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Volume 1560: Beshalach  11 Shevat 5775 31/01/2015

Point Of View

Searching for Quotes from the Archives /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute


And now you have it – a new trend has appeared in the realm of the "election wars." Heavy artillery is engaged in the media battles, the weapons of a new elite genre called "memchatz" – an acronym for "Searching for Faults in quotes in the Archives." Researchers in google, facebook, and youtube are in full search mode for embarrassing quotes and shameful clips which were produced by candidates running for office who were anonymous at the time. There is a professor who loves the Arabs ("The Nakba = Yom Haatzmaut") and some female student doesn't like the odor of the Arabs ("They smell"); one person wants El Aksa to be destroyed and another wants the same for Amonah; Some woman is against women serving in the army ("sheirut") and some man is against the women singing ("shira"). And best of all, the discovery that takes First Prize, as Knight of the Search – finding a candidate's position with respect to homosexuality. These pearls are brought out in interviews and shot directly at the heads of the candidate for crucifixion, with a ricochet aimed straight at the head of the team leader, the head of the party. And as befits a true media war, counter-clips are produced, while the public relations experts and the copywriters have a ball all the way to the bank...

These election games are fodder for the multitudes, who so enjoy the goring and the provocations in the arena made up of lions and bulls. It is all so good and (not very) attractive. It might even be legitimate, but in any case for me it awakens a few thoughts that I would like to share with my readers.

A "Fishhook" for Every MK

This new fashion is without any doubt an absolute result of the fact that so many of the candidates are relative unknowns who do not have a recognizable public profile. Many of them are there in order to glorify the slate or were chosen as part of a bid to fill positions with attractive candidates. In the "old" system, before the "post-" era, (almost) all the candidates were well-known public figures, either prominent in public institutions or figures with a known background on the national scene. Their calling cards were more or less familiar to the voters, and it was not easy to catch them with quotes that were very far from the platforms of the parties which they represented. But in the current "open skies" era, when every apprentice is a worthy candidate for the Knesset, it is only natural that the reprinting of past quotes will gain in importance. Every MK ("Chak" in Hebrew) should anticipate being impaled on poisonous fishhooks ("chakah") in an attempt to catch him or her within the media and "fry him" for the taking...

And we conclude with some friendly advice for everybody who is somewhat important (no matter in what realm) – such as a popular broadcaster, a performer, a driver, or just everybody's pal – who has any thoughts of one day achieving greatness and is waiting for some existing or future party to throw him a fishhook. It is recommended that you guard your tongue and protect your soul from trouble (see Mishlei 21:23). As an alternative, you might voice lukewarm opinions, or speak only in ambiguous language. One last resort would be to embed any provocative statements in declarations on such subjects as "housing costs, the Crusades, or negative economic yield," and so on, so that it will always be possible to claim that the quote was taken "out of context."

The Thinking Man

So much for my criticism of the trend of putting anonymous candidates on election slates. However, this system of culling the archives threatens us all, in all walks of life, with no connection to membership in the Knesset. Anybody who has ever expressed himself or herself in writing, in the farthest reaches of the globe, should be aware that his words have been archived forever and can be retrieved from the "cloud" in a millisecond by an internet search engine. If anybody ever spoke and used his barbed tongue to shoot out or put on a "Purim" mask at a public affair, or took part in an event that was secret or meant for "internal" purposes only but may have been illegally filmed – he should be aware that his words and his image are engraved in stone, and they will probably be displayed one day in public.

Does this mean that we must all live in fear of future investigations? My answer is that this is not necessary at all! A person is not a programmed robot. He is absolutely allowed (and it is sometimes a good idea) to rethink his positions now and then, and to change his opinions. "For that is all there is to man" [Kohellet 12:13]. Man is called "mehalech" – one who is on the move – as opposed to an angel, who maintains his position, frozen and standing in one place ("I have given you movement among all these standing here" [Zecharia 3:7]). A person is definitely allowed to change his outlook, for better or for worse, and woe is to him if before sending any text message he will start to worry about the question of "just how did I relate to this in the past, and who is waiting in the sidelines to trap me?"

In the end, this privilege of quoting past declarations of any kind is most relevant only for the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the heavenly court. It is written, "He tells a man what he has said" [Amos 4:13]. The sages taught us: "Even an idle conversation between a man and his wife is repeated to him at the time of his death" [Chagiga 5:2]. In the Talmud this situation of a Divine quote is seen in a sharp and powerful light: "A slave whose master tells him all that he said – does he have any recourse?" As is well known, the option of repentance is the best defense in the heavenly court. Can this also be true for the earthly media?

