This coming Shabat we will commemorate Tu B’Shvat – the new year day for
trees and fruit here in the Holy Land. The day carries with it halachic
significance with regard to some of the agricultural mitzvoth of the Torah
are. But as in all matters of halacha and mitzvoth, there is a great moral
lesson to be taught from this day as well.
Tu B’Shvat marks the turning point of the winter season. Even though there
are many weeks of winter still ahead of us, there is no doubt that the
season is turning. The days are becoming longer, the sun higher and
brighter in the sky and the advertisements for Pesach accommodations more
urgent and frenzied in tone. Tu B’Shvat is thus not only a new beginning
for the fruits and trees of the Land of Israel, it is meant to signal a
new beginning for us as individuals and as a people and a Jewish society.
One of the many amazing patterns of Jewish history, among others, has been
the ability of Jewish society to renew itself as the circumstances of time
demanded. Every generation and certainly every century of history poses
age-old problems coupled with new twists and wrinkles. How to meet those
challenges is the responsibility of Jewish leadership of every generation
and time. Tu B’Shvat comes to remind us of this omnipresent responsibility
of facing the present and the future with realistic and yet inspirational
tactics and solutions that deal with our current angst and problems.
The past three centuries, especially in the world of Ashkenazic Jewry, has
produced a dazzling variety of movements, ideals and solutions to the age-
old “Jewish problem.” The Haskala came to “civilize” us; the Marxists
arose to create a utopia for us; the Zionists came to make us secure and
cure anti-Semitism once and for all; Reform came to make us acceptable to
non-Jewish society and to integrate us with humanistic goals; secularism
came to free us from the burdens of tradition and mitzvoth. None of these
movements achieved their stated goals.
The Holocaust made mockery of integration in the general humanistic world;
Zionism created the State of Israel but has provided it with no sense of
security and certainly has only exacerbated the problem of anti-Semitism;
Stalin cured us of Marxism; the Haskala apparently did not sufficiently
civilize us; and secularism has to constantly attempt to prove that it is
not an empty wagon. Thus there is a great feeling of apathy and emptiness
in the Jewish world today. In the realm of traditional Jewry, much of
Religious Zionism has lost its steam; Chasidut has pretty much frozen and
atrophied and become insular; the yeshiva world has become a place of
narrow focus and elitism; the Mussar movement no longer exists; and modern
Orthodoxy has not found its voice and parameters.
Therefore we are witness to the end of an era. The old is going and the
new has not yet arrived. Hence the apathy and ennui, and the seeming lack
of leadership that grips the Jewish world today. It is at such moments in
Jewish history that a renewal of faith and idealism has always occurred.
Tu B’Shvat should make us aware that such a renewal is necessary. The
season is turning not only weather-wise but in our history and society.
The old tactics are no longer efficient for the solution of today’s
problems. The answers are available within the framework of tradition and
halacha as they were when Chasidut revolutionized Ashkenazic Jewry in the
eighteenth century and Mussar created the yeshiva world of the late
nineteenth century. We will not be able to live forever based on Holocaust
memorials or Zionistic slogans that belie the reality of our situation
here in the Land of Israel. We need a new way to govern here, to reform
our politics and make it more representative.
The Torah should be freed from the chains of party politics that currently
smother it. The Torah belongs to all Jews and should be made available to
all Jews. Reforming, editing, changing and improving the Torah is now, as
it always was, a surefire recipe for disaster and assimilation in the
Jewish world. But we have to take a fresh look at our schools and our
societal norms to be able to state clearly what our goals are. There may
be different ways to reach them but there has to be a consensus as to what
the actual goals are. It is a time for renewal and new and different
thinking. The winter is turning on us. Let us think hard about reaching
the warmth of spring that will surely come.
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com