Saturday, Jun 22, 2024

The Doldrums And Tu B'Shevat

Writing is often a depressing job. In the non-Jewish world, statistics show that over 70 percent of news stories are negative. The fact is that bad news, horror stories, death and violence sell more papers than good stories do. The reason for this is beyond the purview of this article, but that is the fact.

Unfortunately, experience has shown similar statistics in our own community. As a writer who actually uses my real name when writing opinion articles, I am often accosted in the street, in shul, and even in supermarket aisles by caring fellow Jews. Often, they say, “You must write about this. It is a travesty! It is a terrible thing…” Over 80% of the issues that people raise during these impromptu meetings are negative ones. I have been the recipient of tens of solutions to the shidduch crisis (the most bizarre was being matir the cheirem of Rabbeinu Gershom), I have been told about how the price of seminary for girls is out of hand, I have been asked to write about the increasing abuse of alcohol by many of our young people, I have been informed of the terrible travesty that there are so many children who have not been accepted into a school or cheder, and the list goes on.
Then there is the “chillul Hashem” class of complaints. Chazal tell us that there is no kapparah for chillul Hashem, and thus, the nature of the outrage is usually more pronounced than regarding the above mentioned complaints. Usually, it happens like this. I am innocently making my way through the cereal aisle in the local grocery and someone stops me and says, “I like your articles, but you really have to write about how ill-mannered some people from our community are. It makes such a chillul Hashem.” Alternatively, “You should see the way some people drive. Aside from being terribly dangerous, it is such a chillul Hashem. Where do they think they are, Brooklyn?!”


Then there is the temimusdige, ehrliche woman who calls on the phone simply horrified about corruption in local government that she has witnessed firsthand. “Do they not realize what a black eye they give Torah observant Jews when they engage in corruption, cronyism and the like?”


So, as rewarding as this job is, it can really get one down.


Perhaps even more difficult is reporting on events in Eretz Yisroel. When the Name of Hashem is desecrated by the acts of those dressed in chareidi garb, it hurts. It hurts terribly, because, aside from condemning the behavior, you know that there is nothing you can do to change that behavior. All of the gallons of ink and newsprint at your disposal will not change anything. It’s depressing.




One of the worst things about this job is the fact that one must follow the news. The cutthroat nature of the election campaign, the mean-spiritedness, the arrogance of the politicians marketing themselves and saying, “I am great,” or, “He is terrible,” certainly has a deleterious effect on one’s middos. How could it be otherwise? When exposed to bad middos, even as one realizes the reprehensible nature of the middos, he is still impacted. Hours of mussar learning – hours that don’t exist in an already very full day – are needed to neutralize such exposure.


And what about Eretz Yisroel? If there was ever a time when Am Yisroel was the quintessential “kivsah achas bein shivim ze’eivim,” a sheep surrounded by 70 wolves, it is now. The advent of the so-called Arab Spring has placed acheinu Bnei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel in perhaps the most precarious position since the prelude to the Six Day War. They are surrounded on all sides by the most hostile nations led by Islamist governments dedicated to their destruction. All bets are off with regard to previous peace agreements. Moreover, they are being forced to deal with the most unsympathetic US administration since the Carter years.


Of course, the 400-pound gorilla in all of this is the Iranian bomb. If Iran gets the bomb, Israel will find itself in a perpetual state of its very existence being under threat. For those who don’t understand what that means, it means being threatened by another Holocaust, r”l, may Hashem protect us.


Even without that, can one imagine what a coordinated attack by Egypt in the south, Lebanon/Hezbollah and Syria in the north and the Palestinians in Gaza in their backyard could do to the country. We daven to Hashem that these should never come to be and the Shomer Yisroel will preserve all of His children. Nevertheless, following the news and knowing about all of this can really leave a person melancholy.


One has to find ways to derive chizuk so as not to be brought down by all of this negative news mibayis umibachutz.




As I was learning Tu B’Shevat-related material, I came across just the thought to lift one out of the doldrums.


Rav Yisroel of Chortkov seems to address the very times in which we live. He quotes the posuk (Yeshaya 65:22) which states, “Ki kiyemei ha’eitz yemei ami – Like the days of the tree are the days of my nation.” The present state of Klal Yisroel, he continues, is akin to a tree standing forlorn and bare, frozen and dried out, in the depth of winter. Its leaves long gone, the frost eats into it with gale force winds, rain and snow blowing it to and fro, seeking to uproot it. The tree stands seemingly helpless against the unending battering. Nevertheless, even in this hopeless situation, with the naked eye unable to detect the minutest glimmer of optimism and hope for the survival of this forlorn tree, hidden from the eye, there is hope. Far beneath the tree, it begins to derive nourishment from the deepest recesses of the ground. When is the beginning of this nourishment? The Gemara states that on Chamisha Assar B’Shevat the sap which will eventually cause fruits to grow begins to make its way through the tree. Tu B’Shevat is the beginning of that renewal.


Likewise, the Chortkover Rebbe explains, we, the Jewish nation, have been victims of plunder and bloodshed throughout the years of our existence. Our spiritual state seems precarious. Indeed, entire communities, branches of the Jewish nation, have been cruelly cut off from the body of Klal Yisroel. We have been suffering in golus for almost two thousand years, pursued from all sides. We have been plunged to the lowest depths. Is there then no hope?


On the contrary. The Chortkover emphasizes that from the lowliness and hopelessness of the situation itself we derive hope and chizuk that Hashem will again have mercy on us and return us to our rightful place. The darkest part of night, the end, comes right before the light begins to cast its glow. Similarly, a tree that stands in the depths of the winter on a trunk that seems almost dead with dry, withered branches is, at that very hopeless time, beginning its re-growth from deep inside the earth. It is at the coldest, darkest point of the winter, on Tu B’Shevat, that the sap from beneath the ground rises up, entering the tree. This sap gives the tree a new lease on life by affording it the means to grow, blossom and, yes, even to eventually produce fruit. This is what the novi Yeshaya meant when he said, “Ki kiyemei ha’eitz yemei ami – Like the days of the tree are the days of my nation.” And this, concludes the Chortkover Rebbe, is the reason we celebrate Tu B’Shevat as a Yom Tov.


Let us hope that this winter, the solution to the Arab Spring and to all of the myriad problems that we face as a nation and as individuals will indeed grow and blossom from the depth of the earth and that we will merit the fulfillment of the posuk that states, “Samecheinu keyemos inisanuGladden us in accordance to the days that you have afflicted us.” Amein kein yehi ratzon.




Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

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