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He said, if you will listen diligently to the voice of Hashem, your God and you will do what is just in his eyes and you will give ear to his commandments and observe all his statutes, then any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt I will not place upon you for I am Hashem you healer. (Shemos 15:26)
Every year the holiday of Tu Bi’shvat falls out in the week of parshas Beshalach. Let us search for an allusion to the holiday in this week’s parsha which may in turn shed light on the nature of the holiday.
In this week’s parsha we learn about the travels of the Jewish people in the desert. A few days after crossing the sea of reeds the Jewish people encamped at Marah. The Torah tells us that the Jewish People were unable to drink from the waters of Marah because they were bitter. After complaining to Moshe, Hashem showed Moshe a tree which he threw into the waters and miraculously caused them to become sweet. Chazal tell us that the tree that Hashem showed Moshe was bitter. We would have expected Hashem to sweeten the bitter waters with something sweet, yet Hashem performed what Chazal call a “miracle within a miracle.” Not only did Hashem sweeten the water but also did so through a bitter object.
The Jewish people then traveled to Elim where they came across twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. The Ramban notes that what happened at Elim was exactly the opposite of what happened at Marah. At Elim the trees were sweet as is the nature of palms trees in contrast to the bitter tree that Hashem showed Moshe at Marah. Furthermore, At Elim the waters were sweet, otherwise it would have been impossible for the sweet palm trees to develop and grow. This stands in contrast to the bitter waters of Marah.
Exactly in-between these two events Hashem told Moshe to tell the Jewish people that if they listen to the commandments of Hashem and follow in his ways, all the disease and sickness that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt will not come upon them. (Shemos 15:26)
We may suggest that herein lies a connection to Tu Bi’shvat. Chazal teach us that on Tu Bi’shvat the trees begin to blossom. Furthermore, they teach us that on Tu Bi’shvat the trees cease getting their nourishing from the waters of the previous year and begin to get nourishment from the waters of the new year.
We learn from this that Tu Bi’shvat is related to the blossoming of the trees and their nourishment from a new source of water. Tu Bi’shvat is the transition point between the past and the future.
We may suggest that Tu Bi’shvat represents a symbolic transition between the bitter tree and waters of Marah and the sweet trees and waters of Elim. In the past six weeks of winter the trees have decayed, withered and died. Death is associated with bitterness. The posuk says concerning death “and its end is like a bitter day” (Amos 8:10). In the six following weeks the trees begin to show signs of life, ushering in the sweetness of life. On Tu Bi’shvat we stand in the middle. It is a moment where we are in a position to see clearly the contrast between the old bitter waters and pathetic state of the withered trees of the past and the new sweet waters and rejuvenation of the trees in the future. We symbolically stand in the middle of the bitter tree and waters of Marah and the sweet trees and waters of Elim.
In the Torah the transition point is the aforementioned posuk instructing the Jewish people to adhere to the commandments of the Torah and live healthy good lives. Chazal tell us that a tree is metaphor for man, “For man is the tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). As we stand on Tu Bi’shvat and look at both sides if of the spectrum we see what can become of man. Man can decay and wither like the bitter tree and waters of Marah or blossom, develop and produce fruit like the sweet trees and waters of Elim. On Tu Bi’shvat we stand at the crossroads. We focus on the aforementioned posuk. Hashem asks us to choose well. “I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life …” (Devarim 30:19).
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2004