178 posts categorized "Jewish holidays"

Happy Tu B'Shvat, Planted People!

Olive Israel Kotel
Above photo, 2000 year-old olive tree in the Lower Galilee that dates back to the Second Temple

Tu B'Shvat is so spiritually and emotionally overwhelming for someone who loves Hashem and our holy Land of Israel. It's all about our roots that go so deep down in this hallowed land that Hashem promised to our forefathers and gave to us over 3,300 years ago. Our Nomadic and usurping Arab neighbors can't understand, but we are a Planted People, planted deep in the Holy Land, from which we shall never budge, amen!

My feature article this week on Breslev Israel web magazine, The Planted People, is perfect to read at your Tu B'Shvat table. When you finish it, you can check out these other great articles:

Rabbi Shalom Arush - That Little Voice

Gedale Fenster - Ten Essential Life Lessons

Racheli Reckles - How to Kill Your Marriage 

Lori Steiner - Ten Steps to Redemption

David Perlow - 80/20 Parenting

David Ben Horin - Circumventing 5 Cs

Terry Hayes - The Noahide Struggle 

Enjoy, and may you be blessed with wonderful fruit of every type, arbor and human, amen!


Tu B'Shvat: Israel's Answer to the World

Jeremiah 31.4

Tu B'Shvat this year is Sunday night, Jan. 20 - Monday, Jan. 21, 2019

The nations of the world, in protesting our right to the Land of Israel, claim that all the other religions are fine with living in a variety of countries, so why must the Jews have their own land?

Many Jews don't know the answer to this seemingly-probing question. Yet, the answer is surprisingly simple. It also explains why we have a special New Year for trees, when it's a special mitzva to plant trees all over the Land of Israel.

In his very first statement of his classic elaboration on Torah, Rashi explains prophetically that in case the nations of the world will call Israel thieves for occupying Canaanite land, then know full well that Hashem created the world and He parcels it out to whomever He chooses.

King David says that Hashem gave us the land of the Canaanite nations so that we would "guard His laws and observe His commandments" (Psalm 105:45) on this hallowed land, as the Torah instructs.

When a Jew is honored with an "aliya" to the Torah, he says two blessings - one before the Torah reading and one after the Torah reading. The latter blessing is especially interesting: "Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, for giving us the Torah of truth, and planting posterity within us; blessed are You, Hashem, who gives the Torah."

Our sages called the Torah, the "planting of posterity". Why "planting"? Trees are planted, but why Torah? And, what does this have to do with the Land of Israel?

As Rashi explains, the Land of Israel is not like any other land - it is Hashem's special Holy Land. The Torah explains an entire array of special commandments that must be observed in the Land of Israel, yet need not be observed elsewhere. Many of these commandments deal with with trees and fruit, such as orla[1], trumot[2], maaserot[3], prat and olelut[4], just to name a few.

The Shulchan Aruch, or Code of Jewish Law, forbids a Jew from selling a non-Jew anything that is still rooted in the soul of the Land of Israel[5]. In other words, one may sell a non-Jew an entire ton of Israel's finest grapes, but he may not sell even one lone grapevine that is planted in the holy soil of Israel. The Gemara gives two reasons for this prohibition[6]: First, since Hashem gave the Land of Israel to the Jews specifically for the purpose of performing the Torah's commandments, one may not give or sell any portion of the land, no matter how big or small. This in itself is one of the Torah's 365 negative mitzvoth known as Lo Techanem[7]. Second, by selling or giving any portion of land to a non-Jew, one is obstructing the performance of the required mitzvoth that pertain to that portion of land, which constitutes a desecration of the land's holiness.

Planting is so important in the Land of Israel, that if a person has not yet harvested the first fruits of his vineyard, he is exempt from military service[8].

With all the above in mind, what's so significant about planting trees in the Land of Israel? And why is the Torah said to be "implanted" with us?

The Prophet Jeremiah said [10]that the sign of our final redemption will be when you see Jews coming back to the Land of Israel and planting vineyards in Samaria; that's happening right now, and that's what the BDS Movement and all our other enemies are fighting against...

The Torah tells us that he who plants, especially in the hallowed Land of Israel, is he who is connected - he sends forth roots, deep in the ground. The deeper the roots, the stronger the connection. The Torah is also called the "Tree of Life"[9], for those who cling to it. In this respect, the Torah represents our spiritual clinging to Hashem - for the Jewish people are rooted in Hashem, as Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai says in the Zohar - while the trees we plant in the holy Land of Israel signify our physical clinging to Hashem, to His holy land, and to His commandments. So, just as we rightfully celebrate our anniversary of Torah every year on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, we annually celebrate our New Year for trees, every year on the Fifteenth of Shvat. Happy Tu B'Shvat!

Footnotes: 

[1]    The prohibition of eating fruit from a three-year old tree or younger

[2]    Typically 2% of the yield that is given to a Cohen

[3]    10% of the yield that is given to the Levites; there are two additional types of tithes, for the poor and for the purpose of spending in Jerusalem during the time of festivals in the Holy Temple

[4]    Enabling the poor to glean fallen and lone grapes left over after the grape harvest

[5]    See Yora Deah 141:7

[6]    See Tractate Avoda Zara, 21a

[7]    Numbers 7:2, mitzva number 284 according the the Sefer Chinuch

[8]    Numbers 20:6

[9]    Proverbs 3:18

[10]    Jeremiah 31:4


Rabbi Lazer's Chanukah Message: Mattatyahu's Courage

Kever Mattatyahu
Image above: the holy gravesite of Mattatyahu son of Yochanan, the High Priest (Cohen HaGadol), father and spiritual leader of the Maccabees

Happy Chanuka!

