matter of tzedakah [charity]. To be sure, those who will, after one hundred and twenty years, inherit their share of the estate will, please G-d, make provisions for the distribution of tzedakah of their own good will. Nevertheless it is a personal mitzvah to provide for tzedakah rather than to leave it for others to do so, even the closest members of the family. Moreover, the provision for tzedakah should be one of the first clauses of a Jewish will.
Needless to say, the amount of tzedakah provided for in the will should be according to the generosity of the testator. But if you wish my opinion in this matter, I would suggest that the amount so provided should be chomesh/one fifth of the net estate, with the proviso that the distribution of the tzedakah should not be delayed until the whole estate is properly and fully evaluated, but that a proportionate amount of any and all distributions under the will should automatically be deducted for tzedakah.
A further point which is also essential and indeed, should perhaps even precede the tzedakah clause, as customary among Jews, is the matter of arranging for the various expenses connected with funeral, including tombstone, etc., in accordance with strict orthodox Jewish observance, so that these expenses should again not be left to the discretion of even the closest surviving members of the family.
In addition to the above, there are several other observations which I would like to make to make sure that everything be done in fullest accord with the Torah and yiddishkeit [Judaism], especially in the matter of a Will. Consequently, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, I would suggest that the distinction which the Will makes (end of page four) between surviving and predeceased children, namely that those who are alive receive a full share individually, while the children of the predeceased receive one share collectively - if this is the meaning of the closure - be reconsidered, since it does not accord with the Torah. For according to the Torah, the children of each predeceased heir receive their parents' full share. Of course, the children of a predeceased child all receive no more than the share their deceased parent would have received were he alive, but no distinction is made between living and deceased children insofar as their share is concerned.
A further observation from the Torah viewpoint, and I trust you will not mind my mentioning it, is that according to the Torah, when there are sons and daughters, the daughters may receive any bequest which a parent wishes to make for them in the form of a gift, but not in the form of inheritance. Therefore it would be right, in my opinion, that a Jewish Will should make a distinction between the sons and daughters, such symbolic compliance being even if there is no more than one dollar difference. The important thing in this case is that the Will should bear evidence that it is made by a Jew whose life is based on the eternal truths of our Torah....
I am returning the copy of the Will herewith.
I have addressed the above letter to you, since it is in reply to the letter which you wrote and signed. But, of course, my good wishes and cordial regards extend equally to your husband.
YONATAN means "gift of G-d." Yonatan was the son of King Saul and the best friend of King David. About their friendship it says, "...but if it [love] is not dependant upon a specific consideration - it will never cease...and one which is not dependant upon a specific thing? The love of David and Yonatan." A variation is Yehonatan. The Ashkenazic pronunciation is Yonason. YOCHEVED means "G-d's glory." Yocheved (Exodus 6:20) was the mother of Miriam, Aharon and Moshe. She, and her husband, Amram, were from the tribe of Levi.
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..." As the verse is written in future tense, the Sages derive from this verse 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.
But, the future song we'll sing will differ from the Song of the Sea according to the 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 in front of 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 and say, "This is my G-d." In the future, there will be an additional revelation, thus we will sing "this" twice.
At the Red Sea, G-d's unlimited power was revealed and a supernatural event took place. This type of revelation is deficient, though. The miracle 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 is - G-d's energy: G-d reveals that the laws of nature, and the entire material world - are 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 within the world is revealed, 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. The world will reveal the truth that everything is only G-dliness.
Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang (yashir) this song... (Ex. 15:1)
Rabbi Eliezer says, "Anyone who recites the song of Moses now before the redemption, will merit to recite it in the future, in the Messianic Age."
Our Sages tell us that the Jewish people will sing a total of ten songs of praise to G-d. Nine songs have already been sung throughout Jewish history; the tenth song will be sung when Moshiach comes. For each of the first nine songs, the Torah uses the feminine form of the word "song" which is "shira." The song of redemption is referred to in the masculine, "shir." Why the difference? All previous redemptions were followed by exile once again they were not permanent. This is like a woman who gives birth. After experiencing the pain of birth, she finally is rewarded with a child. With her next pregnancy, she once again labors and is again "rewarded" with a child. So too with each redemption; the Jewish people suffer and then are redeemed. The final redemption, however, will be permanent, never to be followed by another exile. At that time we will sing the tenth song (shir), the song of redemption. (Discover Moshiach: Mechilta, Shmot Raba 23:11)
And the Children of Israel ate the manna for 40 years (Ex. 16:36)
When Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk was a boy studying about the manna that the Jews ate, he asked his teacher: "If each and every person received his sustenance in abundance through the manna, how did the Jews perform the mitzva (commandment) of charity?" Before his teacher could give a reply, the young student offered his own answer: "It would seem that they fulfilled the mitzva of charity with words of wisdom and knowledge; one who had greater Torah knowledge "gave charity" by teaching someone who had less knowledge.
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, juicy 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 we can't see from here." 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, since 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 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 which 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, and its fame spread, as the story of the prince was told and retold in villages and towns throughout the Holy Land.
Just as the Exodus from Egypt reoccurs in every generation and every day, so does the war with Amalek. Every day, we must silence the voice of doubt that seeks to halt our spiritual progress. Once we successfully leave our inner Egypt and overcome our inner Amalek, we are ready to receive the Torah anew and enter our Promised Land. Successfully implementing this process of spiritual growth on an individual basis will hasten its collective fulfillment, bringing the world to its Messianic Redemption.
(From Daily Wisdom by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky based on Sichot Kodesh 5739, vol. 2, pp)