The Tu B’Shvat – Shabbat Shira Connection

Nov 24, 2014

Synthesizing the Physical and the Spiritual
Mrs. Deena Nataf, Midreshet Rachel V’Chaya

The 15th of Shevat is the point at which most of this year’s rains should have fallen. This time of year revolves around geshem, rain, and beracha, blessing — especially in Eretz Yisrael, where rainfall is inextricably bound up in our relationship with Hashem.

When the Jews were in Egypt, sustenance was dependent on the Nile River. Egypt was the quintessential land of gashmiut. Hashem’s hashgacha was klalit, general, and the “blessing” of abundant crops was not based on behavior. In the desert, however, we see the paradigm of pure ruchaniut, where the Jews did not need to work for their sustenance, and miracles outside of the realm of teva, nature, were a daily occurrence.

Eretz Yisrael, however, has a unique system: ruchaniut b’toch gashmiut, i.e., seeking God through the “mundane.” It is the synthesis of the gashmiut with the ruchaniut. In earlier times, when most of the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael were involved in agriculture, they saw clearly that the success or failure of their crops was dependent upon their performance of the mitzvot. Nowadays, when most of us sit behind desks instead of working in the fields, we have to work a little harder to keep this concept in front of us. Not only is rainfall in Israel – or lack thereof — a direct result of our behavior, but the state of our Land — political, social, etc. — is as well. In Eretz Yisrael, Hashem’s hashgacha is pratit, i.e., we have the chesed of a constant involvement of Hashem in our lives dependent upon our fulfillment of His will.

The gashmi, material, reward for fulfilling the will of God is rainfall and tranquility in our Land. The ruchani, spiritual, reward, however, is a successful and close relationship with Hashem. That is really the goal of the mitzvot — both bein adam le’Makom and bein adam le’chaveiro. There is always this connection between the material and the spiritual. When we see the material bounty that Hashem gives us, our natural response should be a tremendous gratefulness to Him for all the blessings He constantly showers upon us minute by minute. This should lead us to an emotional faith in Hashem, which is expressed in Shira — an outpouring of thanksgiving and prayer. Not coincidentally, parashat Beshallach, which includes the most famous Shira of all, falls within the week of Tu b’Shevat, the time of year when we should have experienced most of this year’s material blessing of rain. It is the most appropriate time to express our intense gratitude to Hashem for all the bounty He bestows on us. Shira is the classic response to emotional faith.

The book of Devarim, which was delivered between Rosh Chodesh Shevat and the 7th of Adar, is Moshe’s ethical will to the Jews. It is their preparation for entering Eretz Yisrael and fulfilling the mitzvot that they couldn’t do in the desert. The six weeks approximately between Rosh Chodesh Shevat and the 7th of Adar are called the parashiot of ShOVeVIM, which stand for Shemot, Va’era, Bo, Beshallach, Yitro and Mishpatim. As we know, the word shovevim has the same root as lashuv, to return. These weeks are a time for us to return and rededicate ourselves to the fulfillment of the mitzvot, which will allow us to be closer to Hashem — our ultimate goal. And becoming closer to Hashem will allow us to see the material bounty which He bestows on us constantly. We can use the spiritual, the mitzvot, to bring down material blessing; and our awareness of the incredible material bounty we are blessed with can bring us to a closer relationship with Hashem through our hakarat hatov and our own personal shira to the One Above.

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