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And the Children of Yisroel ate the manna for forty years, until their arrival in an inhabited land, they ate the manna until their arrival at the border of the land of Canaan. (Shemos 16:24)
One of the major highlights of this weeks parsha is the story of the manna. It is noteworthy that parshas Beshalach is also significant in that it is always read immediately before Tu' Bishvat and in some years on Tu' Bishvat itself. We may ask is there any special relationship between the manna and Tu' Bishvat?
In parshas Chukas we learn about the sinful attitude that some Jews had towards the manna. The posuk records: The people spoke against Hashem and against Moshe. Why have you brought us up from the land of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is no food and there is no water and our soul detests this light bread (Bamidbar 21:5). Immediately thereafter Hashem punished the people by sending deadly poisonous snakes to bite and kill. The sinners subsequently repented and Moshe prayed to Hashem on their behalf. Hashem then said to Moshe Make for yourself a saraph (poisonous snake) and place it on a pole and it will be that anyone who had been bitten will look at it and live. (Bamidbar 21:8)
Rashi explains that by looking upward at the seraph the people would be inspired by the background of heaven and subject their hearts to Hashem. By doing so they would be miraculously healed.
Chazal teach us that as we read through the parshios during the course of the year the events recorded in each particular parsha are reenacted in this world to some degree. Thus, when we read that Hashem provided manna for the Jewish people in the desert for forty years this invokes from Hashem a blessing of livelihood for us in our times. Unfortunately many of us are unable to perceive the blessing in our livelihoods. Indeed, there are times that we are extremely frustrated and bitter. At times we are tempted to sinfully complain as those in parshas Chukas did by saying our soul detest this light bread.
Let us suggest that as a preventive measure for frustration and complaint Hashem has arranged that the holiday of Tu' Bishvat appear immediate after the reading of the manna.
Chazal teach us that Tu Bishvat marks the new year for trees. Where do we see renewal in the trees at this time of the year? To the naked eye, nothing has changed with the passing of the fifteenth day of Shevat. It is still the middle of the winter, the trees are barren and do not possess any sings of life. Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 14a) answers this question by explaining that the significance of Tu Bishvat lies in the fact that on this day the sap (sraph) has gone up in the tree. It is true that to the naked eye no noticeable changes have occurred, yet what is important is that the sap in now fully in place to produce fruits of excellent quality in the coming spring.
It is noteworthy that the word Rashi uses for sap and the word used for the snake that Moshe was required to form have exactly the same letters i.e., sin, reish, and pey. The simple explanation for this is as follows: First we must understand that saraph literally means venom. In the posuk the snake itself is called saraph after its poisonous venom. Both the poison of the snake and sap of the tree share the character of appearing to be an insignificant sticky substance. They also share the characteristic that they are in truth both extremely potent. The only difference is that one brings death and the other is the source of food, which is a necessity of life. Their similarity of appearance and character of potency is why they are described in Hebrew with the same letters.
Further it is noteworthy that the word sap and poisonous snake are both used in the context of elevation. Moshe lifted up the seraph on the pole for all to see and the sap has been elevated in the tree.
Tu' Bishvat is the modern day reenactment of the posuk make for yourself a saraph and place it on a pole and it will be that anyone who had been bitten will look at it and live (Bamidbar 21:8). At this time of the year when we read about the manna and reflect on our own livelihood we should be careful not to complain. We need only follow in the way of our ancestors and reflect on the sin, reish and pey that has been raised. Although the blessing in our livelihood might not necessarily be apparent, it is no different than the sap that has been put into place in the barren tree that stands frozen in the dead winter. We must look up at the sap and be inspired by heaven to have faith that Hashem has set in motion all the necessary conditions so that fruit of our livelihood will blossom in its proper time.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001