Three Historic Events – Our Defining Moments
Rarely is there a week where three events juxtapose to present a profile of our essence as a people and symbolism for our survival. The three events likewise connect man and nature in extraordinary circumstances.
Tu B’Shevat – and the Chupah
One unusual custom often associated with the observance of Tu B’Shevat (which took place this past Sunday night), as cited in the Talmud in Gitten Chapter 57a, dates back to Roman times. In the community of Bethar there was a custom that when a baby boy was born, they planted a cedar tree and when a baby girl was born, they planted a pine tree. When a boy and girl wed, the people would cut down their trees and make the wedding canopy out of the wood.
What is poignant to me is the symbolism that out of what could be construed as a destructive act of cutting down trees was the creative use of the trees for the erection of “the canopy” which is known as the “chupah.” And in Jewish tradition, the chuppah is the structure serving as a roof and under which our Jewish couples are united in matrimony.
Putting Down Roots
Another symbolic connection between Tu B’shevat and the custom in Bethar is the focus on establishing roots. In a fascinating article entitled Everlasting Happiness by Rabbi Yehudah Prero, the author states “The use of these trees by the wedding was a way of expressing the wish that the union of bride and groom should be strong, like cedars. This marriage should create a legacy for generations, resulting in an “an everlasting house in Israel.”
Likewise, Tu B’Shevat which celebrates the New Year for Trees, draws attention to the importance of establishing solid roots in the ground. The truth is that even though the roots are generally concealed, we count on them to withstand any challenges to their survival.
In an interesting analogy cited in the Talmud Taanit 7a, man is (considered) a tree of the field. This comparison was mentioned in an article entitled “Wedding Speeches for Tu B’Shevat” which Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky gave to the bride and groom at their wedding. His prayer for the couple was “My dear Chatan and Kallah, hopefully you will be a beautiful tree in the garden of Hashem, one that will produce beautiful fruit for which all people will praise and bless you.”
Our Moment in History –
The husband and wife connection was also mentioned in this week’s historic Torah portion named Yitro. The reader learns in Chapter 18, number 6: “I, thy father in law Jethro am coming to thee and thy wife and her two sons with her.” Up until that time our leader Moshe’s wife and sons had remained in Midian with their father and the reunion was a special recorded event. And it also was a prelude to the most significant moment in the history of Jews – the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.
It is hard to imagine how one mountain could represent such a defining moment in our evolution as a nation and yet the mountain became the compass point for our peoplehood. And in fact our commentators use the marriage analogy for the relationship between the Jews and G-d and Mt Sinai as the location of the Chupah.
Fast forward to the Earthquake Destruction
The third event which is prominent in our hearts and minds demonstrates the interconnection of man and nature at its worst. As the body count of the dead keeps rising at a heartbreaking pace, one of the heartwarming stories which emerged from the frantic search for survivors was the rescue of the two year old by the IDF. What the future will be for the child is uncertain, but for that moment there was cause for hope and optimism.
Again the focus is on the family and the prayers for reuniting loved ones torn asunder by the depth of the rubble and collapse.
With each hour and the hope fades, the reality starts sinking in that nature has decimated communities whose rebuilding will take monumental acts of human and capital commitments and years.
The Lesson of Tu B’Shevat Applied
What the Turkey devastation shows is that there are acts of nature that will rip up roots on a human and physical level where whole communal areas that existed and teeming with life are eliminated.
However, there is another positive lesson that has come from Turkey and that is to witness the efforts that our own Israeli rescue workers have contributed without any fanfare. The fact that within a few hours following the notification, hundreds of IDF and other search and rescue Israeli units could be mobilized and sent to help and even set up a field hospital is a reflection on the roots which our society has nurtured starting with the homes from which the delegation members were raised.
Salute to our Nationhood
Going back to Mt Sinai when our identity as a nation was formed, it is clear that our charitable contributions are rooted in the Jewish community and the values of chesed which we embody. And that leads back to the homes in which such values were instilled. And the origin of the homes goes back to the couples themselves.
Campaign for NEW MARRIAGES
On Tu B’Shevat, our amuta Together in Happiness initiated a campaign designed to promote New Marriages especially for engaged and newly wedded couples. The timing of the campaign was associated with the fact that Tu B’Shevat is considered an extremely auspicious day to get married and the symbolism of setting up an everlasting foundation and roots are critical to our survival.
The campaign is predicated on mobilizing support and encouragement from those most close to couples – the parents and grandparents, chatan and kallah teachers, educators, Rabbis and Rebbetzins, government officials and others who recognize that the establishment of New Marriages is critical to our survival. The campaign likewise is directed at engaged and newlywed couples and to provide resources for building the best foundations and especially through the vehicle of marriage education.
For information on the campaign please write firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is written in memory of the Chabad beloved mother, wife and Chabad representative to the Virgin Islands, Henya Federman, whose tragic death is a loss for mankind and to all those who perished in the Turkey earthquake.