Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Simha Bat Hana

Tu Bishvat – Planting the Jewish People in Their Land

Israel's wilderness stage is necessary preperation for entering the land, but cognition of the fact that the wilderness is not an end in itself constitutes affliction. The Jewish People were created with the purpose of living in the land of Israel.


Rabbi S. Yossef Weitzen

Tu Bishvat 5763
1. The Wilderness – Difficulty and Hunger?
2. The Generation of the Wilderness – A Nation's Adolescence
a. Between Childhood and Adulthood
b. National Potentials Fail to Find Expression
c. Why did the Israelites not enter Israel immediately?
3. Tu BiShvat – Planting the Jewish People in Their Land

1. The Wilderness – Difficulty and Hunger?
In order to understand the spiritual significance of Tu BiShvat (the Fifteenth of the Month of Shevat), let us examine the words of Or HaChaim regarding the verse, "And it shall be, when you come to the land..." (Deuteronomy 26:1):
"'And it shall be, when you come to the land...' - It says 'And it shall be' which [according to the sages of the Midrash (cf. Bereshit Rabba 42:3)] is an expression implying joy, in order to teach us that only the act of settling the land of Israel is deserving of joy, as indicated in the verse (Psalms 126:2), "[When God will return the captivity of Zion...] then will our mouths become filled with laughter."

Coming to the Land of Israel involves a special kind of joy. Despite all of the pleasantness of walking through the wilderness, the nation of Israel was not able to attain satisfaction from their plight in the desert.

However, when we stop to consider what happened in the wilderness, we think of an entire nation on the move, pillars of smoke and fire, manna, Miriam's Well, and many other miraculous events which encircled the Jewish people on their journey. What aspect of the wilderness, then, could have caused discomfort, dissatisfaction?

The sages of the Midrash (Midrash Rabba Kohelet 5:11) pose this question upon the backdrop of the verse, "He made life difficult for you, letting you go hungry..." (Deuteronomy 8:2). They ask, "Did not the Almighty give them food in the form of manna?" Why is the period of the wilderness described as a period of difficulty and hunger? Numerous Midrashim depict the Children of Israel reclining, eating, and praising God. They describe the manna as special heavenly food that could take on any flavor a person desired. This being the case, how are we to understand the words, "He made life difficult for you, letting you go hungry..."?

2. The Generation of the Wilderness – A Nation's Adolescence
a. Between Childhood and Adulthood
Indeed, the difficulty of life in the wilderness did not result from a deficiency of an element vital to our daily existence. In this respect, we are commanded to remember all of the goodness which we enjoyed in the desert, and the fact that we lacked nothing. The difficulty relates to the aspect of national growth.

The generation of the wilderness may be seen as representing the stage of human development known as adolescence. In adolescence, man stands between childhood on the one hand, in which he is dependent on others, and adulthood on the other, in which he is responsible for himself. Adolescence is the period in which one becomes independent of his father and mother and begins to recognize his own faculties and propensities.

The problem during this stage in life is that while one's adult powers are beginning to burgeon, they have yet to mature to an extent that allows him to divorce himself completely from dependence upon those around him. The soul of the youth has begun to taste the taste of adulthood, but it is unable to take action, behaving in the practical world in an entirely responsible manner. Sometimes the difficultly is the opposite. The adolescent wants to remain in childhood, but life forces him to rid himself of dependence on others. He is called upon to behave like an adult.

Adolescence, then, is a stage in life which, because of its interim nature, creates difficulties and hardships. One desires to be at once both child and adult. To be a child is very nice, and to be an adult also appears wonderful. But to be stuck in the middle is tormenting.

This phenomenon, which happens to individuals, also befell the nation of Israel in the wilderness: on the one hand, the complete dependency upon Egypt to which the nation had become accustomed found expression in an unwillingness to take responsibility, an unwillingness to initiate. This is akin to childhood. It is true that life in Egypt was difficult and bitter, but, with the passing of time, the unbearable experiences of the past are forgotten. Only the pleasant aspect of freedom from responsibility remains in one's memory. On the other hand, in the wilderness, the Almighty begins to devolve responsibility upon the Israelites. He gives them small tasks. A society containing just systems must be established, a Tabernacle must be erected.

The nation of Israel, beginning to get a taste of its freedom, thirsts for great tasks. It desires even more freedom. To be stuck between two poles makes for an uncomfortable chapter in our national life. Lacking are both increased independence and added responsibility. Therefore, the verse says, "He made life difficult for you..."

b. National Potentials Fail to Find Expression
In addition to the expression, "He made life difficult for you," the Torah says that God "let you go hungry." What is the meaning of this latter expression?

God instilled man with the Divine image. It is this image which allows us to grasp perfect unity and relate to the Infinite. We were thus provided with a spiritual capacity to appreciate unity as opposed to fragmentariness. When is a person able to feel complete? When he occupies himself with ends in themselves. All preoccupation with mere means to some other goal afflicts the soul. The soul of man wants to be at peace, not just to take steps which will lead to a sense of completeness. The goal of leaving Egypt is to arrive in Israel:
"I will take you to be my nation, and I will be to you as a God. You will know that I am God your Lord, the One who is bringing you out from under the Egyptian subjugation. I will bring you to the land regarding which I raised My hand, [swearing] that I would give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am God" (Exodus 6:7,8).

