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Maimonides, Principles of the Faith, No. 12
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We are pleased to present, to the visually impaired and the blind, our weekly publication, Living With Moshiach.
This week's issue focuses on:
1) Shabbat Parshat Beshalach, known as Shabbat Shirah.
2) Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of Shevat (Mon., Feb. 1).
The Jewish year that has recently begun is the year 5759 since Creation. The Hebrew letters are Hei-Tav-Shin-Nun-Tes. Over a decade ago, in the year 5742, the Rebbe stated that the Hebrew letters for that year were an acronym for "This should be the year of the coming of Moshiach."
Since that time, the Rebbe has publicized a phrase describing the year according to the acronym of its Hebrew letters. This year has been designated by the Rebbe's followers as "Hoyo T'hei Shnas Niflaos Tovoh" meaning "It surely will be a good year of wondrous miracles."
Our sincere appreciation to L'Chaim weekly publication, published by the Lubavitch Youth Organization, for allowing us to use their material.
Also, many thanks to our copy editor, Reb Mordechai Staiman, for his tireless efforts.
It is our fervent hope that our learning about Moshiach and the Redemption will hasten the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
Rabbi Yosef Y. Shagalov,
Committee for the Blind
10 Shevat, 5759
Brooklyn, New York
= 1 =
After the miraculous Splitting of the Red Sea, as related in this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, Moses leads the Jewish men in singing their praises of G-d, and Miriam, the prophetess, leads the women in their song of thanks.
The Torah tells us that the joy experienced by the women was far greater than that of the men. "And all the women went out...with tambourines and dances."
In fact, the Midrash relates that when the heavenly angels wanted to add their voices to the "Song of the Splitting of the Red Sea," G-d told them that they must wait until the women had finished.
The exile in Egypt was much harsher for the Jewish women than for their husbands. Of all Pharaoh's decrees against the Children of Israel, the most pitiless was the one that broke every Jewish mother's heart: "Every son that is born you shall throw into the river." The pain and suffering experienced by the Jewish women was more intense than the hardships the men were forced to endure, and when salvation came, the joy they felt was therefore greater as well.
The stories in the Torah teach us lessons that apply in all generations. Pharaoh's decrees against the Jewish people have appeared again and again, throughout history, in various forms. Their aim, however, has never changed. The Egyptian Pharaoh sought to kill Jewish babies by drowning them in the Nile; later despots sought to destroy Jewish souls in ways equally dangerous, although not always as obvious.
In our days, when most Jews, thank G-d, live in relative safety and security, the decrees of Pharaoh imperil the spiritual existence of the Jewish people. "Pharaoh" rears his head in the guise of popular culture and the winds of arbitrary and capricious conventional wisdom, which threaten to sever the Jewish people from the eternal and timeless values of the Torah. "Pharaoh" seeks to immerse and drown the minds of impressionable Jewish children in the waters of whatever is, at the moment, trendy and fashionable.
The threat is not all that different from the one faced in Egypt, because Jews cannot exist for long without their faith in G-d and the study of Torah. Jewish children need a solid Jewish education to ensure the continuation of our people.
Today, just as in Egypt, the main responsibility--to safeguard our greatest national treasure, our children, from negative influences --lies with the Jewish mother. Jewish women have, throughout the generations, been granted the power to set the proper tone in the home and make it a place where their children will flourish and grow up to be good Jews.
In this way Jewish women will see true satisfaction from their children and merit to sing G-d's praises at the Final Redemption, speedily in our days.
= 2 =
In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we read the song of the Children of Israel led by Moshe after the splitting of the Red Sea and the special song of the women led by Miriam the Prophetess.
In the Egyptian exile, it was Miriam who relayed the prophecy that a redeemer would emerge. Even when the leaders of that generation could not foresee an end to servitude and oppression, she spread hope and trust among her people.
When her mother was forced to place Moshe, the future redeemer of the Jews, in the Nile, her father Amram approached Miriam and asked her, "What will be the result of your prophecy? How will it be fulfilled?"
Miriam remained at the banks of the Nile and "stood at a distance to know what would happen to him." Our Sages explain that, in addition to her concern for her brother's future, she was concerned about the fate of her prophecy. How indeed would the redemption come about?
