Don't Shake My Tree.
If You Don't Like My Pomegranates
The first Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah teaches that there are actually four different New Years, one of them being the New Year for tithing fruit trees. While it is agreed that the month of Shevat is the appropriate time to begin this New Year, Shammai argues for the first day of the month as the New Year while Hillel maintains it is the fifteenth. The New Year designates the beginning of the trees' fiscal year for tithing, or tributes made to the Priests, the Levites and -- in certain years -- the poor. From this rather benign origin, much grander designs have been imposed on this holiday throughout Jewish history. The mystics of Tzefat created a Seder which paid homage to the Divine connection between trees, their fruits and the nature of God in the universe. The State of Israel enlisted Hebrew schools of the Diaspora in collecting funds for planting trees and greening the state of Israel to the point that the pre '67 borders are known as the Green Line. Tu B'Shevat (the Hebrew Tu literally being the letters designating the number fifteen) became a Jewish Arbor Day and finally, with the emergence of ecological awareness, it now has nuances of Jewish environmentalism.
One of the significant aspects of the Tu B'Shevat Seder is to showcase the fruits of Israel specifically mentioned in the Torah. This is especially poignant this week since Tu B'Shevat falls during the week of Parsht Yitro - the Parshat where the Children of Israel receive the Ten Commandments. In honor of Tu B'shevat, and the fruits of Israel let us consider, one of the seven species, the pomegranate.
Talmud Berachot (Blessings) 57a
One who sees pomegranates in a dream -if they are small, so too, will be the fruits of his business. If they are great, so too will be the fruits of his business. If [the pomegranates] are divided in pieces. If he has wisdom, he
can expect much Torah. If he has no wisdom, he can expect many Mitzvot.
Your Talmud Navigator
1. What is the essential distinguishing feature of the pomegranate?
2. Is it unusual for the seeds of a fruit to be its most edible part?
3. What does it mean when the fruit of the fruit is the fruit?
4. What does that have to do with business?
5. Why does a person need wisdom to expect Torah?
6. Is wisdom innate or is it acquired?
7. What makes wisdom different than Mitzvot?
In the world of dreams, we surprise ourselves by what we see as possible. Our dreams expand and limit possibility. We dream of small fruits or we dream of large fruits and our successes will and failures will be aided or hindered by our own imagination.
Torah is not innate in anyone -- it requires preparation and work. Even with work, it requires help from heaven, but without working beforehand, even heaven cannot help. Mitzvot, however, are available to anyone, for anyone, at any moment. Both activities are part of this holiday-we prepare a seder and contemplate the nature of the tree, and we go out and plant the tree as well.
Our dreams of a fruitful land are enacted by both thought and deed. We are also reminded that that Hebrew word for pomegranate contains two meanings: One is for the fruit which we celebrate today and the other is for the explosives that destroy the peaceful work of Tu B'Shevat, for "rimon" means both pomegranate and hand grenade.
May we dream of a land and people free to plant pomegranates and celebrate the sublime virtues of this ever evolving feast.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Director, Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.