Anything which gets in the way of this goal afflicts the soul. The wilderness stage is indeed necessary as preperation for entering Israel, but cognition of the fact that the wilderness is not an end in itself constitutes affliction. No doubt life in the wilderness was played out on a very high spiritual plane. However, because we were created with the purpose of living in the land of Israel, clearly our inner potential was suited for life therein. We find, then, that being in the wilderness, much of our inner potential could not be availed of. All of these faculties had to be held up inside of us, restrained, until that time when we would be able to give them expression.

The situation is one of hunger, wherein we have no choice but to starve all of our capacities which are suited for the Land of Israel. In the wilderness there was nothing upon which these faculties could satisfy themselves. Therefore, the Torah depicts a situation of hunger. We were living through a period in which we had to "flee" from the world of activity to a place of isolation, to a place where natural life is not permitted to flow.

c. Why did the Israelites not enter Israel immediately?
It is possible to compare the period of the wilderness to one in which a person studies a vocation, or even Torah. A person wants to reach great heights in life, but in order to realize his goals he must first be willing to spend a period of time in training. During this period of time a person must separate himself from the world of practice; he must, as it were, "enter Noah's Ark." He must concentrate on his studies. Generally, the type of study which bears most fruit is that which is focused on a clearly defined subject, as opposed to jumping from subject to subject. A situation in which one is unable to satiate himself from whatever he sees and whatever he happens to come upon is a situation of hunger.

Hence, we can understand why the wilderness period was so important and why God did not bring us straight into the Land of Israel. In this regard, the Midrash teaches (Midrash Rabbah Shemot 20;16):
"R' Shimon bar Abba said in the name of R' Yochanan, 'When the Canaanites heard that the nation of Israel was preparing to enter the land, they went about chopping down their saplings. However, when they saw that the Children of Israel were wandering for forty years in the wilderness, they concluded that the Israelites planned to make their home in the desert. Therefore they went about planting and growing trees. Then [God] brought the Children of Israel entered the land.'
Rabbenu HaGadol says, 'Because God wished to bring the fear of Israel upon idolaters, He detained them in the wilderness for forty years, illuminating their way with a pillar of fire by day and a pillar of smoke by night. The idolaters heard about this and were seized by fear, as it is written, "May fear and terror seize them...," and after this it is written, "You shall bring them and implant them on the mount of Your heritage" (Exodus 15:16,17).'"

In the first explanation, the Midrash teaches us that sometimes God delays goodness because, through causing such a delay, our appreciation of God's kindness grows. However, according to the second explanation, in order for the Jewish people to burgeon into a great nation with a supernatural propensity, one day is not enough. Forty years of miracles are necessary in order to give expression to the unique Israeli genius.

The greater a person's aspirations, the longer the period of time necessary for preparation. In order to become a cobbler, a month-long course is sufficient to master the trade. In order to become a doctor, one needs to study for seven years. In order to be a Torah scholar - a "doctor of the soul" - it is necessary to study for an entire lifetime. We also find that the Jewish people are the last nation to emerge among the the world's family of nations. This is due to the fact that our task is paramount.

3. Tu BiShvat – Planting the Jewish People in Their Land
Tu Bishvat represents the fulfillment of the two things which we so greatly lacked in the wilderness.

The first aspect of Tu Bishvat is its being the New Year for tree planting. On this day a new year begins as far as the life of a tree is concerned. This is different than the period of the wilderness in which we were traveling, not "planted" in one place. Planting betokens the fact that we are in our natural environment. We are not in a interim. We know where we belong. We are torn neither by the longing for the past nor the force of the future. This is the first reconciliation of the wilderness period.

Secondly, when we are in our land, we are in a place in which we can give expression to our earthly faculties. We need not inhibit any of our talents from finding expression. This matter is manifested in an additional aspect of Tu Bishvat - it is also a New Year Day signifying the end of the tree's three year "'Orla" period, during which it is forbidden to eat or derive benefit from the tree's fruit. The fruits are permitted only if they ripen before Tu Bishvat:
"When you come to the [promised] land and plant any tree bearing edible [fruit], you must avoid its fruit as a forbidden growth ("'Orla"). For three years [the fruit] shall be a forbidden growth, and it may not be eaten. Then, in the fourth year, all [the tree's] fruit shall be holy, and it shall be something for which God is praised" (Leviticus 19:23,24).

On this verse, Or HaChaim comments,
"Three commandments are mentioned here: entering the land..., planting all manner of fruit trees (thus improving the land of Israel), and observing the ''Orla' period.

'Orla betokens a preparatory period wherein one must display patience, waiting for the fruit to become permissible. On Tu BiShvat we reach the grand moment of transition from a period of waiting and restraint to one of actualization of latent potential.

It makes sense, then, that the contents of the Book of Deuteronomy were spoken by Moses in the the month of Shevat - "And it came to pass that on the first day of the eleventh month (i.e., Shevat) Moses told the Children of Israel everything that God had commanded him" (Deuteronomy 1:3): Shevat is the month of the land of Israel and Deuteronomy is the book of the land of Israel – a perfect match.

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