We can come to the following conclusion: There is no concrete meaning to this process of gleaning old quotes from the archives, especially if we are referring to short quotes that are not part of a well-defined thesis. The real question is where I stand today and not what I was or what I happened to be once, a long time ago. Perpetuation of a momentary statement, and pulling it out as a stumbling-block as a career continues, is not a morally acceptable practice . We can also conclude that this process of bringing up old quotes is not an effective strategy in election propaganda, and really does no more than to provide entertainment to a bored electorate.

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As Shabbat Approaches

Lest the Nation Change its Mind /Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavne

"... For G-d said, lest the nation changes its mind when the people see war and they will return to Egypt" [Shemot 13:17]. And in fact they did complain later on, on more than one occasion: "Isn't that what we said to you in Egypt – leave us alone and we will work for Egypt" [14:11] ... "Why can't we die in the hands of G-d... while sitting at the pot of meat" [16:3] ... And they even asked to return to Egypt after they had left: "Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt" [Bamidbar 14:4].

This also appears explicitly in the words of the prophet: "I said to them: Let every man throw away the despicable idols of his eyes... However, they rebelled against me and nobody threw away the despicable idols from his eyes" [Yechezkel 20:7].

But we can only feel perplexed. How could they even consider returning to exile, how could they not be excited by the prospect of freedom?

When we look at the attitudes in recent generations, we will see that the problem is not only with respect to simple idols but is also a difficulty of freeing ourselves from cultural behavior which is foreign to Judaism. Here are some examples of this phenomenon: The Zionist movement rose up after two thousand years of exile. There was opposition for this idea from all sides – Chareidim, nonreligious, and "enlightened" Jews of the Haskalah movement. The rabbi of a prominent community in Hungary wrote: "Political Zionism, which wants to establish a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael, appears to me to be a dangerous spiritual illness... The Zionist movement, which wants to transform Judaism from a religious force to a nation, has no chance of ever succeeding in Hungary. We are Hungarians whose religion is Judaism. There is no such thing as Jewish nationalism. Everybody agrees that this is so, both those who have new ideas and the Orthodox Jews."

And the head of the Orthodox rabbis indeed followed his lead: "With respect to their opinion of the Zionist movement, the Orthodox rabbis agree with the innovators. We object to this foolish movement. The Hungarians of the Jewish religion want to find their happiness in Hungary, they have no thoughts at all of establishing a country in Eretz Yisrael."

Some people enlisted the holy writing in their cause. The association of rabbis in Germany declared that "the desires of those who are called Zionists, to establish a national Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, is directly opposed to the messianic goals of Judaism as they appear in the holy texts and in religious sources from later periods."

Philosopher Hermann Cohen wrote that the ideas of Theodor Herzl are a distortion of true Jewish messianism and an insult to the patriotism of the Jews, who are comfortable in their homeland. "We draw a feeling of religious partnership from the existing compatibility between Jewish messianism and German humanism... This almost goes so far as to have the seal of approval of a religious statement."

History continually repeats itself, again and again. "We remember the fish which we ate for free in Egypt... the melons..." [Bamidbar 11:5]. The same is still true today, except that the subject matter has changed, and instead of free fish and watermelons in Egypt, the people talk about a "Milky" dairy desert that is sold in Germany for half price.

How do the Jews reach such a low point in their thoughts? It is written, "And they did not listen to Moshe, because of impatience and because of the harsh labor" [Shemot 6:9]. In the Torah portion of Shemot it is written that "the people believed" [4:31] about the announcement of the redemption, but now they were told, "I will take you as a nation for Me, and I will be your G-d" [6:7]. And this is a very frightening prospect, especially "from the point of view that they were not Torah scholars. And this is what is called impatience, since the Torah broadens the outlook of people" [Orach Chaim].

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A Woman's Angle

From Suckling to Maturity /Tirza Frankel

There is a subject that is minor yet important that is modestly hidden in this week's Torah portion – the story of the manna. "And Bnei Yisrael called it manna, it was like a white seed, with the taste of being fried in honey" [Shemot 16:31]. From my earliest days I imagined the taste of the manna as similar to a mother's milk. None of us can remember its taste, but we all know how nutritious and life-giving it was when we were suckling children. As opposed to every other food in the world, which is loved and desired by some people and tastes bad to others, a mother's milk is good for everybody. Adults who choose to eat salty food loved their mother's milk as a child, and those who today eat only sweet foods also enthusiastically drank their mother's milk. This life-giving fluid corresponded to the desire of each and every one of us, and gave us all life. Just like the manna. The manna served the purpose of a mother's milk for Bnei Yisrael during the period of their suckling, when they were being formed into a nation, and it kept everybody alive when they were in the desert.

