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A Perspective on Tu B'shvat

I'd like to share with you an interesting perspective on Tu B'shvat, based on an essay written by Rabbi Berel Wein.


Next Thursday we will commemorate Tu B’Shvat – the New Year day for trees and fruits in the Holy Land. The day carries with it halachic significance with regard to agricultural mitzvot in the Torah. But as in all matters of halacha and mitzvoth, there is a great moral lesson to be taught from this day as well.

Tu B’Shvat marks the turning point of the winter season. Even though there are many weeks of winter ahead, we feel the season turning. The days are becoming longer, the sun higher and brighter in the sky, and the advertisements for Pesach vacations in Jewish publications more urgent and frenzied in tone. Thus, Tu B’Shvat not only is a new beginning for the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel, but also for us as individuals and as a people.

A recurring and inspiring theme in Jewish history, is that of renewal, the way the Jewish people repeatedly meet challenges and adapt to adverse circumstances. Every generation of Jew faces a combination of challenges unique to time and ones that have faced us throughout the centuries. Tu B’Shvat reminds us of the responsibility to face the present and anticipate the future with realism and idealism, to meet challenges with a combination of tactics honed through centuries of renewal and also new ones, that we develop ourselves and pass on to our children’s children.

Over the past three centuries, especially in the world of Ashkenazic Jewry, we have faced a dazzling array of challenges to the so-called “Jewish problem.” The Haskala came to “civilize” us; the Marxists arose to create a utopia for us; the Zionists came to make us secure and cure anti-Semitism once and for all; Reform came to make us acceptable to non-Jewish society and to integrate us with humanistic goals; and secularism came to free us from the burdens of tradition and mitzvot. None of these movements achieved their stated goals.

The Holocaust made a mockery of integration into the general humanistic world; Zionism created the State of Israel but has provided it with no sense of security and arguably has exacerbated the problem of anti-Semitism; Stalin cured us of Marxism; the Haskala apparently did not sufficiently civilize us; and secularism has yet to prove that it is not an empty wagon. There is a great feeling of apathy and emptiness in the Jewish world today.

In the realm of traditional Jewry, much of Religious Zionism has lost its steam; Chasidut has pretty much frozen, atrophied and become insular; the yeshiva world has become a place of narrow focus and elitism; the Mussar movement no longer exists; and modern Orthodoxy has not found its voice and parameters.

We are witness to the end of an era. The old is going and the new has yet to arrive, hence the apathy and weariness that grips the Jewish world today. And yet, It is at such moments in Jewish history that a renewal of faith and idealism has always occurred.

Tu B’Shvat should make us aware that such a renewal is necessary. The season is turning not only weather-wise but in our history and society. Old tactics are not appropriate to today’s problems. However, the answers are available within the framework of tradition and halacha as they were when Chasidut revolutionized Ashkenazic Jewry in the eighteenth century and Mussar created the yeshiva world of the late nineteenth century. The State of Israel will not be able to live forever on Holocaust memorials or Zionistic slogans, nor will the Jews in the Diaspora survive without finding ways to make Judaism relevant to their daily lives in a meaningful and consequential way.  

Reforming, editing, changing and improving the Torah is now, as it always was, a surefire recipe for disaster and the wrong kind of assimilation. Still, we have to take a fresh look at our situation, our schools, shuls, communities and our societal norms to be able to state clearly what our goals are and find new and innovative means to achieve them.

It is a time for renewal and fresh thinking. The season is turning. Let us think hard about how best to ready ourselves for the warmth of spring and what to do when it gets here.