Monday, January 28, 2002

Tu b'Shvat

Tu b'Shvat
January 28, 2002

Today was Tu b’Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, popularly known as the New Year for trees. This holiday has various implications in Jewish law, but also has tremendous symbolic value in our every day life.

A tree, as plain as it may appear, is actually quite important. Put simplistically, the body of the tree can exemplify a nation or people, with the roots of the tree representing the people’s origin, and the branches of the tree symbolizing the younger generation, or the future.

Tu b’Shvat is celebrated with 2 customs. First of all, we eat of the fruit of the land: figs, dates, olives, apples, oranges and the like. Last night, here in Hebron, the entire community, men, women and children, gathered at the Gutnick Center and participated in a special Tu b’Shvat seder, a ceremony whereby we read poetry and prose about our land, and the fruits of our land, sing and dance, exalting in the goodness of Eretz Yisrael.

Of course this ceremony is doubly significant here in Hebron, because looking out the windows of the Gutnick Center, we see Ma’arat HaMachpela, the true roots of the Jewish people. Here, while eating the literal fruit of the land, we also witness the fruits of our history, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, here at this very spot, almost four thousand years ago. Watching our children recite the special blessings over their fruit before placing it in their mouths, we know that the roots established by our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are still nourishing the twigs and branches, providing them with the heritage by which they will perpetuate the growth of our common tree.

The second Tu b’Shvat custom is, you might have guessed, to plant trees. In Hebron there aren’t too many places for us to plant new seedlings. In the past, trees planted on Tu b”Shavat have been quickly uprooted by our unappreciative neighbors. This year it seemed that the weather might damped our planting ceremonies. However, due to the past years of draught, this year’s massive rainfall is considered to be a blessing, and that blessing should not interfere with another blessing, that of additional trees planted in the land. So at four o’clock this afternoon Hebron’s children gathered around trees and bushes, planted them in plastic planters, and then filled them with earth. The attractive trees and planters now decorate the Avraham Avinu neighborhood, safe from destructive hands, and  beautifying the neighborhood.
Despite our roots, roots which extend deep into our past and deep into our land, there are many who really do wish to uproot us, the Jewish people, from our homeland. Terrorist attack after terrorist attack, a horrific war of attrition, is geared around removing us from Eretz Yisrael.

This afternoon an eight year old boy was stabbed by Arabs in the Shomron community of Elon Moreh. Fortunately he was not badly hurt. Why in the world would anyone want to stab an eight year old? Only for one reason – because he is a Jew, living in Eretz Yisrael.

Yesterday’s bomb blast in Jerusalem killed an eighty one year old man, a seventh generation Yerushalmi, a man who still bicycled through the Jerusalem forest and conducted tours at the Kotel, in the tunnels at the Western Wall. What could better represent Tu b’Shvat, the holiday of trees and roots than the Jerusalem forest and the Wall? Yet Pinchas Tokatli was denied the right to celebrate this year. Why should anyone want to kill an eighty one year old man – only because he was a Jew, living in Eretz Yisrael.

Last week seventy nine year old Sarah Hamburger lost her life when a suicide bomber terrorist exploded in downtown Jerusalem. Sarah was born in Hebron and miraculously survived the 1929 riots and massacre at five years of age, only to be struck down seventy three years later. Ironically, as a little girl, Sarah’s life was saved by Arabs who hid her and her family while the marauding killers slaughtered other defenseless Jews in the city. Why, in the year 2002, should anyone want to kill a seventy nine year old woman? Again, only because she was a Jew living in Eretz Yisrael.

There may be those who have reached such anguish, who feel that “life just can’t go on,” who believe that the only answer is to amputate parts of our homeland, believing that “losing a leg is bad, but preferable to lose a leg than to lose a life.” These people believe that by relinquishing parts of Eretz Yisrael to our enemies, we will satisfy their appetite and they will let us be, in quiet, comfort and peace.

How wrong they are! If we chop up Eretz Yisrael we are chopping up our roots. We all know what happens if you chop off the roots of a tree – the tree inevitably withers and dies. Our roots, which have proved to be a lifeline for our people since the days of Abraham, providing sustenance to generation after generation, lie deep in our land. Both in our physical land and in our spiritual land. As Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote almost one hundred years ago, Eretz Yisrael is not something superficial, rather it is an intrinsic element in our being as a people, as a nation. Eretz Yisrael is a gift from heaven and we must do our utmost to protect it, at all costs.

So today’s festivity of Tu b’Shvat, despite the weather and despite the national mood, was just what the doctor ordered. Watching our children planting trees in Hebron, adding roots to roots, watching the twigs become branches, watching the branches become a real part of the tree, watching the tree climb higher and higher, while the roots burrow deeper and deeper, knowing that come what may, no one will be able to uproot our tree, the tree of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

The Jewish new year for trees is celebrated now, because we are standing at the gates of spring. True, the weather is still cold and rain is still falling, but when you look ahead, you can see, not too far in the future, the blossoms budding and the flowers growing. That is the secret of Tu b’Shvat and the secret of the Jewish people – always looking ahead, looking forward, knowing that even in the stormiest of weather, the sun is just behind the clouds.

With blessings from Hebron,
This is David Wilder

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