The total dependence of Bnei Yisrael in the desert on the kindness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, can also be compared to the total dependence of a baby on its parents, whom he slowly leaves behind while he develops, until reaching full maturity. If Bnei Yisrael in the desert were in a stage of suckling, then perhaps today, when we no longer have direct Divine revelation and prophecy, we can be compared to adults who must cope with life experiences on our own, even if our parents are looking at us from above and see how we act as a society and as a people. At times they look down with love and pride, and at other times they are disappointed and sad.

However, this dependence of Bnei Yisrael on the Holy One, Blessed be He, who sent down the manna, the total lack of independence together with the strong spiritual demand to believe in G-d and His servant Moshe, is also what caused them later on to rise up against G-d and Moshe, as what took place at "Kivrot Hata'avah." The totally dependent state, where man is expected to be completely passive and not do anything in order to obtain even the most basic needs such as food, while at the same time he is expected to achieve an adult moral level based on a spiritual and faithful outlook, as an independent person should do, is a very difficult demand in both spiritual and physical terms.

This situation reminds me of another stage in our life cycle – the period of adolescence, which I have been privileged to witness many times both with my own daughters and with my students. The adolescents stand between childhood and adulthood. On one hand they are expected to remain completely tied to the adults in their lives in terms of all their physical needs, while on the other hand we want them to display spiritual and intellectual responsibility in their studies, in their faith, in their service of G-d, and in their obligations as students and young people. This gap between the dependent realm of the child and the independent world of adulthood which appear at the same time in the lives of the adolescents makes life very difficult for them. Perhaps in a way it can be compared to the difficulties of Bnei Yisrael in the desert.

The story of Bnei Yisrael begins with the Exodus from Egypt and the heroic birth of the nation at the splitting of the Red Sea. It continues with the events surrounding the nation in the desert, like the story of a baby who grows slowly, step by step, going from the status of a suckling child who knows nothing, until he begins to enter maturity and to kick about. He makes an attempt to show some independence, exceeds the rules and tests the limits, until he reaches maturity. From then on he must live his life with Divine guidance but without any open interference from above. And like any good father, our Father in Heaven tells us this story of our lives, perhaps in order to teach us a lesson about humanity as a whole and about Bnei Yisrael in particular. The message is about the life cycle of mankind and the life cycle of our nation. And perhaps, just perhaps, we are also being given a message which is almost completely revealed to us about the great responsibility we have as parents, as when He left us and allowed us to live our lives without open external influences, as responsible adults. And we – as the nation of the Holy One, Blessed be He - perhaps we are being told at this stage in our development as a nation that we should remember once again that everything depends on us and on our choices with respect to the way we run our own lives. Perhaps a time of elections is the perfect time to remember all of these elements. Let us not forget that we have a serious responsibility and that it is not an easy task.

Good luck to us all.

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From the treasury of chassidic stories

Pulling Miracles out of the Ground /Zeev Kitsis, Kibbuts Hadati Yeshiva and Bar Ilan University

Below is a famous Chassidic story that has been told in many versions. The first time it appeared in print was in a book by Rabbi Shmuel from Shinova, a disciple of Rabbi Simcha Bunim from Peshischa. Here is the story that he brings, in the name of his master.

     * * * * * *

I heard from my holy master Rabbi Simcha Bunim from Peshischa, who told a story about the Baal Shem Tov. In his youth, the Baal Shem Tov was a helper to a teacher of young children. The owner of the house where the Baal Shem Tov stayed would often travel to visit his rabbi, and the Baal Shem Tov wanted to join him on his trip, but the owner refused to take him. What did the Baal Shem Tov do? Without the knowledge of the owner, he stood on the step that jutted out from the back of the carriage, which started out on the trip. On the way, when they passed through a village, a Gentile youth threw a rock at the Baal Shem Tov and injured him, and the Baal Shem Tov began to bleed. Later, when they were on the way back from their journey and the wagon went through the same village, they saw a large crowd gathered at the spot where the Gentile had thrown the stone. The people stopped the wagon and refused to let it go on until the travelers would give them some advice. It seems that the body of the Gentile youth had become stuck to the ground, and he was slowly sinking into it. Whatever they tried to stop the youth from sinking into the ground didn’t work and he sank down deeper and deeper. The Baal Shem Tov looked at the youth and said to him: Will you stop throwing stones at the Jews? The boy could only bow his head, because he didn't have the strength to say anything. The Baal Shem Tov did what he had to do, and the youth was taken out of the ground, perfectly healthy.

Thus, the Baal Shem Tov performed a miracle in front of a large crowd of people, but even afterwards he returned to his former simple role as a teacher's helper, and the miracle did not leave any impression.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim said about this fact, quoting Rabbi Levi Yitzchak from Berdichev, that the greatest miracle that the Baal Shem Tov had performed was that he caused the events and the miracle to be forgotten, even though they were witnessed by a large crowd of people.

