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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Yitro

Parshat Yitro

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Yitro
18th of Shevat, 5778 | February 3, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein
Celebrate the Potential

I was once approached by a man from Yerushalayim who told me the following. “Rabbi,” he said, “I don’t understand something. As we know, Tu B’shvat is the new year for the trees. Shavuos, on the other hand, is the holiday when we are judged on the fruits of the trees (Rosh Hashanah 2a).

But, it is interesting. How do we celebrate Tu B’shvat? We eat fruits. How, though, do we commemorate the fact that Shavuos is the day when we are judged on fruits of the tree? We customarily place trees in the synagogue.

“But why is that so? It would make more sense for it to be the opposite. When it is the new year for the trees – Tu B’shvat – why don’t we celebrate with trees and place them in shuls? And when it is the time for judgment of the fruits – Shavuos – why don’t we celebrate by eating fruits? We do the exact reverse though!”

Excellent question.

“Let me tell you the answer,” he began. “On Shavuos, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah, we celebrate with trees because we mean to convey the significance of the mesorah, the unbroken chain of Torah transmission from one generation to the next. We want to highlight the source of where it all comes from. Therefore, we make use of trees for they symbolize where the fruits of Torah emanate from. Look back to the previous generation, to the teachers and parents, and appreciate who ensures the growth and flourishing of the next generation’s fruits, that of the children.

“On Tu B’shvat, we celebrate the product of the trees. In man’s comparison to a tree, the greatest expression of joy occurs when there is something brought forth. When man produces fruit in the form of Torah study, mitzvos, good deeds, and in a further sense, his children, grandchildren and students who will lead Torah lives, he has accomplished the greatest purpose for which he was created. It is therefore specifically during the new year for trees that we focus on the fruit, for within them exists the greatest achievement and celebration of the tree.”

Beautiful answer.

But something else about Tu B’shvat has always struck me as interesting. It is a holiday inasmuch as we omit saying Tachanun, the prayer recited immediately after Shemonah Esrei, which pleads for compassion from Hashem, seeks forgiveness for our sins and frailties and asks for Divine assistance despite our errors. There is something special about Tu B’Shvat which calls for its omission. Other added prayers which oftentimes accompany the occurrence of a holiday – saying Hallel, skipping Lam’natzeiach – are unchanged. We do not say Hallel and we still recite Lam’natzeiach. What is it, though, about Tu B’shvat and Tachanun which do not go together?

The answer lies in the very time and season during which Tu B’Shvat falls. Were we to look outside, we would not find any trees blossoming with fruits. Quite to the contrary, they are all dead with no leaves, flowers or full blossoms. What then are we happy about? If it were spring and the trees were full of edible fruits, it would be a true time of joy; but not now, in the cold of winter, rain and snow. Why are we rejoicing about the fruits that we cannot see and enjoy?

The answer is that our joy does not stem from the product that we see and have in front of us. It derives from the potential. As Jews, we celebrate what is to come, not necessarily what has come. We celebrate in the dead winter when there are no fully ripe fruits around, because precisely then we can anticipate the potential bud blossoming into something delicious.

Hashem created us human beings in the same way. We are born incapable of taking care of our most basic needs. As helpless infants, we must rely entirely on our parents to do anything and everything. Why did Hashem create us in this way? It is because He wanted us to be born with everything ahead of us. Our entire future life is bursting with potential to develop in every which way. An animal relatively quickly becomes capable of functioning itself; a human being, in contrast, must be cared for and nurtured for many years until he or she becomes self-sufficient.

The celebration of a wedding patterns the same idea. Why are we so joyous upon the occasion of a wedding? Who knows if this couple will still remain together as this happy couple in a decade, if not in a few years? It would make more sense to have an official celebration upon the fiftieth anniversary of a married couple. At that point of a husband and wife sharing their life together and growing through many ups and downs, it would be perfectly called for to enjoy a full-blown wedding. But we do the exact opposite. We celebrate what is to come as opposed to what has come. And that is because we look at what is ahead of us in life and see what can be built. The excitement of building a home of happiness, children, grandchildren and kindness awaits a newlywed young couple.

Tu B’shvat falls specifically when most of the tree’s potential is ahead of it. And that is why we do not say Tachanun. The performance of a sin and its consequences, which Tachanun highlights, represents the antitheses of carrying out one’s potential. Doing an aveira, sin, is an abuse of potential. It takes all that good which we can do and has it replaced with negative effort and energy. On Tu B’Shvat, therefore, we omit this prayer, for it contraindicates the nature and spirit of the day. On the holiday in which the greatest potential is represented, we steer away from discussing the lack of potential.

This is also why the custom is to eat fruits on Tu B’Shvat. We mean to indicate that despite this apple, hazelnut, almond or similar fruit being non-existent last year, it is here today all ready for delicious consumption. How then can I myself not believe in my potential? If this fruit was “dead” last year, and now a year later it is right here, how can I ever give up? Even if I feel like a dead tree or I know someone who feels lifeless, how can I ever feel that all hope is lost? If I can eat this fruit of that tree, then I know I will always, always believe in potential and continue working and growing.

And that is the greatness of Tu B’Shvat. Celebrate the potential and revel in it.

Rabbi Menachem Nissel
A Special Encounter

On my most recent trip to America, it was highly stressful ever since my plane landed in New Jersey on Friday morning. After deplaning, I began walking around in a haze, quickly trying to make phone calls to my family back in Israel before Shabbos began. Before long, a man came over to me with a request.

“Excuse me, sir. My name is Mohammad and I am from Pakistan.” I wondered if I should remain standing where I was, as I felt quite uncomfortable. But, I decided to do so. “If you are able to,” continued Mohammad, “I am in need of exactly fourteen dollars to get to Manhattan.” I paused, taking in the fact that I had just landed and this was my very first greeting and introduction to America.