In a metaphorical sense, this narrative is relevant to all Jewish women, those living at present and those whose souls are in the spiritual realms. Concerned over the fate of the Jewish people, they anxiously await the Redemption.
The anxious anticipation of the redemption felt by Miriam--and by all of the Jewish women in Egypt--was paralleled in its intensity by their exuberant celebration when, after the miracles of the Red Sea, that redemption was consummated. After the men joined Moshe in song, the women broke out in song and dance, giving thanks to G-d with a spiritual rejoicing which surpassed that of the men.
The Torah's description of this celebration also testifies to the deep faith inherent in Jewish women. The commentaries relate that as the women prepared to leave Egypt, they were so confident that G-d would perform miracles on behalf of their people in the desert that they took tambourines with them so they could rejoice when the time came.
In the very near future, we will celebrate the ultimate Redemption. We can now experience a foretaste of this impending celebration. Although we are still in exile, the confidence that the Redemption is an imminent reality should inspire us with happiness. For the Jewish people have completed all the Divine service necessary to bring the Redemption. To borrow an analogy of our Sages, the table has already been set for the feast celebrating the Redemption, everything has been served, and we are sitting together with Moshiach. All that is necessary is that we open our eyes.
The experience of such happiness demonstrates the strength of our trust in the promise of the Redemption, and the expression of this faith will, in turn, hasten its realization.
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of Lubavitch, issued a call that "The time of our Redemption has arrived!" and "Moshiach is on his way!"
The Rebbe stressed that he is saying this as a prophecy, and asks us all to prepare ourselves for the Redemption, through increasing acts of goodness and kindness.
Let us all heed the Rebbe's call.
Shabbat Parshat Beshalach, is known as "Shabbat Shirah," commemorating the shirah, or song that the Jewish people sang at the Splitting of the Red Sea. The song is recorded in the weekly Torah portion, and includes details of how Moshe led the men in song and Miriam led the women in song and dance.
On Shabbat Shirah it is customary to eat kasha--buckwheat groats.
Some also have the custom of putting kasha or bread crumbs out for the birds before Shabbat so that they, too, can partake.
* * *
The reason for this custom is quite interesting and originates in the weekly Torah portion. We read this week about the manna, the bread from Heaven, with which the Jews were sustained during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. The Jews were commanded to gather each morning just enough manna to feed their families for the day. Miraculously, each person had precisely the amount he needed for his family, not more and not less.
Before Shabbat, the Jews were told to gather a double portion; no manna would fall on Shabbat since it is forbidden to gather on the holy day. Some scoffers saved some of their manna from that morning and scattered it on Friday evening. Their plan was to gather the manna Shabbat morning and bring it into the camp, thus discrediting Moses and proving their claim that Moses created his own mitzvot.
During the night, after the manna had been strewn, birds came and gathered it all up, thus vindicating Moses and sanctifying the Sabbath among the Jewish people.
In appreciation and gratitude of the birds' deed, we make sure to give them food on Shabbat Shirah.
* * *
Might we not take a lesson from this Jewish tradition passed on through the ages? If it is customary to show gratitude to birds for such a small act, might we not also learn to show gratitude to our brothers and sisters for each act of kindness or caring that they do for us?
The central and focal point of this month is the New Year for Trees, which brings to mind the well-known Biblical analogy, "Man is like a tree," an analogy that embraces many aspects, general and particular. Since this analogy is given by the Torah, the Torah of Truth, it is certain to be precise in all its aspects, each of which is instructive in a general or particular way, for every one of us, man and woman.
For such is the purpose of every detail of the Torah (meaning, "instruction")--to induce everyone to reflect on it and derive practical instruction from it in everyday life.
Accordingly, I will refer to some general points of the said analogy.
To begin with, the essence of a living tree is, above all, that it grows, its growth being the sign of its being alive.
The purpose of a tree is to be--in the words of the Torah--"a fruit-tree bearing fruit after its kind, whose seed is within itself," which is, to produce fruit with seeds from which will grow trees and fruits of the same kind.
Indeed, the perfection of a tree lies in its ability to produce trees and fruits to all posterity.
To translate the above points in human terms:
A human being must grow and develop continuously, however satisfactory the level may be at any given time. This is also indicated in the expression of our Sages--whose sayings are concise but profoundly meaningful--"ma'alin b'kodesh," "holiness should be kept on the ascendancy."