[Rabbi Shmuel from Shinova, the commentary "Ramatayim Tzofim" on Tana D'Bei Eliyahu (5643 – 1883) – Jerusalem Edition (5763 – 2003), page 27.]

     * * * * * *

With reference to this story (and many other Chassidic tales), a question may be asked which almost seems petty: The story is about a miracle which was forgotten. In this case, the Baal Shem Tov himself made sure that the miracle would not be remembered. But then how could Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rabbi Simcha Bunim know about the events and tell the story?

As far as I can see, the answer to this question is related to the essence of the Chassidic tale and to the role that it is meant to play. Every story, and in fact everybody who tells a story, is in essence involved in hidden miracles. Hidden miracles are those charmed and wonderful events which are distributed throughout reality, but which people do not recognize as being wonderful and unusual. The role of the storyteller – especially the teller of a Chassidic tale – is to point out the wonder, to tell about it, and to transform it into a story. Now, from the mouth of the storyteller, other people too can glance at the hidden wonder which could very easily pass by without getting their attention.

In the above story, the Baal Shem Tov himself is a hidden miracle. It took place during the years before he was discovered and became famous. He is described as a person enveloped in many covers – he is a temporary dweller; he is a helper for a teacher; he rides on the carriage but he is hidden from view at the back. Years later the direction will change, and instead of having the "owner" travel to his anonymous rabbi the carriage will go to the house of the Baal Shem Tov, who will then be wrapped in his own secrets. A few years later, somebody will notice the miracle, reveal it, and tell about it.

The Talmud comments on the verse, "He who performs great wonders by Himself" [Tehillim 136:4], as follows: "Even the recipient of the miracle does not recognize his own miracle," and therefore "He who performs wonders," the Holy One, Blessed be He, "by Himself," is the only one who knows about the miracle (Nida 31a). Thus, most of the miracles in the world go unnoticed, and they remain stuck in the ground, without anybody to pull them out. The same is true of the miracle in our story. I assume that the people who witnessed the event remembered what had happened, but it made no impression on them, and they did not think of it as a wonder or a miracle. And that is why we need the storytellers – in this case Rabbi Simcha Bunim and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. They point out the miracle, they pull the wonders out of oblivion, and they do not allow them to sink into the ground and disappear.


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"The place" in the world

The Grave of Queen Heleni /Rabbi Yitzchak Levy, Yeshivat Har Etzion

About 700 meters north of the Damascus Gate ("Sha'ar Shechem"), at the intersection of Shechem Avenue and Salach A-Din Street, there is a very magnificent burial cave from the end of the Second Temple era.

The Cave and the Related Finds

The area of the cave which was excavated out of the rock is about 2,500 sq.m. The rock was dug down to a depth of eleven meters under the level of the surface. It is estimated that during the construction about 20,000 tons of rock were removed.

The cave has three main sections. There is a huge staircase nine meters wide and thirty-one meters long. In the stairs are two drainage channels which gather any water into two very impressive mikvaot – ritual baths.

From the stairs one enters a large and impressive excavation 8 meters deep. The size is 27 by 25 meters. Evidently the walls of the courtyard were decorated with engraved stones. The floor of the cave was covered with smooth stone slabs. In the courtyard there is a pit which evidently held a secret mechanism for opening the doors which stood in front of the entrance to the burial cave itself.

The front of the cave is excavated in the rock and it is decorated with two columns. There are also decorations of plants, including clusters of grapes and acanthus leaves. (The only decorations in the Second Temple era were geometrical patterns and plants, and not animals or human faces.)

In the hall inside the columns there are stairs covered by a stone panel. This evidently covered a mechanism that allowed the stone to be lifted from underneath. Most probably the same mechanism that was in the pit in the courtyard was also used to lift the stone tablet.

Over the roof of the front of the cave there was evidently a second floor with three pyramids, which were probably similar to the pyramids engraved into "Yad Avshalom." The entrance to the burial cave itself is very well hidden. Behind the stairs and the stone tablet, there is a burial stone which allows the entrance to the cave to be blocked. Beyond this stone there is a small entrance which is also blocked by a door.

In the cave itself there are six burial chambers, three in the lower level and three in the upper level. There are forty-eight burial sites in the rooms, come of them crypts and some arched.

Three sarcophaguses and a number of coffins for secondary burial were found in the cave.

Identifying the Cave

Establishing the identity of the site as the burial cave of Queen Heleni is based on the records of the historian Josephus Flavius, who lived at the end of the era of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. (After the revolution he surrendered to the Roman army, betrayed his people, and presented the Roman viewpoint in his writings.) He writes that Queen Heleni from Adiabene built a burial site with three pyramids, at a distance of three "reissim" from Jerusalem. Here is what he wrote:

"Monobazus sent her bones and the bones of her brother to Jerusalem, and he commanded that they be buried in the pyramids that the mother had built, three in number, which are three reissim or more away from the city of Jerusalem." [History of the Jews, 20:4; 3].

