The Temple Institute: Shvat - The Month of Rebirth



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Shvat - The Month of Rebirth

8 Shvat, 5765 / January 18, 2005

The theme of this month of Shvat is the concept of renewal and rebirth. This idea reaches its crescendo on the 15th day of the month, when we celebrate the holiday of Tu B'Shvat (lit., "the fifteenth of Shvat", to be celebrated this year on January 25th). This day, called by the Mishna "The New Year of Trees," conveys a sublime idea, and our sages teach that Tu B'Shvat is a special day: on that day, a unique wave of Divine energy flows through all of creation, a forerunner of the restoration, rejuvenation and rebirth of spring. Deep within the natural world, the vital force of life begins to rise up, within each tree, within each blade of grass, preparing for renewal.

"Is the tree of the field a man?" (Deut. 20:19) asks the Torah rhetorically. But this is no simple metaphor; hopefully, according to tradition, men are also be affected by this month's wave of spiritual renewal.

Unfortunately, not everything is new: "Whatever has been is what will be, and whatever has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new beneath the sun" (Ecc. 1:9). It would seem that some things, like Palestinian terror - and for that matter, Palestinian "leadership" - never change. Although the demonic dictator Arafat has gone to a better world, his democratically-elected heir Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, has taken up exactly where his mentor left off. This new "moderate," who appeared publicly during his election campaign with wanted terrorists and pledged that they would never be delivered to Israeli justice, and who wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject of denying the extent of the Holocaust, has already been made-over by the world press as a leader who will curb terror and bring his people to peaceful co-existence. Meantime, in this first week of Abbas's new leadership of peace, nine Israelis (seven Jews, two Arabs) have been killed by Arab terrorists. Abbas's own Palestinian Authority security officers were directly involved in last Thursday evening's attack at the Karni Crossing in which six Israelis were murdered.

The weekly Torah portions that are read by Jews the world over are currently found in the book of Exodus. Recently we read the verse, "A new king rose over Egypt, who did not know of Joseph" (Ex. 1:8). Interestingly, there is a Talmudic dispute over the true meaning of this verse. One opinion maintains that this was truly a new Pharaoh. The other suggests that this king was really the same old Pharaoh, that nothing had changed... that he just acted, and made believe that he had never heard of Joseph and how he saved Egypt from doom. Thus Abbas, in the best of Arafat's tradition, has embraced members of the terrorist groups as part of his security forces.

Some things are new; some things never change. Israel outdid much of the rest of the world with an outpouring of humanitarian and medical aid to the Tsunami ravaged countries - including those who do not maintain diplomatic relations with her - but those noble acts were hushed over by most of the world's media. For Israel must always be portrayed as the ones making all the problems. Abbas oversees the killing of Israelis; Bush invites him to the White House. And while the world speaks in the same old glowing expressions of "a new era," "new hope," and "a window of opportunity," and Israel predictably says about Abbas what she has always said about Arafat - "we will judge him by his actions, not by words" - rockets rain down upon Israeli towns. And so the Israeli leadership, despite having already abandoned its own people, land and heritage by adopting the wicked disengagement plan, decided to severe all relations with the Palestinian Authority "until they reign in terror."

America has called on Israel to renew these ties immediately. Apparently America realizes that "until they reign in terror" will never happen. Would that both Israel and America take to heart that there is still a G-d in this world. This situation will not be allowed to continue indefinitely. There is nothing new under the sun and we have already seen it all. As we read in last week's Torah portion, once upon a time it was Pharaoh's idea to cut off all diplomatic relations with Moses. But that was just fine with Moses. "'Go from me! Beware - do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.' Moses said, 'you have spoken correctly. I shall never see your face again'" (Ex. 10).

"One more plague shall I bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt... " (Ex. 11:1)

Shvat; renewal and new beginnings. As a theme for this month, how fitting and apropos, considering the numerous murderous attacks that have been perpetrated against the Jewish people here in Israel during this past month. This is the Torah's message: in the face of all adversity, we are imbued with renewal. Rather than succumb to despair, we look ahead with hope and unshaken confidence in our G-dly mission, and we experience rebirth.

Some things have not changed but some things are blessedly new. The efforts to reconvene the Sanhedrin, which met again last week, are the hallmark of a new direction that the indefatigable collective soul of Israel seeks during these days: a complete spiritual renaissance based on our inheritance, the Torah. Again, how fitting for this remarkable month of Shvat.

With blessings for renewal and redemption,

Rabbi Chaim Richman
PO Box 31876
Jerusalem, Israel 97500



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