The joyous holiday of Tu B’Shvat celebrates our great gratitude to G-d over the trees and fruits of Eretz Yisrael. Why the trees of the Land of Israel and not the trees of America or Canada? In the same way that it wouldn’t make sense for a Chinaman to have a holiday over the rice of India, the Jewish People thank G-d for the fruits indigenous to the Land of Israel, and not for the fruits found in foreign places.
Why? Because a Jew is supposed to live here, in the Land that G-d gave us, and not live in the lands of the gentiles.
Isn’t this perfectly obvious?
The reason that Jews have been living outside of the Land of Israel, in exile, for nearly two-thousand years is because the gentiles attacked our country, slaughtered millions of Jews, and banished the survivors to the four corners of the earth. The exile is a punishment, not something to cling to and enjoy.
And now that G-d in His infinite kindness has brought us back to our homeland, gathering His scattered children and rebuilding, in miraculous fashion, a reborn Jewish State, it is time for us to come home.
Isn’t this perfectly obvious?
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook lived in a tiny apartment in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem. On one of the walls were pictures of his father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and an old photograph of his grandfather, the renowned Torah scholar, the “Aderet.” There was also a photograph of another bearded Jew – Herzl, looking perfectly in place with the rabbis on the wall. Alongside the photographs was a drawing of a sunrise over a mountain, with the caption: “So too unfolds the Redemption of Israel – in the beginning, little by little.”
The quote is from the Jerusalem Talmud: “Rabbi Hiyah Rabbah and Rabbi Shimon Ben Halafta were walking in the Arbel Valley at the break of morning before the light of day. They watched the dawn as the light began to shine. Rabbi Hiyah, the great one in wisdom, said to Rabbi Halafta, ‘Rabbi, so too unfolds the Redemption of Israel – in the beginning, little by little. And the more it progresses, it increases and grows (Berachot, 1:1).
Both Rabbi Kook and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, taught that the thrust of the Torah, of the Prophets, of our holidays and prayers, all point toward the Redemption of Israel with our return to Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda emphasized again and again at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, and in the classes he gave in his home, that the Redemption was taking place in our time with the ingathering of the exiles, with the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael, and with the widespread return to Torah.
He was always baffled by the phenomena that Jews continued to live in the exile, as if Israel were a foreign country, and the foreign country where they were living was home!
“What is galut?” he asked. “An aberration. In our normal, healthy state, we need to be here, the entire Nation of Israel, in the Land of Israel. And all of the Land of Israel needs to be in our hands! Thank G-d, Hashem’s light is shining on us now, and increasing in strength, little by little, in gradual stages, as our Sages have told us, in stages and not all at once.”
While there are lovers of New York who say that they will come to Israel when the Mashiach comes, as if that marks the end of the exile, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda once again pointed to the Gemara for the definitive sign.
“The Sages, may their memory be for a blessing, gave us a clear definition of the end of galut. They cite the verse from the Book of Yehezkiel, ‘You O mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they will soon be coming.’ Rashi comments that there can be no surer sign of the end of the exile than this, when the trees of the Land of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance” (Sanhedrin 98A).
When the tree give their fruits in abundance
No surer sign of the exile's end
I never saw an olive tree in Brooklyn
Who ever heard about Tu B'Shvat in America?
“We need to open our eyes,” Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda said. “We have to see, eye to eye, with our vision in line with the Divine perspective, in order to see what Hashem is doing, as it says, ‘For they shall see eye to eye, the L-rd returning to Zion.’ Today we are moving forward with the resettlement of the Land, overcoming obstacles and errors along the way, progressing and coming closer to ‘a new light on Zion.’ The desecration of G-d’s Name caused by the presence of Jews in the exile, and its terrible disgrace, will disappear, and, more and more, we will merit to sanctify the Name of the L-rd in our midst.”
During the Tu B’Shvat seder, when we enjoy the fruits of Eretz Yisrael, we first begin by eating the fruits that are closest to the word “eretz” in the Torah verse, “A land of wheat, barley, and grapes, and figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and date honey.”
So too, Rabbi Kook taught, “Whoever has a greater love for the Land of Israel, and whoever exerts himself more ardently in the settlement of the Holy Land, he is blessed first, and he is closer to perfection.”
Happy Tu B’Shvat!