In another place Josephus mentions that the burial site is north of the city. The burial site is also mentioned in Christian sources, such as Avzevias and Hironimas.

The Greek historian and traveler Pausanias who evidently visited Jerusalem in the year 150 C.E. was impressed by the grave, and he wrote:

"Only once a year, on a set date, the stone rolls away by itself and opens up the cave. After a while it closes once again. At any other time it is impossible to move the stone even if people apply their full strength."

Evidently Pausanias is describing the secret mechanism which was used to lift the stone panel that usually hid the stairs leading to the entrance of the cave.

The accepted viewpoint is that the distance of "three reissim" mentioned in the records is measured from the second wall of the city, the remains of which can be seen in the Old City today, and not from the third wall which lies to the north of Old City.

Queen Heleni

Queen Heleni and her family came from Adiabene (in the area of Kurdistan, in Iraq). She built a palace in the City of David and supported the poor people of Jerusalem. The sages have high praise for the good works of Queen Heleni and her son Monobaz.

Heleni made a golden chandelier at the entrance to the Sanctuary of the Temple, and she also made a tablet of gold. King Monobaz made handles for all the utensils in the Temple for use on Yom Kippur (Mishna Yoma 3:10). The following is told about King Monobaz:

"One time Monobaz distributed all the treasures that he had to the poor people. At a time of famine his brothers sent him a message: 'Your ancestors saved treasures and added to the wealth of their fathers, how can you put to waste all that is yours and that was gathered by your ancestors?' He sent back to them, 'My ancestors gathered treasures down below, I gathered treasure from above, as is written, Truth will grow from the earth and righteousness will be seen in heaven. [Tehillim 85:12].' [Tosefta Pei'ah 4:18].

Traditions about Who is Buried in the Cave

The first researchers in the nineteenth century identified the cave as the burial place of the Kings of Yehuda, because of the glorious appearance of the site. Today, based on what we know about the styles of burial in various eras, it is clear that the cave is from the end of the era of the Second Temple.

There was a tradition among the Jews of Jerusalem that this was the grave of Kalba Savua, one of the wealthiest men of Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple era. Others saw it as the grave of Nakdimon Ben Gurion, who was also a wealthy man from Jerusalem in the end of the Second Temple era.

The Jews of Jerusalem had a custom of praying at the site during times of a drought (for instance, in the year 5598 – 1838).

The Ownership of the Cave

Near the entrance to the cave the French consul in Jerusalem put up a copper plaque where it was written, among other things, "A monument that was bought in 1878 by Emil and Yitzchak Pedier, in order to keep watch over it for science and as a holy memory for those faithful to Bnei Yisrael." In 1885, the owners of the cave transferred the ownership to the government of France.

Ever since, France owns one of the most grandiose burial sites in Eretz Yisrael. The times of entry into the site are set by the French Consulate in Jerusalem, and a French flag is flown at the cave.

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Halacha From The Source

Tu B'Shevat in the Shemitta Year /The Center for Teaching and Halacha, Directed by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

Question: Is there any halachic significance of Tu B'Shevat with respect to the Shemitta year? How can we celebrate Tu B'Shevat during Shemitta?


Why is Tu B'Shevat considered New Year?

The first Mishna in Rosh Hashanah lists two "New Years" that might be relevant for the fruits of a tree during the Shemitta year:

"The first of Tishrei is the New Year for years, Shemitta, and Yovel, for planting and for vegetables. The first day of Shevat is the New Year for trees according to Beit Shamai. Beit Hillel say it is on the fifteenth of the month."

With respect to Shemitta and vegetables, the Mishna tells us the Rosh Hashanah is the first of Tishrei, but for fruits of the trees we are told that Rosh Hashanah is the fifteenth of Shevat – Tu B'Shevat. What then is the date of Rosh Hashanah for a tree during the Shemitta year – is it the first of Tishrei or the fifteenth of Shevat? To answer this question we must first understand why the New Year for trees is in Shevat. Two reasons are given in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah 1:2):

(1) By Tu B'Shevat most of the rain for the year has already fallen, the sap has risen in the trees, and the season for budding has arrived. Thus, this date is the beginning of the agricultural year for the tree.

(2) Flowers whose bud appears before Tu B'Shevat grew from sap that came into the tree before Tishrei, and they are therefore considered as having started to bloom before Tishrei.