“Sure,” I said, as I grabbed hold of my wallet. I ended up giving him twenty dollars and told him to buy a cup of coffee with the extra cash. But then Mohammad told me something that opened my eyes.

“You probably think I am a conman trying to get money out of you,” he said. Mohammad then began detailing his life story. “I am originally from Pakistan, after which I moved to England. But things have not really worked out there, and so now I am here.” I was at first slightly doubtful about the story, though after asking him questions about cricket and life in England and hearing his intelligent answers, I was reassured of his story.

“Ever since I have gotten here to America,” Mohammad went on to say, “life has been very difficult. Just for the last hour, I have been walking around asking for fourteen dollars. First I went to my Pakistan friends, and they didn’t give me anything. Then I went to whoever I thought was Muslim, but I still didn’t get anything. Frustrated, I started approaching just about anyone in the airport. But then I finally said to myself, ‘You know what? Let me ask a Jew. I am sure they will help me.’ I just want to thank you. This is the second time this has happened to me, and both times the only one who helped me was someone Jewish. That just says something about you people.”

Our standing reputation as the nation of G-d who leads lives filled with kindness and the commitment to making a kiddush Hashem leaves an indelible impact wherever we go. It paints a positive image of a Jew in the eyes of those who observe us, and ensures that Hashem, His Torah and His nation are held in the highest regard.

Rabbi Yosef Palacci
The True CEO

For one wealthy man who owned a large factory, the constant influx of people collecting for various charity organizations kept him busy for some time every day. But for those collecting and unfamiliar with the large three-story building and its layout, there was one slight problem. It was quite difficult to locate the CEO’s office. “We always try to find you,” one collector said, “but we all tend to get lost. Would it be possible to post signs directing everyone where your office is and how to get there? It would help us all considerably.”

The wealthy man listened to the proposition of the collectors and conceded. After all, if they needed to locate him and it was difficult to do so for mere logistical reasons, why not make their lives easier? And so, he placed small signs with arrows noting where his office as the CEO was. At different junctures and corners in the building, small posters were hung to indicate which direction led to his office.

For those collecting over the next weeks, it was significantly easier to find their way around. Until a new suggestion was brought up to the CEO which got him thinking and led to some slight alterations in the arrangement of the posted signs. While he was certainly the company’s CEO, as he was told by one collector, it may be a more humbling reminder that Hashem is ultimately in charge of one’s monetary status were he to title himself as the manager or something less authoritative as CEO.

The head of the company listened to the suggestion and thought about it for some time. While he was undoubtedly the CEO of the company, in the context of Hashem running the world and micromanaging one’s successes and failures, it made sense for him to relabel his position. As a growing, religious Jew, it would consistently prompt him to remember who was the true CEO of the world. And so, the next day, the head of the company relabeled all the signs and arrows to lead not to the CEO, but the manager.

Three weeks later, one of the main building pipes burst and began leaking, requiring immediate and extensive repair. This was not to mention that it would cost quite a hefty price. As the manager soon learned, however, the woman in charge of operating the cameras and monitoring the upkeep of the building had been remiss in her duties and overlooked this problem. Consequently, the company would now have to pay considerably more to fix the leakage.

The manager, unhappy with the woman’s negligent work, dismissed her from her position. He would have rather kept her employed, but such an irresponsible oversight was too gross an error to warrant that. Instead, she was sent off with no job to return to the following day.

Returning home that night, she headed to her husband in tears. She explained what had occurred and why she was now left without a job. Her husband was in the least pleased to hear the news. Infuriated, he decided he would make his way down to the factory the next morning to have it out with the manager.

The next morning, on went the husband to the factory. As he entered the building, he immediately began looking for signs indicating the CEO’s office, as his wife had told him to look out for. But as the husband soon figured out, there was no office belonging to the CEO, but rather to the manager. And so, following the signs to the manager’s office, he soon arrived quite frustrated and irritated. “Where is the CEO?” he hollered. Having just recently made changes to his official title in the company, the manager, without thinking twice, pointed up. In his mind, he was referring to Hashem. That was not what the husband made it out to be, however. Rushing out of the office, the husband began making a dart towards the stairwell and heading upstairs.

The manager just sat still. Thinking to himself for a moment, he realized what he had just seen. The husband was armed. Who knows what he planned on doing? Phoning the police immediately, within minutes, they were at the factory arresting the man. Everyone remained safe and sound, as the factory’s operations shortly thereafter resumed in full swing.

And then the manager understood. Quite likely, his life and perhaps the life of other factory workers were spared for a very simple yet crucial reason. He realized who the real CEO and boss in this world was and had pointed upstairs, which allowed time for the police to arrive and carry out the arrest.

The key to success in life is realizing that it is not we who are in charge, but the true CEO of the world. We most certainly play a pivotal role as employers and managers in the world doing our utmost to provide for our families and carry out a Torah life, but it is all against the backdrop of appreciating that Hashem is behind everything. Our finances have been deposited into our possession to lead a happy, healthy and spiritually connected life with Hashem, and in that respect, we are all trusted managers of Hashem’s cherished bank account.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

As we find ourselves amid the holiday of Tu B’Shvat and partake of many delicious fruits, it only behooves us to take a moment and reflect upon the many beauties and wonders of Hashem’s world and food, in particular. An apple, for example, comes with a special “coupon,” if you will. Buy an apple, get a tree free. The seeds within the apple can subsequently be planted to produce an apple tree. The many apples that then grow on that tree will also contain many seeds which can also be planted and allow for the process to begin anew. All of the marvels and miracles which go into the foods and fruits of the world are encompassed within their designated respective blessings and are opportunities for us to appreciate G-d’s beautiful handiwork, spiritually grow and praise Him.

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