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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays Tu Bishvat

Tu BiShvat - Day for Endearment of the Land

The Land of Israel is not just "territory." She is not just some place in which we are permitted to live. She is not just a piece of land which sustains us, or a beautiful landscape which enchants us. She is all of these things - and more.
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Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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Every single Divine commandment is worthy of endearment. Mitzvoth (commandments) are not meant to be fulfilled like exteriorly imposed obligations; rather, they should be made the object of our love and affection. The endearment which accompanies each Mitzvah, though, is not a value which stands separate unto itself; it is, rather, an integral part of the Mitzvah itself. Affection for the Land of Israel holds a special place among the commandments. It is a commandment in itself. Even when one is not busy fulfilling the actual Mitzvoth connected to settling the land, there is at least an obligation to love the land. This is all the more true when one is occupied with the fulfillment of the commandment itself.

Ostensibly, Tu BiShvat (The 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat - the New Year of the Trees) is no more than a means for calculating the laws connected to those Mitzvoth whose fulfillment is connected to the soil of the Land of Israel: tithes, heave-offerings, the "uncircumcised" fruit of a young tree, and, perhaps, the Sabbatical year. However, on an instinctive national level, Tu BiShvat holds an honorary position. On this day, the heart would become filled with warm feelings of affection and great longing for the Land of Israel: her commandments and landscape, her fruit and her young trees, her past and her future. It is possible that in the Diaspora, where we were unable to fulfill the Mitzvoth of the Land of Israel, there was a need to invest this day with added emotion in place of the commandments we lacked. Yet, even in the land, we are not free from putting our hearts - not just our heads - into this day. To the contrary, in the Land of Israel the need for affection is that much greater, for it also receives actual expression in our entire being. The heart and the head, affection and obligation, the commandments of the soil and our natural inner bond with the Land of Israel, are one.

Indeed, this is a profound approach. Love for the land is not merely an appreciation for her landscape and sites; it is not merely the land's development and transformation from a wasteland to a paradise. Love for the land means a deep inner dialogue with the land's sanctity, its values, and its unique hidden qualities. This is the land that was chosen by God, and to which He gives special attention and for which He harbors love. He therefore chose to rest His presence herein, and commanded that certain unique commandments be performed here. It is not just some piece of land; it is, rather, the Holy Land, and its holiness finds expression in special concrete ways.

The Land of Israel is not just "territory." She is not just some place in which we are permitted to live. She is not just a piece of land which sustains us. She is not just a beautiful landscape which enchants us. True, she is all of these things, but she is more as well. It is a fact that even when we were not in her midst physically, she was with us spiritually. Not only were our inner ties with the Land of Israel not weakened while we were far away in exile, they were deepened and strengthened - for the intimate bond between the People of Israel and its land is not an external matter, it is a inner fundamental bond.

The land-dependent commandments find expression in concrete practice, which is the most important expression through which it is possible to display such a special bond. For, this land is not like any other land in the world. Its soil is holy and it is therefore deserving of special commandments. God wished to bestow privilege upon the Land of Israel, and therefore filled it with Torah and commandments. According to Ramban, all of the commandments in the Torah, even those which are not dependent upon Israel's soil, are vitally connected to the Land of Israel. Even Rambam, who does not share this opinion, tells us that central and fundamental aspects of the Jewish religious experience would collapse, Heaven forbid, without the Land of Israel. For example, the entire Hebrew calendar and holiday cycle is dependent upon the Land of Israel. Hence, the seasons of the year which exist in the Land of Israel are what determine the character of the Jewish holidays and significant times and obligate every Jew wherever he might be - even if the particular season in which a Diaspora Jew finds himself does not fit the Festival. For example, an Australian Jew celebrates the Festival of Spring in autumn. Moreover, this is quite fitting, for it teaches such a Jew that he is not in his natural environment. A complete fulfillment of our Torah and our national institutions: law, kingdom, priesthood, and prophecy, can be brought to fruition only in the Land of Israel. Therefore, all of our aspirations, hopes, and desires bear fruit in this land. "Whoever lives outside of Israel is comparable to one who has no God." Such a person's spiritual world lacks significance. He lacks inspiration, faith, and destiny.

Tu BiShvat - the Festival of the reawakening of the trees of the Land of Israel from their wintertime slumber is also a Festival for the reawakening of the Jewish People. In the past, the blossoming of the trees in the Land of Israel led to the reawakened hopes of the nation to return to become planted once again in its land. With our actual physical return to our homeland, we have also set about sinking our spiritual roots into her. All of the land-dependant commandments have sprouted and reawakened, and with them, the Torah of the Land of Israel has begun to flower once again. No more detached from nature, from the earth and from national self-sufficiency; rather, full and complete life which embraces all - labor, moral and social duty, the nation, the first inklings of a kingdom of Israel, and a combination of both physical and spiritual strength.

The New Year of the trees is a New Year for the tree of the nation, for the sinking in of its roots into the soil of the Land of Israel and the lifting up of its treetop to the heavens above.

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