Beit Midrash

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Translated by Hillel Fendel

Tu B'Shvat - The Power of Longing

Jonathan Pollard had landed in Israel! First thing he bended down to the ground of the holy Land of Israel – and kissed it. Why was this moment so special?


Rabbi Netanel Yossifun

Shvat 15 5781
Like all of Israel, I woke up one day a few weeks ago to the wonderful news that Jonathan Pollard had landed in Israel! This was happy and heartwarming, and I immediately ran to tell my wife. Years of suffering, hardships, and moral injustice had come to an end. The news article told the story of his and Esther's flight to Israel, and their warm greeting by the Prime Minister.

And yet, despite the joy of the event, I found myself singularly unexcited. I felt that the thrill of the news had simply melted away amid the shallow day-to-day routine. It's true that there were some objective factors – such as the fact that Pollard had served out his full 30-year sentence without even a day subtracted for good behavior or other reasons, and that he then remained another five years with electronic shackles, unable to leave his house after 7 PM, and the Corona restrictions surrounding his return home. But all in all, the enthusiasm was not what it could have been had he come home 10-15 years ago.

And then came the afternoon, and with it, the airing of a video showing our brother Jonathan deplaning and bending down to the ground of the holy Land of Israel – and kissing it. Suddenly, a wave of excitement flooded over me, accompanied by tears streaming freely down my cheeks.

In one moment, Jonathan's long years of yearning in prison to return home became an echo of the voice of an entire nation returning home after centuries of Exile, returning to the bosom of its own national Mother Earth.

In one so symbolic moment, Jonathan asks the Prime Minister to wait, while he conducts his profound, inner meeting with the eternal land that the Creator saved for His eternal Nation. In that one moment, the plethora of prayers that masses of Jews around the world had offered up over the course of decades for Jonathan's release united with all the prayers and tears and longings of the nation waiting so long to return home to Zion.

I later learned that, like me, many other people were moved specifically by this natural and simple moment, unfettered by airs or formalities, in which Jonathan kissed his true love, and ours – the earth of the Holy Land.

And the question is: Why was this moment so special? Why was this moment the one that caused so many to shed the mantle of intellect in favor of our natural and healthy emotions?

Our emotions take so many different paths, and they are so deep, that no one can truly understand them. But still and all it appears that we mortals become truly emotional when we connect to the infinite longing - that which can be found beyond our limited world and intellect.

In simpler words, the reason we were so excited and moved by what Jonathan did there at the airport is that we felt that through this act, we were able to connect with our own eternity, with the past and the future of our nation, with our special connection between the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel. Each one of us is a link in this very special connection – and when we are exposed to a bond with the entire chain, we at once turn from a single link to a part of the large chain. It is this greatness that excites and moves us.

Jonathan fulfilled an ancient Jewish custom of bowing down and connecting with our holy earth – just as our ancestor Yaakov did when he returned to Eretz Yisrael to pray: He "took from the stones of the place and put them under his head and lay down in that place" (B'reshit 28).

And this brings us to a related matter. Today is Tu B'Shvat, the New Year for Trees, a holiday of the Land of Israel and its holy fruits. On this day, Israel has long had a sacred custom of eating the Land's special fruits, of learning about and speaking of the Land's sanctity, of filling ourselves with longing for Zion. Each of the fruits of the Land is a small link in the eternal sanctity of the entire Land – and its power acts on those who eat it and causes them to long for the Land and aspire to connect once again to the entire chain.

And in fact, we have merited in our generations to see the "fruits" of these fruits, and we see how so many links and groups of links have returned to our great national chain here in the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, as a result, some view this day as no longer necessary, and believe that we may eat fruits imported from Greece or Turkey, or that we should turn it into a day of ecology and the like. But the real truth is that those who understand the great secret of connecting the links into a chain, will also understand the importance of Tu B'Shvat as a day of connecting to the great benefits of the Holy Land and the value of eating its fruits (even outside the Land).

By eating these fruits, we join the past and future together – because we thus connect to all the generations that longed for Zion. We also connect to the future in that, as the Talmud tells us, the fruits of the Land are a sign of the approaching Redemption. For Rabi Abba said that when the Land brings forth its fruits, there is no greater sign of the Redemption, as written in Ezekiel: "And you, mountains of Israel, your branches will bear fruit… for My Nation Israel, for they are on their way."

Today, Tu B'Shvat, we will all eat fresh fruit from the Jewish farms of the Land of Israel, and we will sing the praises of the Land – and continue, with G-d's blessing, to see the gradual fulfillment of G-d's promise to Yaakov: "The land on which you lie, I will give to you and to your descendants … and you will spread to the sea and to the east and to the north and to the Negev [south]… and I will return you to this land."
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