Tu B’Shvat – HaRav Dov Begon

Our sages teach us that we have to follow in God’s footsteps. Just as God planted a garden in Eden, so must we plant trees in Eretz Yisrael. Yet it is not enough just to plant. We must also tend to what we have planted.

 

The Sign of Redemption

by HaRav Dov Begon, Head of Yesivat Machon Meir

What is the sign of Israel’s redemption? Rabbi Abba said that we have no clearer sign than that of Ezekiel 36:8: “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they will soon be coming.” Rashi explains: “When Eretz Yisrael yields its fruit bountifully, we have no clearer sign of the end of the exile” (Sanhedrin 98).

At the height of the Kingdom of Israel when the first commonwealth was flourishing in Eretz Yisrael, King Solomon said, “I planted vineyards, I made gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits” (Ecclesiastes 2:4–5).

Almost all the fruits of the world are found in Eretz Yisrael, because Eretz Yisrael has all the types of soil: “Out of Zion, the perfection [michlal] of beauty” (Psalm 50:2). All beauty is included (kalul) in it (Yoma 54a).

The custom that Jews eat the fruits of Eretz Yisrael on Tu B’shvat has taken root. In so doing we demonstrate our love and affection for the Land, thereby effecting a great spiritual improvement in the world. When we taste of the enormous assortment of fruits that grow in our land today, there is almost no fruit on earth that cannot be found here, as in the days of King Solomon. We must show our gratitude to God, who is renewing our days as of old, for the fact that Eretz Yisrael is yielding its fruit bountifully to the People of Israel. Following two thousand years of exile, the Jews are now gathering together by the millions – “how fortunate we are and how good is our lot,” that we are privileged to see all of this with our own eyes!

The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge  of Good and Evil

On Tu B’shvat, many Jews have a custom of planting trees throughout our beloved land. We find an allusion to this custom in our sages’ words:

“From the beginning of the world’s creation, God dealt first with planting, as it says, ‘God planted a garden in Eden’ (Genesis 2:8). You, as well, when you enter the Land, must first engage in planting, as it says, ‘When you come to the Land, plant trees bearing fruit’ (Leviticus 19:23).” (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3)

Our sages teach us that we have to follow in God’s footsteps. Just as God planted a garden in Eden, so must we plant trees in Eretz Yisrael. Yet it is not enough just to plant. We must also tend to what we have planted. Just as God left man in Eden to work and preserve what he planted, so are we commanded to cultivate and preserve our public and private lives here. Otherwise, we are liable to ruin the Garden of Eden in which we live. As our sages said:

“When God created Adam, He took him around and showed him all the trees in Eden, and He said to him, “Observe how fine is My handiwork. Everything I created, I created for you. Be careful not to ruin and destroy My world!” (Kohelet Rabbah 7)

In addition, Adam was commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eating from the tree brought shame and sadness to Adam and to all mankind for whoever ate from that tree would imagine that only he knows what is good and what is evil, and consequently he would ignore Divine instruction that teaches us what is really good and what is really evil. As we sing whenever we accompany the Torah scroll, the Torah is a “tree of life for those who take hold of it.”

So while we appreciate and celebrate the flourishing of Jewish agriculture in the land of Israel we must take care to cultivate and preserve these roots in our holy, beloved land. We must develop our land and settle throughout its length and breadth, guarding it from the enemies, robbers of our land, whose entire goal is to destroy the State of Israel.

Above all else, we must be careful not to “eat the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” We mustn’t think that good and evil in our private and public lives depend only on our own judgment. Those who hold the reins of government must be especially careful to avoid this mistake. We must all realize that good and evil, as far as our hold on Eretz Yisrael, are learned from our holy Torah. That is the moral basis for us and for the nations of the world that justifies our possession of the Land of our life’s blood. As Rashi explains at the start of the Torah, should the nations come and call us thieves for having conquered Eretz Yisrael, we must answer them, “God told His people of His might, in giving them the inheritance of nations” (Psalm 101:6).

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