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Arbor Day (Tu Bishvat) Guide for the Perplexed, 2021

 

  1. The Jewish Arbor Day, Tu Bishvat (ט”ו בשבט) highlights human gratitude for the creation of the fruit-bearing trees, stipulating a one-sentence-blessing before consuming any fruit.
  2. On Tu Bishvat, it is customary to eat fruit of the new season, particularly the 30 types of fruit growing in the Land of Israel, while maximizing optimism and happiness and minimizing pessimism sorrow.
  3. The centrality of trees is reflected by the date of Tu Bishvat, when the relevant portion of the Bible commemorates the receipt of the Ten Commandments and the Five Books of Moses (Exodus 13-17).
  4. Israel’s Legislature (the Knesset) was established on Tu Bishvat 1949.
  5. Tu Bishvat is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Shvat, featuring a full moon, just like the holidays of Passover, Tabernacles and Purim).
  6. Tu Bishvat is one of the four Jewish New Years:

*The first day of the Jewish month of Nissan – the month of Passover, the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish people.

*The first day of the Jewish month of Elul – the tithing of cattle during the days of the ancient Temple.

*The first day of the Jewish month of Tishrei – Rosh Hashanah.

*Tu Bishvat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shvat (January 28, 2021), whose zodiac is Aquarius (water/life bearer), is the New Year of the trees, highlighting the rejuvenation of trees. The cold, rainy season is winding down, sap starts to rise and fruit begins to ripen.

  1. The Hebrew word for tree – Etz (עצ) – is the root of the Hebrew words for independence (עצמאות), strength/viability (עוצמה), substantial (עצום), identity/selfhood (עצמיות), essence (עצם) and bones (עצמות).
  2. Another Hebrew word for tree is Ilan (אילן), whose Hebrew root is ,אילwhich means (in Hebrew) awesome/mogul as well as the majestic Ram. The first and third letters (אל) mean God and the second letter (י) is an acronym for God. The Hebrew spelling for the rugged, Biblical terebinth and oak tree is אלה and אלון, both starting with the two letters,אל  (God in Hebrew).
  3. According to Deuteronomy 20:19/20: “When you besiege a city… you shall not destroy its trees….; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down, since the human-being is a tree of the field… Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down….” Psalms 1:3 states: “He shall be like a tree planted by the brooks of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.”
  4. Human-beings are better off emulating trees: deep roots and a strong trunk to grow and withstand threats and challenges; humility; extending shade and fruit to the needy; long-term thinking; patience in face of adversity.  Just like trees, human-beings should aim to benefit their surrounding and fellow human-beings.
  5. Proverbs 3:18 refers to the Torah as “the tree of life to those who cleave to it.” The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are mentioned in Genesis 2:9 (the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden).
  6. Trees were created on the third day of Creation, the only day which was blessed twice by God (Genesis 1:11). Leviticus 19:23 stipulates: “When you come to the Land, you shall plant fruit trees.”
  7. Tu Bishvat is not mentioned in the Bible, but in the Mishnah, which is the collection of Jewish oral laws, compiled by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the Chief of the Sanhedrin (the ancient Jewish Judiciary and Legislature) around 200 AD.
  8. The almond tree, which blossoms earlier than most trees/fruit, ushers in Tu Bishvat. The almond tree commemorates the rods of Moses and Aharon (the symbol of shepherds’ authority), which were endowed with miraculous power during the Ten Plagues which afflicted Pharaoh, the ensuing Exodus and the Korach rebellion against Moses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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Purim Guide for the Perplexed 2023

More on Purim in my eBook: Smashwords, Amazon

  1. “Purimfest 1946” yelled Julius Streicher, the Nazi propaganda chief, as he approached the hanging gallows in Nuremberg (Newsweek, October 28, 1946, page 46). On October 16, 1946, ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged (just as the ten sons of Haman were hung in ancient Persia).

Julius Streicher’s ranch served as a camp for young Jewish Holocaust survivors on their way to Israel, one of them was the late Eliezer Cotler, the grandfather of my son-in-law.  While reading books at Streicher’s library, he noticed that the Nazi war criminal had a collection of books on Purim, with red ink underlining all references to the fate of the Amalekites and Haman.  Streicher assumed that the origin of the Aryan race was in Persia, with a connection to the descendants of the Amalekites, who were the worst enemies of the Jewish people. He believed that Purim documented the fate of the enemies of the Jewish people; hence, Streicher’s yell: “Purim Fest 1946”.

