Tomorrow is Tu B’Shvat, the annual holiday of trees. Although this day was well known in Jewish sources for centuries, since the beginning of the 20th century, when Jews began returning to the Land of Israel in large numbers, this day took on greater significance. The early Zionist pioneers found a desolate land, with a small number of Jews living in crowded, difficult conditions in a few cities in the Land. Vast areas of land were swamplands, riddled with disease. The land could not support its people and poverty was rampant. With faith in their hearts and a dream to build this land, the early pioneers began to turn swamps into fertile farmland. Their sacrifice was great, as many succumbed to malaria, starvation and other diseases. But, in the end, G-d blessed their efforts and, little by little, the barren wasteland became a fertile Garden of Eden. One of the early initiatives to green the land was undertaken by the Jewish National Fund. Jews all over the world saved their pennies and contributed to this huge national effort to buy land and plant trees. All of us remember our grandparents and their dedication to putting small change into the little blue JNF boxes that rested in every Jewish home. For decades before the State of Israel was born, Jews were buying land and planting trees. Eventually, Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish Arbor Day, became the day when we plant trees and celebrate the fruit of this land.When Jews in Europe and the US sent their pennies to Israel to plant trees, on Tu B’Shvat, they ate the fruit of the land. Dried dates and figs were eagerly eaten in the days when it was impossible to export fresh fruit across the sea. And ever since, we eat dried dates and figs, and other fruits of the land, on this special day.
It is raining today but it is supposed to clear up tomorrow and I am looking forward to going out to one of the new park areas in Karnei Shomron and planting trees with the mayor and residents of my community. Last year, we planted beautiful fruit trees, together with students from our local high school. All of those trees had been donated by CFOIC Heartland. Tomorrow, we will, again, be planting trees donated by our Christian friends.When Ezekiel prophecies to the mountains of Israel, and predicts the rebuilding of a barren area of Israel, one of the most beautiful images concerns trees: “But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people of Israel for they will soon be coming.” (36:8) The very essence of the revival of a people and of a land is symbolized by the rebirth of fruit trees. Fruit trees must be tended by man and their fruit is appreciated by man. It is the blooming of the fruit trees that represents the repopulating of the hills of Samaria and the beginning of the ultimate redemption.This morning there was an item on the news about a recent short film that has gone viral on the internet. Called The Last Day, it depicts a nuclear attack on Israel. As I listened to the explanations and watched the terrifying and very real images, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to depict such a terrible picture. But, in fact, this film just gives reality to a threat that is discussed on the news nearly every day. Each day, we learn about sanctions against Iran and what European countries or the US are doing to promote those sanctions. We hear speeches at the UN, condemnation of Russia and China for their unwillingness to cooperate. The news from Syria comes up as well, with its daily count of civilians massacred and a picture of total chaos where it is unclear whether the anticipated fall of Assad will bring us closer to nuclear attack from Iran or further. The threat from Iran is very real but most of us are not interested in seeing that threat played out on film. As people of faith, we are often faced with difficult situations and our reactions are usually a combination of the practical and spiritual. We will muster our energies and our skills to try and solve the problem in a logical, human way and we will offer a prayer to G-d for His help and guidance as we try to solve our problem. The problem of Iran, however, seems like an insurmountable problem. Yesterday, the paper included two different analyses as to whether it would be wise for Israel to attack Iran. Each one took into account the likely event of massive missile attacks against Israel. Who can bear to tally up risks and costs of this nature? I certainly don’t envy our prime minister who has to make decisions of this nature every single day. For me, though, as an ordinary person who does not have the fate of my people in his hands, I find that even my most practical activities are essentially spiritual. And planting trees is such a wonderful example of that. As I plant a tree in the Land of Israel, I know that I am physically contributing to the well-being of this land and of this people. And I know that in planting a tree, I am relying on G-d to provide the water and the environmental conditions to enable that tree to grow. But a tree also represents our faith in the future. It takes a few years until a tree produces fruit and then continues to yield its fruit for years, at set times during the year. It is something we grow to expect even as we know that a tree can also be destroyed – by fire, storm, or military attack. But when we plant that tree, we express our faith that it will continue to live for many years. There is a fig tree at Shiloh that is hundreds of years old. There is a carob tree in my own community that is more than a hundred years old. There is a wonderful oak tree in Gush Etzion that is ancient as well. These trees tell the story of the faith and tenacity of the people who came before us. These trees stood waiting for us to return. And it is my firm belief that nuclear holocaust will not turn our trees to ash, but that the words of the prophets will indeed become an eternal reality. “And I will plant them upon their land and they shall not more be plucked up out of their land which I have given them, says the Lord your G-d.” (Amos 9:15) Shalom, Sondra Baras Director, Israel Office You can donate online via Pay Pal, call our office at 800-647-3344 to give a credit card donation over the phone, or send your check or money order to:
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