The Harsh Reality of Anti-Semitism: A Tu B’Shvat Reflection

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Recent events have shockingly reminded us of the lack of control and vulnerability in exile, where Jews’ safety and well-being are dependent on the goodwill of others, which can be fickle and fleeting.

It was Tu B’Shvat, and Rebbe Menachem Mendal of Kotzk had gathered his students and Chassidim for a Tish a  Seudat Mitzvah. He asked his prized student, Rebbe Yitzchak Meir, known as the author of Chidushei HaRim, to share some Torah thoughts relevant to Tu B’Shvat.

Rebbe Yitzchak Meir began an intricate Talmudic pilpul analyzing the topic of Rosh Hashana L’Ilan, the New Year for Trees. He posed questions, provided answers, and delved deeply into the technical details. The Kotzker Rebbe listened intently, but when Rebbe Yitzchak Meir finished, the Rebbe sighed longingly.

“If only we were in Eretz Yisrael,” he said longingly, “we could understand Rosh Hashana L’Ilan through living the  Mitzvot Hateluyot Ba’aretz  the agricultural mitzvot, not just speaking about them. It would be enough for us to simply walk through the fields and forests, contemplating the trees themselves. We could understand Rosh Hashana L’Ilan in its pure simplicity, without complex pilpul. In the Holy Land, the holiday seems to call out ‘Asuni’ – ‘Do me!’ – rather than ‘Darshuni’ – ‘Expound me!’ We must strive to truly live the ideals of Tu B’Shvat in the Holy Land.”

The Kotzker Rebbe taught that while it’s good to speak about Eretz Yisrael on Tu B’Shvat, we must also aspire to fulfill the Mitzvot Hateluyot Ba’aretz  by living in Israel. Later, the Spinka Rebbe renewed this message about actualizing our destiny there amidst exile’s darkness.

Years later, R’ Yitzchak Isaac of Spinka Hy”d was hosting a seudas Tu B’Shvat for his chasidim in the Beis Hamidrash. They were all gathered around him, and he was speaking about the greatness of the land of Eretz Yisrael HaKadosh. His words were so uplifting and mesmerizing that, for one magical moment, the chasidim were completely removed from Spinka and all of their troubles and felt as if they were actually in Israel. The rebbe painted a vibrant picture of Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land, a place where every blade of grass whispered redemption. There was a palpable feeling of Geulah in the air of the Beis Hamidrash. The Rebbi finished his drasha, took a new fruit from the special silver fruit platter, and began to make a Shehechiyanu with great kavana. The chasidim were hanging on to every word of his bracha and felt as if they were fulfilling the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim to the Beis HaMikdash. The Chassidim, nestled in the heart of their Polish town, were transported. For a stolen moment, the weight of exile dissolved, replaced by the sun-kissed hills and ancient olive groves of their ancestral home. Suddenly, a shattering crack pierced the reverie. The Beis Hamidrash window, large and proud, lay in a thousand shimmering shards. Two stones, hurled by malicious hands, lay accusingly amidst the scattered fruit. Despair, cold and heavy, settled upon the Chassidim. The local goyim were troubled with the large Jewish presence that had emerged in the town and wanted to remind the Jews who were the true and rightful owners of this city. The Chasidim’s spirit was broken; their fragile dream of Zion lay shattered, replaced by the harsh reality of exile. But the Rebbi’s eyes radiated calmness and tranquility. The Spinka Rebbe, his eyes pools of unwavering faith, continued his bracha, “Shehechiyanu V’kiyamanu V’higiyanu Lazman HaZeh.” The Chasidim all screamed out “AMEN!”, but in their hearts, they all wondered, how can we say Shehechiyanu V’kiyamanu V’higiyanu Lazman HaZeh when we are still in such a difficult galus? The Rebbi answered, “my dear children, yes, even as the rocks were thrown at us, we say Shehechiyanu…Lazman HaZeh. Each and every mitzvah has a special time when its unique essence shines forth. The essence of Tu B’Shvat is to awaken within us a longing for Eretz Yisrael and the future redemption!”

He paused, his gaze meeting each Chassid in turn. “These rocks,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion, “are not an act of cruelty but a Chessed, a gift from Hashem. They remind us that we are not home, that our destiny lies not here, but across the sea, in the land that flows with milk and honey.”

 A spark ignited in the Chassidim’s eyes. The despair dissolved, replaced by a burning, righteous anger. They would not be cowed by stones or shadows. Their yearning for Zion, now raw and potent, would not be silenced. As the Rebbe concluded his speech, a renewed hope resonated through the Beis Hamidrash. It was a hope not of escape, but of action. Tu B’Shvat, the celebration of trees and new beginnings, had ignited a fire within them, a fire that would guide them home. 

This Tu B’Shvat, let us too heed the call. Let us not just speak of Zion but strive to live there, to build its future, and to secure its safety. Let the longing for redemption that stirs within us translate into concrete action, a movement towards Aliyah, towards a future where every Jew finds their rightful place  living a fuul Jewish life under the sun-drenched skies of Eretz Yisrael. In light of this, may the shattered window of the Spinka Rebbe’s Beis Hamidrash serve as a reminder: the path to redemption is paved not with ease, but with unwavering faith and resolute action. Let us take up the stones, not as weapons of despair, but as building blocks for a brighter future, a future where the dreams of Tu B’Shvat bloom into reality. May this upcoming Tu B’Shvat be a turning point, a moment where we not only celebrate the land of Israel but actively work towards returning to its embrace. Together, let us build a bridge across the sea, a bridge of hope, a bridge of home. 

Tu B’Shvat reawakens our connection to Israel’s land, Torah, and our future redemption. We must strive not just to speak of Zion but to live there and fulfill our unified destiny to live in Eretz Yisrael Al Pi Toras Yisroel. The longing for redemption stirred on Tu B’Shvat should move us towards concrete action. We can actualize our hopes by planning our return to Zion, whenever our personal circumstances allow. 

Tu B’Shvat is a time to connect to Eretz Yisrael, be it through words of Torah or eating fruit of the land. At this contentious time, with the rising tide of anti-Semitism, hate crimes, and growing hostility towards Jews worldwide, we should take extra effort on Tu B’Shvat to dream and yearn for our true homeland in Israel. 

Wherever we may be, take proactive steps towards securing safety in Israel and intensify our feeling of belonging to the holy land. Every Jew has a role to play in building the future of Israel and contributing to its security.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

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

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