  1. Purim’s historical background:

^A Jewish exile to Babylon and Persia was triggered by the 586 BCE destruction of the 1st Jewish Temple and the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria by the Babylonian Emperor, Nebuchadnezzar.

^Persia replaced Babylon as the leading regional power.

^In 538 BCE, Xerxes the Great, Persia’s King Ahasuerus, the successor of Darius the Great, proclaimed his support for the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Jewish Temple and the resurrection of national Jewish life in the Land of Israel.

^In 499-449 BCE, Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries – from India to Ethiopia – which launched the Greco-Persian Wars, aiming to expand the Persian Empire westward.

^Persia was resoundingly defeated (e.g., the 490 BCE and 480 BCE battles of Marathon and Salamis), and Ahasuerus’ authority in Persia was gravely eroded.

  1. Purim is a Jewish national liberation holiday – just like Passover and Chanukah – which highlights optimism and the transition of the Jewish people from subjugation to liberty. It is celebrated seven days following the birth and death date of Moses – a role model of liberty, leadership and humility.

Purim is celebrated (evening of March 7 – day of March 8, 2023), when the cold and stormy winter shifts into the upbeat, warm and pleasant spring.

  1. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th day of the Jewish month of Adar, which ushers in happiness. Adar is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir (אדיר), which stands for the adjectives glorious, exalted and magnificent. It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism).
  2. Remembrance is at the core the Purim holiday. The Scroll of Esther – which narrates the Purim saga – is also named The Book of Remembrance.  The pre-Purim Sabbath is called The Sabbath of Remembrance (זכור), commemorating the deadly threat of the Amalekites  (the ancestors of Haman), who aimed to annihilate the Jewish people following the deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
  1. Queen Esther is Purim’s heroine. The Scroll of Esther is one of the 5 Biblical Scrolls, which are highlighted on Jewish holidays: Song of Songs (Passover), Scroll of Ruth (Pentecost), Lamentations (the 9th day of Av – destruction of the Jewish Temple), Ecclesiastes (Feast of Tabernacles) and The Scroll of Esther (Purim). Esther (Mordechai’s niece or cousin) symbolized the centrality of women in Judaism, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah (the Matriarchs), Miriam (Moses’ older sister), Batyah (who saved Moses’ life), Deborah (the Prophetess, Judge and military leader), Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and Yael (who killed Sisera, the Canaanite General).

Esther was one of the 7 Biblical Jewish Prophetesses: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther (Megillah tractate of the Mishnah, 14:71).  Sarah lived 127 years and Esther was the Queen of 127 countries.

The name Esther was a derivative of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of beauty and fertility, as well as Stara, the Persian morning star, which is a symbol of deliverance. The name evolved into Aphrodite and Venus, the Greek and Roman goddesses of love, beauty and fertility. The Hebrew word for Venus is Noga, which is a Biblical divine light and the second-brightest star after the moon.  It is the name of my oldest, very special granddaughter.   The Hebrew name of Esther was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass, which is the Hebrew word for the myrtle tree. The myrtle tree features prominently during the Feast of Tabernacles. It is known for its pleasant scent and humble features, including leaves in the shape of the human eye.  Greek mythology identifies the myrtle tree with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

  1. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe – who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon to the Land of Israel – was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a super power, and in defiance of the assimilated Jewish establishment. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד). Mordechai did not bow to Haman, when the latter was the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire.  Mordechai was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau. Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites, sparing the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Mordechai learned from Saul’s crucial error and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People from a major disaster.  The aim of Mordechai who became the chief advisor to the King of Persia – was to alert the assimilated Jewish community of Persia, that forgetfulness and detachment from their Jewish roots would lead to oblivion, while the attachment to historic and religious roots is the foundation of growth, security and respect by fellow human beings.
  1. Purim’s (פורים) Hebrew root is “fate” as well as “casting lots” (פור), commemorating Haman’s lottery which determined a designated day for the annihilation of the Jewish People. It also means “to frustrate,” “to annul” (הפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (פורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.

More on Purim in my eBook: Smashwords, Amazon

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