Chief Rabbi Ephraim MirvisRabbi \Mirvis is the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. He was formerly Chief Rabbi of Ireland.
This Shabbat, in addition to reading Parashat Beshalach, we will be celebrating Tu Bishvat, our New Year for Trees.
When you come to think of it, trees are charged with symbolism in our tradition. Indeed, the Prophet Isiah, brings the word of Hashem to us, in which the words of the Almighty tells us that the Jewish people are compared to a tree. Hashem says, Veamech Kulam Tzaddikim Le’olam Yirush Ha’aretz, ‘your people, they are righteous, they shall inherit the world to come’, Netzer Mata’ai, ‘they are the branch of my planting’, Maasei Yadei Lehitpaer, ‘the work of my hands and through them I shall be glorified’.
Notice that Hashem refers to ‘Netzer Mata’ai’, the branch of his planting. And ‘Mata’ai’ comes from the verb ‘Lintoah’, which means ‘to plant’, as opposed to ‘Lizroah’, which is ‘to sow’. These are the two terms which we use when we invest in growth. So what’s the difference between sowing and planting?
When I sow, first of all, I uproot the old and in its place I sow the new. When I plant, however, it is a one off activity – I plant a tree, and thereafter, I will strive to guarantee that it will have sufficient light and water, and year on year, it will produce new batches of fruit.
Hashem wants us to know that we are the branch of his planting, there is never a need for us to uproot anything and put anything in his place. In the Torah, that He has presented us with, we have a God given, divinely inspired recipe for life and it is ever relevant. It is both timeless and timely.
You know, in so many different areas of human endeavour, we are always at pains to produce the newest, the freshest, the most up to date, the coolest of whatever it is. But in Judaism, we have a Torah. Indeed, it might be old, but it is timeless, because Hashem has endowed us with a code of life that will always, regardless of the times in which we live, provide us with meaning and incredible happiness in life.
Therefore, on this Shabbat, in celebrating Tu Bishvat, let us also celebrate our good fortune, in being part of the tree of life, that started with Abraham and Sarah, which has continued through the generations and which we see today, still bearing wonderful fruit. It is an Etz Chaim Hi Lemachazikim Ba, ‘it is a tree of life, for all those who are lucky enough to grasp hold of it’.
Shabbat Shalom and Tu Bishvat Sameach