Similarly in regard to the point: A human being should produce "fruits" for the benefit of many others beside himself; the kind of benefit which is coupled with delight.
The meaning of "delight" in this context will become clear from the distinction in regard to the seven species of produce with which the Land of Israel is praised in the Torah: "A land of wheat and barley, and wine, and fig, and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and (date) honey." Wheat and barley are basic goods necessary for human sustenance, while the fruits of trees are both sustaining and nourishing as well as enjoyable and delightful.
And the third point: One must strive to produce "fruit-bearing fruits," so that the beneficiary enjoying these fruits should in turn become a "fruit-bearing tree" like the benefactor.
Needless to say, the "fruits," of which we are speaking here, are those which our Sages specify, saying, "the fruits of tzaddikim (which includes every Jew and Jewess, as it is written, 'And Your people are all tzaddikim') are mitzvot and Good Deeds."
These are some of the basic teachings of the New Year for Trees, which have an immediate, practical relevance to each and every Jew, man and woman. There is a further allusion to this in the meaningful Jewish custom to eat on this day various kinds of fruits which grow on trees.
And when a Jew firmly resolves to proceed from strength to strength in all matters of Torah and mitzvot, both in regard to himself and in disseminating them in his environment, he has the assurance of realizing his fullest potential--"like a tree planted by streams of water that brings forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither, and whatever he does shall prosper."
Until the time will be ripe for the fulfillment of the promise, "the tree of the field shall yield its fruit," in the plain sense, meaning that even non-producing fruit trees shall produce fruits.
On Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, we are reminded of the passage, "Man is like a tree in the field." When a tree is still a tiny sapling, and even when it is yet a seed, every small detail of its care has important ramifications. A small amount of proper care will yield a properly developed tree, but even the smallest, undesirable action will result in immeasurable damage to the final result.
So it is with the education of a person. Even those details that appear marginal and secondary, or appear unworthy of our investing so much effort into them, eventually are revealed to be of the utmost importance. Every little action taken toward providing the proper Jewish education for our children will result in a whole and sound adult. But even a tiny scratch on the young "seed" can result in great damage done to the grown person.
A(1) tiny seedling's germination and development into a full-fledged, fruit-producing tree is one of the most inspiring transformations in all of G-d's creation. First and foremost comes the development of the tree's root system. Thereafter the trunk and body of the tree as well as the branches and leaves come into being. Finally there comes the time when the tree bears its fruit.
The tree's roots are for the most part concealed from the eyes of the beholder. Nevertheless, the tree derives its main life-force from these roots. While it is true that the leaves also help the trees by absorbing sunlight, etc., the roots are the tree's mainstay; sever the roots and the tree will soon wither and die.
Furthermore, the roots enable the tree to firmly embed itself in the earth and remain impervious to strong gusts of wind or other elements that seek to uproot it.
The trunk and body of the tree, including the leaves, constitute the overwhelming majority of the actual mass of the tree. This part of the tree is generally in a constant state of growth--thicker trunk and boughs, additional leaves, etc. Furthermore, the age of the tree may be ascertained from its trunk and body, especially from the tree's annual rings.
Despite the physical predominance of the trunk and body of the tree, the tree attains a state of completion only when it bears fruit. This is so to an even greater degree when the kernel contained within the fruit serves as the forebear and seed for future trees in coming generations.
How does all this apply to man?
Man, too, has roots, possesses a trunk and body, and produces fruit. In many aspects there is a remarkable degree of similarity between man's development--even his spiritual development--and that of a tree's.
Man's roots are his faith. It is a person's faith that unites and binds him with G-d, the source and wellspring of his existence. Even after the Jew grows in Torah knowledge and in the performance of Divine commandments, he still derives his life-force through his belief in G-d, Judaism, and Torah.
Conversely, a weakening in one's spiritual root system of faith can have dire consequences even on an otherwise spiritually well-developed individual.
Having achieved the level of "setting down roots" of faith, a person may be inclined to pat himself on the back and be content to rest on his laurels. Here the tree comes and tells us that it is composed predominantly of trunk, branches, and leaves. In spiritual terms this means that a Jew can never be satisfied with faith alone, for he would then be like a tree that laid down roots, but never developed a trunk, branches and leaves. Such a "tree" is in reality no tree at all--its roots are here, but nothing else. In addition to the healthy roots a Jew must have the full complement of trunk, branches, leaves, etc.
