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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


The Connection Between Tu B’Shvat and Parashat Beshalach

Parashat BeShalach always comes out near the holiday of Tu B’Shvat. This year, it comes out on Tu B’shvat.  What is the relationship between the 15th day of Sh’vat — the “New Year of Trees,” and this week’s parasha?

The book Ziv HaMinhagim gives a beautiful explanation of this linkage. Tu B’Shvat is the Rosh HaShanah of trees. Look outside today (in a place that has four seasons) and gaze at the trees. They appear deader than doornails! Is this the time to celebrate “The New Year for Trees?” There is not a leaf to be seen. It would seem more appropriate to celebrate “Tu B’Shvat” in the springtime when the trees are in full bloom — April or May.

The answer is that the trees LOOK dead. They LOOK like they will never see another green leaf in their existence. But right now the sap is beginning to run within them. If one travels up to Vermont — the Maple syrup capital of the world — he will find Vermonters dressed up in earmuffs boring holes in trees to extract the sap from the maple trees. This is the time of the year when the sap is flowing within the trees. The leaves and the beauty of the fruits that the trees will produce in the spring and summer are all being prepared right now, in the dead of winter.

The trees represent the idea that even when something looks terribly bleak and looks like it has no future, one should not give up on it. One should not give up on the trees when they look like that, and one should not give up on oneself when things look like that for him.

There are periods in a person’s life when the future looks bleak and things look miserable all around. What will be? But the salvation of the L-rd comes in the blink of an eye! The Almighty is already “running the sap,” so to speak, so that salvation may come. For this reason, Tu B’Shvat is celebrated in the dead of winter.

It states in Parashat BeShalach “They came to Marah and they could not drink the water, for it was bitter,” (Shemot 15:23). Hashem then showed Moshe a tree and told him to throw it into the water. Why a tree? Why not a rock or a piece of dirt?

The symbolism is as we said before. The people felt hopeless. They were a couple of million people in the desert with no food or water. The natural reaction was: “What is going to be? How are we going to live? What will be our future?”

At that point, Hashem showed them a tree. The tree is the symbol that when all looks futile and bleak, desolate and destroyed, we see that the situation can turn around. Rebirth happens! There can be renaissance and renewal. Throwing the tree into the water was meant as a message to the people: “Don’t give up. Don’t worry about the desert. Things look bleak now but the salvation of the L-rd comes in the blink of an eye.”