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EACH HEBREW MONTH conveys its own unique message. The theme of this month of Shevat is the concept of renewal and rebirth. The process of rebirth is inherent in the very essence of this month. It reaches its crescendo on the 15th day of the month, when we celebrate the holiday of Tu B'Shevat (lit., 'the fifteenth of Shevat', to be observed this year on January 31st). This day, called 'The New Year of Trees,' conveys an uplifting idea: our sages teach that on this 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.

THE THEME OF RENEWAL permeates each moment of this entire month. As it is within nature, so too this special time alludes to the potential for restoration within each person, for the Torah uses the metaphor "Is the tree of the field a man?" (Deut. 20:19). Just as renewal is within the grasp of the natural world, so too it is within our grasp as well; as the trees around us receive this new spark of Divine energy, it is intended for people to grasp and receive.

WE ARE INSTRUCTED to serve G-d with all our heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6). That service includes the aspect of one's striving for personal spiritual growth, as we attempt to draw ever closer to our Creator. However, one of the greatest challenges that we face in our service of G-d, indeed the greatest spiritual danger, is the tendency to become complacent. Sometimes we fall asleep at the wheel of life, and become desensitized to the excitement of living each day... things become commonplace, we grow tired and bored. We take things for granted; even, G-d forbid, our relationships - with G-d, and with our loved ones; even with those closest to us. We cease to appreciate each new day as we should, as the Torah reminds us: "New every morning; great is Your faithfulness!" (Lam. 3:23) Who among us does not desire to feel constantly renewed? But in order to revive ourselves we must be willing to make an effort... we must constantly re-awaken with new inspiration and energy for serving G-d. And just as this applies to each individual, so too on a global level, an opportunity presents itself for collective repentance and realignment with our priorities as people and as a community within the family of man.

THE CURE to spiritual stagnancy and complacency, and the secret to spiritual renewal and rebirth, is Torah study and knowledge. This theme also runs parallel to Shevat's theme of rebirth, connected to the spiritual root of this time of year:

It was on the first day of this Hebrew month of Shevat, that Moses began to recite the book of Deuteronomy to the people of Israel - "on the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this Torah... "(Deut. 1:5)

THIS PROCESS continued for 37 days, until his death on the seventh day of the month of Adar. Moses rebuked the Children of Israel for their acts of rebellion against G-d during their forty-year desert sojourn. He taught them once again about many of the commandments that had already been stated at Mount Sinai and at the Tent of Meeting, as well as new commandments. He also presented Israel with the blessings and curses, and prepared them to inherit the land of Canaan, blessing them before his death. Thus, these days of Shevat are a time when those teachings of Moshe are still echoing and reverberating. The mazal, the astrological sign of the month of Shevat is Aquarius - the water-bearer. The verse states "O, all who are thirsty, go to the water." (Is. 55:1) and our sages teach, there is no water but Torah. The bucket is positioned, pouring out the waters of Torah; Moshe's words are resonating and within reach, and it is up us to receive them. This month is literally resounding with the words of Torah shining forth, reaching into every heart, if we would but avail ourselves of the moment and open our ears.

FOR THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL, the selfless leadership of Moses is the benchmark of what it means to be a leader, for all subsequent generations. The true Jewish leadership that he exemplified was based on his unique mixture of unsurpassed humility tempered by unsurpassed greatness; above all, every fibre of his being vibrated with total compassion for his people. He lived his life for Israel, and it was this quality of compassion that made him ready to give up his life for Israel: "And now, if you will forgive their sin - and if not, blot me out of the book which You have written" (Ex. 32:32).

THE REBUILDING of the Holy Temple is another major factor in this month's theme of rebirth. The Shabbat preceding Tu B'Shvat (January 27th) will be 'Shabbat Shirah,' the Sabbath of Song. It is known by this name because the portion of the Torah we read on this day is the section in Exodus that includes the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15), sung by Israel when G-d parted the Sea of Reeds for them. In the song, we find the verses that state: "You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, in the place, Hashem, which You have made for You to dwell in... in the Sanctuary, Hashem, which Your hands have established" (Ex. 15:17-18). Our sages explain that these verses emphasize how the entire purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was only to bring the Mountain of G-d's inheritance... Mount Moriah, location of the Holy Temple - in order for them to build that very Sanctuary which His hands have established.

THE HOLY TEMPLE is the place of renewal for all humanity. May we all be blessed with the renewal of the month of Shevat, and may we all be united in the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and the reactivation of the Temple service, where all mankind together will witness the return of the Divine Presence.



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