A Jew's trunk, branches, and leaves are the study of Torah, the performance of Divine commandments, and good deeds. They should comprise the overwhelming majority of his activities and actions. One can tell a Jew's "age" by measuring his "rings" as well--how many of his years have been spent in pursuit of spiritual knowledge and substantive deeds.
Furthermore, just as a tree's body grows constantly, so, too, should there be constant growth in the Jew's trunk, branches and leaves--in Torah, performance of Divine commandments, and doing good deeds.
As laudable as all these things are, man, however, attains his state of completion and wholeness, when--like a tree--he bears fruit, affecting his friends and neighbors in a manner that they, too, fulfill the purpose of their creation. By doing so, he bears fruit, generation after generation.
1. Adapted from "From the Wellsprings of Chassidus," published by Sichos In English, 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
"On Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of Shevat [Mon. Feb. 1], it is customary to partake generously of fruits, and in particular, the species of fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed--wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates... similarly, it is customary to eat carobs on Tu B'Shevat."
The Rebbe, 11 Shevat, 5751/1991
Some have the custom of making fruit-salad from fifteen different fruits.
A Sephardic custom is to stay awake the entire night, studying all the biblical, talmudic and kabbalistic sources relating to the fruit of Israel and stopping at intervals to eat different fruits.
Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is here. But what does that have to do with us, other than eating some extra fruit, etc.?
Let's take a moment to consider the fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed as enumerated by the Torah: Two, wheat and barley, are grains. The other five, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates, are fruits.
One difference between grain and fruit is that grain is a staple food, necessary for the maintenance of our well-being. Fruits are delicacies, eaten for pleasure. Tu B'Shevat gives us the potential to carry out our service, not only according to the very minimum necessary to maintain our existence, but rather in a manner that leads to pleasure--our own and our Creator's.
There is another area in which grains and fruits differ. When grain is harvested, though there is an abundant increase in quantity, the grain is of the same nature as the kernels which were originally planted. In contrast, the seed of a fruit tree is of an entirely different nature than the fruit that is later harvested.
Similarly, in regard to our service of G-d, the metaphor of fruit trees alludes to a service that is not limited to the basic necessities, but rather generates pleasure. It reveals the potential for growth, not only a quantitative increase, but also, a leap to a higher level, a new framework of reference altogether.
Since Tu B'Shevat is the "New Year of the Trees," it generates new life energy for those dimensions of a Jew's service that are compared to trees.
May we all truly avail ourselves of this new life energy to fulfill our potential in making this world a fitting home for G-d and G-dliness.
"A person was walking in the desert, hungry, tired and thirsty. He came upon a tree with sweet fruits, pleasant shade and the source of water passing beneath it.
"The person ate from its fruit, drank from its water and sat in its shade. And when he was ready to leave he said, 'Tree, tree, with what shall I bless you?
"'If I say that your fruits should be sweet--why, your fruits are already sweet!
"' - that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant!
"' - that water should flow from beneath you, it already does!
"'Therefore I will pray that it be His will that all of the saplings planted from you will be like you!"'
* * *
Especially around the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, we are reminded of the verse, "Man is like a tree in the field." Our Sages offer various reasons and explanations as to how a person is similar to a tree. The Bible, commentaries and Talmud are replete with examples of how the Jewish people are analogous to the seven fruits with which Israel has been praised. To mention a few:
Just as (olive) oil does not mix with other liquids, so, too, the Children of Israel stand out from other nations.
The date is all good--its fruit can be eaten, its branches are used as lulavs, its leaves are used for the roof of the sukka, its fiber for binding, and it stands straight--so, too, amongst the Jews there is none who is worthless.
Just as grapes have within them food and drink, so, too, do the Children of Israel have Torah knowledge and good deeds.
The roots of the fig-tree are delicate, yet they break through the toughest rocks.
Even the most "empty" amongst you are as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate (is of seeds).
We can see from the above sampling how truly rich are the Jewish people. If this is the case, then, like the desert tree are we lacking anything? With what can we be blessed?
