Next week is Tu B’Shvat, the “New Year of the Trees”. It is day where we celebrate the fruit of our trees and children and adults alike take the time on that day to go out and plant trees. Israel is the only country in the world that had more trees at the end of the 20th century than it did at the beginning, and that is because planting trees has been a key Zionist enterprise, long before it became ecologically popular.
So whatever situation you are facing today, know that your God is bigger than any giant you are facing, any mountain standing in front of you. I have often heard it said: “Don’t talk to God about how big your mountain is; talk to your mountain about how big your God is.” So I have to ask myself, what made Caleb different? Why didn’t he go with the majority? Why did he see the situation differently than the others?
Political leaders are not our heroes. These men and women are. They are the ones who are making a difference in the lives of so many. And thanks to you, our loyal supporters and friends, these heroes have been able to turn their values and dreams into action, to help the People and settle the Land of Israel.
If you are one of those who have that desire to visit Israel, I encourage you to take a step of faith and follow that call. You will never be the same! Why or how I cannot explain, but I have witnessed it year after year. You never read your Bible the same way again — something about seeing where your favorite Bible stories took place makes them come alive like never before.
But beyond the joy that we all feel in the birth of a new baby, the Brit itself has such a special significance to us as individuals and as a people. Some 4,000 years ago, an old man named Abraham heard the call from G-d to leave his home and go forward to the Land of Israel. Some years after his arrival in the land, G-d commanded him to circumcise himself as an act of covenant between him and G-d, an act of covenant that would be repeated by his descendants forever. At the original covenant with Abraham, G-d changed Abraham’s name from Abram to Abraham.
Last week, we celebrated Lag BaOmer, an ancient Jewish holiday that connects us to the events of the Bar Kochba Rebellion, the last Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire which came to a tragic end in the year 135. In Israel, we celebrate the day by lighting bonfires, reminiscent of bonfires that were used by the ancient rebels to send signals to one another. Today, the bonfires are pure fun, as children and adults gather around, roast potatoes and hot dogs, sing songs and just enjoy the warm fire against the usually cool night air.
Moses then reminds them of the sin of the spies who had returned from the Land of Israel and spoke ill of the land, causing the people to doubt the success of their imminent entry. God’s response, of course, was to punish the people and delay the entry for an additional 38 years. Moses fears that if Reuben and Gad remain in the land east of the Jordan, the rest of the people will refuse to enter. After years of experience with the Children of Israel, Moses is quite aware that the littlest provocation can instill fear and lack of faith in the people.
The area was called the Land of Israel or Judea (a place belonging to Jews) from Biblical times until 135 AD, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the province from Judea to Syria Palaestina, a brilliant PR stunt to sever the Jewish people’s connection to the region. This was done following the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. For most of the period between 135 AD and May 15, 1948, the area was referred to as Palestine or the Land of Israel.