Blooming Hope in War Times: Tu Bishvat and Marah’s Tree

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

For months, we’ve fought a fierce battle. Eyes raised, fueled by unwavering faith, we anticipate the unknown future. In this shadowed week, two seemingly distant events echo a resounding message: even in the bleakest winter, spring waits.

On Tu Bishvat (ט”ו בשבט), the New Year for Trees (  often referred to asחג האילנות), we celebrate the silent miracle beneath the surface. Though trees stand bare, devoid of leaves and fruit, this date, chosen because “most of the rains of the year have fallen” (“יצאו רוב גשמי שנה” – Rosh Hashanah 14a), marks the unseen churning of renewal. Beneath the barren landscape, beneath the seemingly endless winter, a quiet promise of blooming life pulses, whispering of a verdant season to come.

אמר ר’ אלעזר אמר ר’ אושעיא: באחד בשבט ראש השנה  לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי. בית הלל אומרים: בחמשה עשר בו.

Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Oshaya: “On the first of Shevat is the New Year for the tree, according to the opinion of Beit Shammai. Beit Hillel says: On the fifteenth of it.”
(Rosh Hashanah 2a)

(The phrase “טו בשבט חג האילנות” (Tu Bishvat, Festival of Trees) first appears in Sefer Hemdat Yamim.)

Similarly, the Exodus from Egypt recounted in Parshat Beshalach (בשלח) is a testament to hope in despair. Free from Egyptian bondage, the Israelites faced a harsh desert, their future shrouded in doubt. Thirsty and hungry, they reached Marah, only to find bitter, undrinkable water. Yet, in this dire situation, G-d offered a beacon of hope – a simple tree (Shemos 15:25: “עץ” – Etz). By casting it into the waters (ויַּשְׁלֵךְ לְתוֹךְ הַמַּיִם – Shemos 15:25), He miraculously sweetened the bitterness (וימתקו המים – VaYimtaktu HaMayim – Shemos 15:25), demonstrating that even in the harshest trials, hidden solutions may bloom.

This profound symbolism carries a crucial lesson: don’t judge by appearances. As G-d instructed Samuel when choosing a king, “Do not look at his appearance” (“אל תביט אל-מראהו” – Al TaBit El-Mar’ahu – 1 Shmuel 16:7). Beneath the barren landscape, transformation always waits. Just as the tree whispers spring beneath the winter bark, and just as G-d sweetened Marah’s waters with a tree, we too can find hope and resilience in the darkest hours.

The war’s shadow casts a chilling winter over our land, mirroring the destruction and suffering we endure. Yet, amidst the ruins, sparks of hope ignite. Acts  of courage and kindness bloom like spring flowers, testament to the indomitable spirit of Am Yisrael . The unwavering determination to defend our freedom echoes the Israelites’ Exodus towards liberty.

Just as sap flows unseen within the tree, so too does the spirit of hope pulse beneath the surface of this troubled time. And just as G-d transformed bitterness into sweetness at Marah with a tree, He can bring us courageously to peace and healing from the ashes of conflict.

Tu Bishvat and Beshalach remind us that even in the harshest winters, seeds of renewal wait patiently beneath the surface. Even in the darkest winters, spring always comes.

Let us pray that, like the unseen sap within the tree, the spirit of peace and renewal will flow freely again soon. May the captives return home, the wounded find healing, and the grieving discover solace. Just as G-d performed miracles for the Israelites in the desert, bringing water from the bitter Marah well, so can He work wonders in our own land – returning the missing, healing the sick, and comforting the mourners.

Though the present may seem bleak, we must not succumb to despair. Better days lie ahead. Let us draw strength from the enduring symbol of the tree. Let us be strong and courageous, for G-d is with us, and He will guide us from darkness to light.

And remember, we have the Tree of Tu Bishvat, the Tree of Marah, and the Torah being the Tree of Life (עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה Etz Chaim Hi Lamachazikim Ba, Mishlei 3:18). By living a life in the ways of the Torah, חיים על פי התורה (Chayim Al Pi HaTorah) we shall overcome our enemies.

By choosing Emunah, Bitachon and  hope, embracing the tree’s unwavering resilience, and fighting for a spring of peace and healing, we shall overcome our enemies, knowing that with G-d’s guidance, even the harshest winters bloom.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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