The greatest blessing is: "May it be His will that all of the saplings planted from us--all of our actions and deeds (our spiritual offspring) and our children--be sweet and pleasant and nourishing like us."
It's almost Tu B'Shevat, that fruit-eating and tree-planting time of year. Now, someone out there might be wondering what he would do if he was in the middle of planting a tree (or at least parting with his money for a tree certificate!) and Moshiach came.
Interestingly enough, one of our Sages answered that question over 1,500 years ago!
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai used to say: "If there is a plant in your hand when they say to you: 'Behold, the Moshiach!'--go and plant the seedling, and afterward go out to greet him."
What does this mean to you? Take a moment to think about it and then read on.
"Behold, Moshiach is coming."
The Rebbe made this statement publicly at numerous gatherings in 5751-52/1991-92. One might conjecture that, once such a powerful statement was made, all that was left for us to do was sit around and wait for some kind of high-tech, multi media, miraculous event to take place which would herald the messianic era.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the Rebbe said that all of the spiritual service that needed to be completed in exile had been done, we were not expected to take a short vacation until the Redemption. On the contrary, the Rebbe told us to prepare ourselves to greet Moshiach by performing acts of goodness and kindness, doing more mitzvot, studying more Torah, and performing mitzvot in a more perfect manner.
"Go and plant the seedling," the Rebbe tells us. Continue and increase all of the good and G-dly things you are presently doing. Learn more. Give more. Do more. For the more you plant now, the more bountiful will be your harvest in the messianic era.
In addition, the Rebbe mentioned numerous times that we will lose nothing in the messianic era. To those people who were concerned that everything they worked to build up--businesses, relationships, material possessions--would be lost when Moshiach comes, the Rebbe explained that the difference between our lives in exile and in the Messianic Era is symbolized by the Hebrew words "gola"--"exile," and "geula"-- "Redemption." The only difference between these two words is that "gola" lacks the Hebrew letter "alef"--which stands for the "Alufo shel olam"--the "Master of the Universe." When Moshiach comes, the presence and life-giving energy of the Master of the Universe will be totally revealed in every aspect of our lives.
"Go and plant the seedling," Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai tells us. And surely, with all the fruits of your labor, from all the seedlings you have planted, you will be able to greet Moshiach in a dignified and upright manner.
Advertising agencies would like us to believe that you can tell a lot about people from the--fill in the blank--cars they drive, clothes they wear, liquor they drink, credit cards they use, etc., etc., ad nauseam. What about food? Can you tell anything about a person, or more specifically, about a Jew's very essence, from the food he eats?
In honor of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees, let's take a look at the seven "fruits" with which the Torah praises the Land of Israel, "a land of wheat and barley and grapes and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and (date) honey." We'll see how these fruits--whether or not you eat them--can tell a lot about who you are, or who you can be. For, these seven fruits are symbolic--according to the mystical teachings of Judaism--of seven aspects of our spiritual growth.
Wheat is described by our Sages as "food for humans." It refers to the part of ourselves which is uniquely human--the G-dly soul. Food taken into our bodies must be assimilated for us to remain healthy. Similarly, the Divine spark in each of us needs to be assimilated into our beings and into every aspect of our lives--even our most mundane activities.
Our Sages refer to barley as "food for animals" and this refers to our more base desires which, according to Chassidic philosophy, come from the "animal soul." Thus, those parts of us which would fall into the category of "animal instincts" need to be elevated and permeated with purpose.
Grapes make wine which, according to the Talmud, makes "G-d and man glad." Interestingly, the Talmud uses the word "anashim," rather than one of the other words for "man" in this instance. Chassidic philosophy says that anashim refers to people who are on the lowest spiritual rung. Gladness and happiness are indeed a form of spiritual service, one which can be attained by individuals who are not involved in lofty, spiritual pursuits.
The G-dly service associated with grapes indicates not only that we ourselves should strive to be joyful at all times, but that our joy should be infectious and we should influence others to have this positive approach to life and G-d.