Shemitta Sanctity of Fruits

The two explanations given by the Talmud Yerushalmi are relevant in halachic terms for establishing the beginning of Shemitta sanctity of the fruit. According to the first explanation, Tu B'Shevat is the date when the new agricultural season begins for the tree, and therefore this has been set at the New Year for the trees. On the other hand, according to the second explanation, Tu B'Shevat is merely a sign of the fact that fruits whose buds came out before this date were in fact created in the previous year (before the first of Tishrei).

Thus, according to the second explanation, fruit whose buds appeared before Tu B'Shevat of Shemitta are not holy, because all the fruit that started to bud before this were in essence created in the sixth year. And fruit whose buds appear before Tu B'Shevat of the eighth year is holy, because all of this fruit was created in the seventh year (this is the opinion of Rabeinu Chananel, Rosh Hashanah 15b). On the other hand, according to the first explanation above the natural year for trees begins only on Tu B'Shevat (for example, for the matter of maaser), but for Shemitta the year is set by the Shemitta of the land, which begins on the first of Tishrei and ends on the twenty-ninth of Elul (this is implied by the Rambam, Hilchot Shemitta V'Yovel 4:9, and most other early commentators; see Torat Zera'im Shevi'it 5:1).

The majority of the later rabbis, including Rav Kook (Shabbat Ha'Aretz 4:9) and the Chazon Ish (7:13), ruled according to the opinion of the Rambam – that the fruit which is holy is that whose buds appeared between the first of Tishrei of the Shemitta year and the first of Tishrei of the next year . In practice, this becomes relevant only in the second half of the Shemitta year, since only then do the fruits that flowered after the first of Tishrei reach the markets. This sanctity continues on into the eighth year, since these fruits blossomed during the Shemitta year.

Planting Trees on Tu B'Shevat

We now turn to the second question of how to celebrate Tu B'Shevat this year. Today there is an accepted custom of planting new trees on this day. While there is no direct link between planting and Tu B'Shevat, it is a proper custom (which was initiated by Zeev Yaavitz in Rishon Letzion, in the year 5652 – 1892). The importance of new planting is noted in many sources, such as the words of the sages:

"Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai received the Torah from Hillel and Shamai. He used to say... If you are holding a seedling in your hand and you are told that Mashiach has come, the first thing to do is to plant the seedling." [Avot D'Rebbe Natan version 2, Chapter 31].

In the Shemitta year we are of course not allowed to plant new trees , since planting is forbidden. However, we can study the essence of planting. We can organize discussions about such issues as planting, mitzvot that are linked to the land, Eretz Yisrael, and agriculture in our land.

The sanctity of Shemitta gives us an opportunity this year to achieve the level of holiness that is usually available to us only through physical contact with the land. During Shemitta we can feel an enhanced spiritual uplifting even without actually planting anything.

The sanctity of the land teaches us that not only the spiritual elements in nature are holy but also all of reality, all of the produce, including the fruits and the vegetables – everything stems from a holy source.

On Tu B'Shevat, we will try to get a feel for the special sanctity of our land and the special sanctity of Shemitta. We will try to study and go in depth into the reasons for Shemitta and its values, and from the sanctity of Shemitta we will expand to the high levels of sanctity of the land and the high level of purity of mankind. We will join together in faith, in our trust in G-d, in our mutual support and in giving to each other within society, in linking to nature and to Eretz Yisrael.

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What Is That Phrase?

"Bechi Tov"/Yaacov Etzion

"The situation of the team is really bad" – a common phrase in Hebrew used to describe this would be "bechi ra." This sentence appeared in a newspaper article about a basketball team recently. What does it mean? It denotes the worst possible situation. But the original source of this phrase comes from the opposite phrase – "bechi tov" – meaning the best situation. And this second form tends to appear less in modern Hebrew.

Our sages have taught us, "A person should always start on a trip 'bechi tov' and enter his destination 'bechi tov.' As is written, 'Morning came, and the people were sent on their way' [Bereishit 44:3]." [Taanit 10b]. In this verse, bechi tov means a good time, when there is light in the world, based on the verse, "G-d saw that the light was good (ki tov)" [Bereishit 1:4]. Thus, our sages recommend that a person start out on a journey after the light comes in the morning and that he return before dark.

Based on this model, the phrase "bechi tov" was often used as flowery language, meaning a good status, especially when referring to the end of a process. For example, here is what Rabbi Pesach Tzvi Frank wrote in Responsa Har Tzvi with respect to a dispute: "There can be no doubt that G-d wants him to succeed in bringing matters to a close 'bechi tov'." However, things do not always work out for the best, and therefore people began to write the opposite, deriving one flowery phrase from another. And thus the phrase "bechi ra" was used independently, to denote a bad situation. (Perhaps this was enhanced by the similarity between the word "bechi" and "bechi" – with the accent on the first syllable - meaning to weep or cry.)