Mattatyahu Cohen HaGadol, whom we remember every time we say the "Al HaNissim" prayer during Chanuka, is buried in a cave in a forest, about a kilometer north of Highway 443 near Mevo Modiin, which Hashem enabled me to visit yesterday.

Mattatyahu and his sons fought a double war - not only against the Syrian Greeks, but against the 95% of the Jewish people who had become assimilated Hellenists. But because of his steadfast, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to Hashem, to his emuna, to the Torah and to his homeland, he was able to overcome all obstacles and instill the fire of emuna and total dedication in the hearts of his brave sons and daughter.

Where did he get his strength and courage from?

Nothing gives a person strength like clarification of the truth. A person who knows the truth and who lives according to the truth is as fierce as a lion. He is not willing to live a lie; so, if you take the truth away from him, he'll no longer regard his life as worth living. That's why our ancestors in every generation all the way back to our forefather Abraham were willing to sacrifice their last breath and heartbeat for our faith in Hashem and our Torah.

Mattatyahu and his sons Yehuda, Elazar, Shimon, Yochanan and Yonatan knew the truth. For a servant of Hashem, life is worthless without Torah, emuna, and holiness. The Hellenists fooled themselves while trying to dilute the truth and appease the Syrian Greeks, but the latter wanted to destroy it altogether and to substitute it with a life of pursuing bodily amenities.

Did Hashem send our souls down to this lowly earth just for another piece of steak, another fling with the opposite sex, or another NBA game? Those who waste their lives in the pursuit of material appetites are neither happy nor fulfilled. What's worse, they haven't devoted a single minute to clarifying the truth.

21" biceps won't give you courage. Truth and emuna will.

If the Prime Minister of Israel would clarify the truth, no foreign pressure in the world would sway him a single millimeter. If a teenager would clarify the truth, then he'd say no to the stupid things that his peers are doing. If a woman knew the truth, she wouldn't care if her neighbors called her "nebby" or "yachna" for dressing the way Hashem wants her to dress. If a man would be honest with himself, he'd realize how contemptible it would be to sacrifice one's entire family for a few moments of illicit thrills.

Mattatyahu and his sons were masters at truth clarification. They weren't willing to live for two minutes without the truth. That's where they derived the courage to fight a virtually impossible war. And that's why they won.

While we're basking in the holy light of the Chanuka candles, let's ponder the real meaning of this beautiful festival that commemorates the miracle of the few prevailing over many, the pure prevailing over the impure, and the light prevailing over darkness. Let's remember the dedication and commitment of Mattatyahu and his sons. Let's strengthen ourselves and carry their torch of Torah and truth, no matter what the odds. We can do it. All we need is emuna. Blessings for a wonderful Shabbat Chanuka!


Light of Moshiach and How to Play Dreydel

The famed tzaddik and Kabbalist, Rebbe Zvi Elimelech of Dinov, author of the B'nai Yissachar, calls the light of Chanuka Or Haganuz and Or pnai Moshiach, or the "hidden Divine lights" and "the lights of Moshiach's countenance. These concepts cannot be understood by logic, explains the Melitzer Rebbe, only by pure and simple faith.

Silverdreidellazer The Melitzer Rebbe speaks quite a bit about Moshiach during Chanuka. He also has a very special dreydel - pure silver - with the letters nun - gimel - hey - shin on it, one letter per side. I asked the Rebbe why he uses a dreydel with a shin and not with a pey, as most people in Israel do. The Rebbe hinted that there are tremendous inner secrets in these four letters, and particularly that the numerical value of nun (50), gimel (3), hey (5), and shin (300) equal 358, the exact numeric value of Moshiach (mem - 50, shin - 300, yud - 10, chet - 8 = 358). My dreydel, pictured on the left, is an exact copy of the Rebbe's. The Rebbe also added something very cryptic when he told me that each spin of the dreydel brings Moshiach closer.

Don't underestimate the fantastic quality time of playing dreydel with your children. In the Brody household, we play for almonds, for cashews, or for coins. The action is better than Vegas, and it's kosher too! Here's how to play dreydel in classic Chassidic Yiddish tradition:

First, make a cental kitty, starting with about 20 coins or almonds. Let each player have at least 10 of his own units to play with.

Second, give the dreydel the best spin you can. Champion spinners have prestige status...

Third, once the dreydel lands, here's what you do:

Nun: first letter of "nem" in Yiddish (take) - take one coin or nut from the central kitty

Gimel: first letter of "gib" in Yiddish (give) - put one coin or nut in the central kitty

Shin: first letter of "shik" in Yiddish (send) - send every other player one coin or nut from your own pot

Hey: first letter of "halb" in Yiddish (half) - you win half the central pot

Your children and grandchildren won't forget the quality dreydel time you spend with them for the rest of their lives. When the dreydel game is over, serve the Chanukah delicacies...

May the light of Chanuka illuminate our lives, and may we all benefit to see the Menora kindled in the Beit HaMikdash this coming Chanuka, amen.