The Torah relates that fig leaves were used to make the first garments worn by people--Adam and Eve. Afterwards, G-d gave people "leather garments." "Leather" in Hebrew is "ohr" and is spelled with the Hebrew letter ayin. The Hebrew word for "light" is also "ohr," though it is spelled with an alef. In the Talmud, Rabbi Meir refers to Adam and Eve's clothing as garments of "ohr" with an alef, meaning garments of light. This means that each of us should endeavor to spread the light of the Torah to those whom we meet.
Jewish teachings explain that even the simplest Jew is as filled with mitzvot as a pomegranate is filled with seeds. For, G-d created the world in such a way that it is virtually impossible for a person to go through life without performing mitzvot at every turn. The fact that each seed in the pomegranate is a separate entity indicates that each mitzvah has its own unique importance.
Olives are bitter. This implies that, though a Jew's life must be characterized by sweetness, and that his primary approach must be one of joy, still, when evaluating spiritual achievements, he must come to a state of bitterness. (Warning: bitterness is not depression. Chassidus deals extensively with the differences between bitterness and depression and the detrimental effects of depression, but that's another article!)
Dates are referred to in the verse above as "honey." Honey is the Torah's mystical aspect. The study of the mystical aspects of Torah strengthens the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul, the essence of our being which controls our lives.
Through developing all of these aspects of ourselves and by encouraging others to do the same, we will merit to go to the Land of Israel where we will enjoy not only the actual fruits with which the Land of Israel is praised, but also the fruits of our labor during the long exile.
= 1 =
During one of the Roman Emperor Hadrian's tours through Israel, he happened upon an old man, digging holes in the soil, about to plant young saplings.
Looking at the gray hairs of the old man, the Emperor exclaimed, "Hey, Graybeard. Surely you did not work in your youthful days that you have to work in your old age!"
"Nay, sir," replied the old man, "I have worked both in my youth, and am not loath to work in my old age, as long as G-d will grant me strength."
"But surely you do not expect to eat of the fruit of your labor! Where will you be by the time these saplings bring forth their fruit?"
"If it be G-d's will," answered the old man, "I might yet enjoy the fruits of these young trees."
"You are very hopeful, old man. How old are you?"
"This is my hundredth birthday today."
"You are a hundred years old, and yet hope to eat the fruit of these trees? Why work so hard for so slim a chance?"
"Even should G-d not spare me long, I will not have worked in vain. Just as my grandfathers planted for me, so do I plant for my grandchildren."
"Upon your life, Sage," exclaimed the Emperor, "if you live long enough to eat this fruit, please let me know."
Years went by, and the young fig trees brought forth their fruit. The old man remembered his conversation with Hadrian and decided it was time to keep his appointment with the Emperor. He selected a basketful of choice figs, and off he went. When the guards finally admitted him, the Emperor did not recognize him.
"What brings you here, old man?" Hadrian asked impatiently.
"I am the man you saw planting saplings near Tiberias, a few years ago. You requested me to let you know should I live long enough to enjoy their fruits. Well, here I am, and here is a basket of figs for the Emperor's pleasure."
Hadrian opened his eyes wide in astonishment. He ordered that a golden chair be placed before the old man, and begged him to be seated. The Emperor ordered his servants to empty out the basket full of figs and replace them with gold coins. Hadrian's ministers were shocked at his respectful treatment of the old Jew. But when they voiced their displeasure, he reprimanded them, saying, "If the Creator of the World has so honored this man, granting him so many years, surely he is deserving that I honor him as well!"
When the old man returned home, with gold and glory, his neighbors came out to congratulate him.
One couple, however, became very envious. The wife suggested to her husband, "It seems that the Emperor loves figs! Why don't you take some figs to him, and fetch home their weight in gold also! And don't be foolish, bringing only a small basketful! Make sure you take a big sack, and you'll bring home a veritable treasure!"
The man did as his wife suggested. When he arrived at the Emperor's gates, he said to the guard, "I heard that the Emperor is very fond of figs and exchanges them for gold coins. I brought a sack full of juicy figs. Won't you let me bring it in to the Emperor?"
"Wait here," said the captain of the guards.
"Have that silly man stood up by the gates of the palace," the Emperor commanded wrathfully. "Place the sack of figs that he brought at the entrance, and let everyone entering and leaving the palace throw a fig at him!"
The Emperor's orders were carried out to the letter. Towards evening, when the "ammunition" was exhausted, the man was released and sent home.