As an aside, we note some aspects of the current use of the word "tov" – good. Today it often appears as a response to a question or to a request. "Will you please throw this into the garbage," a mother might ask her son. And his answer might be, "Tov." It is interesting to note that this form of use appears in the Tanach. After Shlomo is anointed king, Adoniyahu turns to Bat-Sheva with a request: "Please tell King Shlomo not to refuse you, and to give me Avishag the Shunamite as a wife." [Melachim I 2:17]. And Bat-Sheva replies, "Tov. I will talk about you to the King." [2:18]. The word "tov," which might just as well have appeared in a modern sentence, is in fact a shortened version of "tov hadavar" – the matter is satisfactory. (See, for example, the response of the nation to Eliyahu on Mount Carmel: "And the entire nation replied, saying: The matter is good." [Melachim I 18:24]. Or the reply by Shim'i Ben Geira to Shlomo's command not to leave Jerusalem: "And Shim'i said to the king, the matter is good. Whatever my master the King has said, so will your slave do." [Melachim I 2:38].)

Today not very many people say "bechi tov" or "tov hadavar," but the reply "tov" is very often used in daily conversations, just as in the time of Adoniyahu.

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The Clear Vision Of Rav Kook

The Almond Tree is Blooming /Rabbi Chagai Londin,
Hesder Yeshiva in Sdeirot and Machon Meir

Ever since Yisrael Dushman wrote the ever-popular song, "Hashekaidiya Porachat" – the almond tree is blooming – we see the flowering trees on the date of Tu B'Shevat as the harbinger of the end of the season of falling leaves. However, the almond tree is an anomalous phenomenon on the scene, and we know that the real prominent blooming of the trees will come in the spring. Meanwhile, it is instructive to listen carefully to a description of what is happening under the surface.

Tu B'Shevat, the fifteenth of the month of Shevat, has been set as the New Year for trees. The main significance of this date is related to halacha and the need to establish the age of the tree, as is necessary for some mitzvot, such as "neta revai" (the Torah prohibition to eat the fruit of a tree until it has reached the age of four years). However, as the years went by the date took on a festive character, and it has become a holiday celebrating nature, including a custom of eating fruits from Eretz Yisrael. During the era of exile, when most of the nation of Yisrael was dispersed all over the world, the fruits usually arrived from the land in a dried state. And the custom became one of eating dried fruits (the fact that today most of this fruit comes from Turkey is a different issue, outside the scope of this article).

However, with all of our enthusiasm from the blooming in nature, if we look at the land around us on Tu B'Shevat we do not see many changes. There are no flowers, the ground remains muddy, the trees still do not have any leaves, and it is quite hard to believe that the spring will appear as a result of what we see in front of us. In spite of this, the sages were able to listen to an internal process taking place under the surface. They explain that the month of Shevat was chosen as the New Year for trees because in that month "the sap has begun to rise in the trees" [Rashi, Rosh Hashanah]. That is, even though no change can be seen on the surface, a great revolution is taking place internally. The sap, the elixir of life of the tree, is starting to bubble up underneath the surface. This movement will in the end bring about a surge of blooming which will become visible in the springtime, during the month of Nissan. We are reminded of this process in the current Torah portions, which deal with the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea.

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Straight Talk

Learn to Relax/Yoni Lavie
Manager, "Chaverim Makshivim" Website

In spite of the silence in the kitchen, he felt that they were calling out to him. There they were, colored candies in the big glass jar, and they were smiling and winking, inviting and tempting him. "Come on, you cute thing, take a chair and climb up to us," they whispered. "Nobody will notice, your mother will not know. Why not put something sweet in your mouth, it's just what you need right now!" Even though he had celebrated his fourth birthday only a week ago, he managed to drag the heavy chair all by himself, climb up on the marble counter, and take the jar off the top of the refrigerator. It was very easy to take the top off, and the path to the prize was simple and very inviting. But then, surprisingly, he had another serious problem. He couldn't pull his hand out of the jar...

He pulled stubbornly, he turned back and forth and used all his strength, but even after a very long time of painful and frustrating effort, his hand remained stuck deep inside the jar. His painful cries filled the room and quickly brought his mother, who had thought that she would grab a few minutes of well-deserved rest. One quick glance was enough for her to understand the problem. From her experience she knew that she could use soap or olive oil to decrease the friction and to allow the hand to free itself from its cramped quarters. For example, that is what she had done when by mistake she had put a small ring on the wrong finger. But this time she had a much smarter idea. "My darling, it's very simple. Let go of the candy. Open up your hand." The weeping boy looked at his mother and did as she had said. Like magic, in a second, he took his hand out without any problem...