Upon seeing his bruised face, his wife exclaimed, "What happened to you? Where's the gold?"
"I wish you were there to share my wealth," the husband said, and related to her all that had happened.
= 2 =
Reb Nisim lived in a small town in Israel. He and his large family lived very simply, receiving all of their sustenance solely from a pomegranate tree.
Every summer the tree was full of large, luscious pomegranates. People came from all over to purchase the wonderful "Nisim" pomegranates. One summer, however, there were no pomegranates to be seen on the tree.
Reb Nisim called to his young son Avraham. "Climb quickly up the tree and see if maybe there are some pomegranates which we have not noticed from below."
"I've found three," called out Avraham joyfully. He carefully handed the beautiful fruits to his father.
Never before had they seen such glorious fruits. That Shabbat, Reb Nisim treated his family to two of the pomegranates. The third one, he decided, would be saved for Tu B'shevat--the New Year for Trees.
That year was very difficult for Reb Nisim's family, with not even the pomegranate tree to sustain them. Reb Nisim's wife suggested that he go outside of Israel to collect money for the family. "I cannot hear of such a thing," answered Reb Nisim. "We live in the holy land of Israel and I will not leave for any reason."
But, after weeks of the children going to bed hungry, Reb Nisim finally agreed. He promised himself, though, "In all my travels, I will never reveal to anyone that I am a resident of Israel."
For months, Reb Nisim traveled from city to city, without much luck. Each place had enough to support its own poor. And, because Reb Nisim refused to reveal from where he came from, he was not the recipient of much charity.
On the fifteenth of Shevat, Reb Nisim arrived in the city of Koshta, Turkey. There he found the Jews gathered together in the synagogue, weeping and reciting Psalms. "The Sultan's son is on his deathbed. He has decreed that unless his son recovers, all Jews must leave the country by today. We have sent doctors and cures, but nothing has worked," explained the sexton to Reb Nisim.
A few minutes later the sexton returned. "Our holy rabbi would like to see you. He says that you are a visitor from the land of Israel."
Reb Nisim entered the rabbi's study quite perplexed. He had told no one that he was from the land of Israel. How had the rabbi heard?
"There is a special scent about you," began the rabbi, "from the Holy Land."
"It must be the fragrance of the pomegranate which I have with me," explained Reb Nisim. "Since today is Tu B'Shevat, I would like to share it with the holy rabbi."
The rabbi's face lit up. "You have with you a pomegranate from the Holy Land? What, may I ask, is your name?"
Reb Nisim told the rabbi his name. The rabbi's smile broadened. "In honor of Tu B'Shevat, I have been studying a discussion of different types of fruits in my holy books." And here, the rabbi went into a detailed explanation of what he had read. He finished by saying, "I came to the conclusion that the acronym for the word "rimonym" ("pomegranates" in Hebrew) is: Refua Melech O'bno Nisim Y'viya M'hara--the recovery for the king and his son, Nisim will bring quickly. We must get your pomegranate to the palace immediately.
The rabbi and Reb Nisim entered the palace sick room. The sultan's son was close to death. They gave juice from the pomegranate seeds to the unconscious boy. His color changed back to normal and his eyes fluttered open. A few more drops brought about an even more dramatic improvement.
The sultan was overjoyed. "I will remember you always," he said, with tears of happiness streaming down his face.
Reb Nisim returned home with presents of gold and silver from the sultan. And, their pomegranate tree returned to its previous state of bearing abundant fruit.
Jewish Women and Girls Light Shabbat Candles
For local candle lighting times:
consult your local Rabbi, Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or call: (718) 774-3000.
For a free candle lighting kit:
contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
For a listing of the Centers in your area:
In the USA, call: 1-800-Lubavitch (1-800-582-2848).
Friday, Jan. 29, Erev Shabbat Parshat Beshalach:
Light Shabbat Candles,(2) by 4:50 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 30, Shabbat Parshat Beshalach:
2. The Shabbat candles must be lit 18 minutes before sunset. It is prohibited and is a desecration of the Shabbat to light the candles after sunset.
Laws of Shabbat Candle Lighting for the Blind
Shabbat Candle Lighting Blessing
"Let There Be Light" - The Jewish Women's Guide to Lighting Shabbat Candles.
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