The Contracted Muscle

A new baby bursts out into the air with his or her hands tightly clenched. As it were, the whole world is folded into the baby's hands and is held there. It is not easy to convince the baby to give up the treasure held in his little hand. Decades pass, and the moment comes when the person closes his or her eyes and departs from his loved ones. By now, his hands are spread out and open. It takes an entire lifetime for a man to understand his proper place, to realize that even what he had imagined belonged only to him was not really his at all.

During a lifetime, a Jew encounters a wide variety of elements that cause him to exercise the muscle of relaxation. This is a special muscle in the soul which requires constant exercise in order to become free and flexible.

The process begins with what happens every day. A man is required to interrupt his hectic life three times a day, to step back from the race for money and accomplishments, and to pray to the Master of the Universe. He loses precious work time, and all of his meetings and labors must wait for him, but these quality times will help him get back onto the fast track of a life that is upright, true, and more precise.

It seems that this is not enough, and every week there is a need for a longer pause, a full day of relaxation. The person takes a step back, puts aside all the matters of physical material and time, and doesn't even talk about them. This is the opportunity for the soul to get its due, for the internal batteries to be charged with spiritual energy, and to return to the days of activity after the internal world has reached a higher level of harmony and a better order.

Once a year, just at the time of the harvest, when the crops are at their peak and the hearts of the masters of the land are full of satisfaction for the great success during the year, the man must once again back off. For a whole week he leaves his grandiose and comfortable house and goes outside into nature. He sleeps in a temporary dwelling and looks at the stars which twinkle at him through the "sechach."

Once every seven years, an even more drastic step is necessary. The work on the land is stopped completely, and a place of honor is reserved for broader spaces of life and of the soul.

Letting G-d Enter

Is it easy for a person to relax? He will always feel an internal opposition to such a move. It sometimes even brings about a feeling of trepidation and fear. "What will happen when I let go? How can I set aside everything that I have achieved?"

King David uses a sentence with only five words to express the great secret of "surviving during Shemitta" – "Relax and know that I am G-d" [Tehillim 46:11].

Relaxation is an expression of faith, of modesty, of giving in, of patience. It shows that I know my proper place.

Relaxation frees a man from his stubborn hold on reality and leaves an opening for external influences to operate in his world.

Relaxation creates a distance which can help a man clarify the quality of the link between him and what he held on to beforehand. Some things simply cannot be seen when we are still in their midst, and they will be revealed only when we step back to take a look.

Relaxation helps to balance relationships, to look at things in the proper proportion, to look at the entire picture. (This is the meaning in depth of the entire wonderful concept of "family purity." In the monthly cycle of a couple, it is vital to step back for a few days from the physical plane in order to maintain a relationship that is healthy, balanced, pure, and precise.)

Relaxation implies humility. A man understands that he is not necessarily the one who controls all existence. There is a greater power, and mankind is nothing compared to it.

Relaxation, paradoxically, can enhance a person's confidence in the face of losing his grip. Making room within ourselves leaves room for the Holy One, Blessed be He, to enter...

The Correct Position

Anybody who has the merit of exercising his relaxation muscle and making it more flexible will find that he has in his hand a tremendous tool for a life that is healthy and calm. He will make use of this as a parent when he discovers that "his" children do not really belong to him. They grow up to be independent human beings, with their own will, which does not always exactly match the path of the parents. He will make use of this in his contact with his mate, and he will therefore be able to free himself from the haughty desire to change the mate to correspond to "his own truth." This approach will help him in all of his work relationships, in his studies, and in society. Above all, it will lead him to a better position with respect to the world and in relation to the One who created it.

(With thanks to Hadas Yelink, of "Hebrew Nature," for the enlightened insights. Look for the charming and on-the-mark song by Koby Oz on youtube, by the name, "Zalman, it's not you!" – in Hebrew.)


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Riddle of the Week

Beshalach/Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

Numerically it is a Tzadik – one who is righteous
Add a "heh" and you get one who oppressed the Jews

Last week the riddle was: What do a sheep, manna, and Aharon's staff all have in common?

Answer: All of them are described by the word, "mishmeret" – for safekeeping.
- It is written about the sheep: "Let it be for you for safekeeping until the fourteenth day of this month, and all of the community of Yisrael will slaughter it in the evening." [Shemot 12:6].

- About the manna: "And Moshe said, this is what G-d commanded. Take a full Omer of it for safekeeping for your generations, so that they will see the bread which I fed them in the desert when I took you out of Egypt. And Moshe said to Aharon, take one jar and put into it a full Omer of manna, and place it before G-d for safekeeping for your generations." [16:32-33].

- About Aharon's staff: "And G-d said to Moshe, place Aharon's staff before the Ark of Testimony for safekeeping, as a sign for those who would revolt, and let their complaints about me stop, so that they will not die." [Bamidbar 17:25].

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