Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Tu Bishvat – New Year for plants

This Shabbat (15 Shvat – 30 January2010) when we read the Portion of the Torah called Beshalach is also this year Tu Bishvat – The New year for plants and trees. We are told in the Talmud right at the beginning of the tractate of Rosh Hashanna that there are four New Years. One for people, one for Kings, one for cattle and one for plants and trees.

The custom on Tu Bishvat is to eat fruits from the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised: …a land of wheat and barley and (grape) vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and (date) honey (Deut. 8:8).

There also is a tradition that is becoming popular again in recent years to have a Tu Bishvat Seder. The origin of this is Kabbalistic.

One also tries on Tu Bishvat to eat a fruit that one hasn’t eaten in this season and to say the blessing for a new fruit over it along with its regular blessing.

What is the idea behind all of this? Again as with many things it is to realise where all the goodness comes from. That G_d provides us with everything that we need from nature.

What is nature? We take for granted that the trees with all their abundance of fruits, the plants with all their colours shining forth and everything else we see our our daily travels is just there. Nature in itself is a miracle. Since when does the pip of an apple when put in the ground become a massive tree etc. It is the Hand of G-d. Nature is G_d
playing his role in our everyday life. We just have to be tuned in to realise it when we see it.

Therefore when you partake of a fruit on this Tu Bishvat remember the part that nature takes and that it is not just a background role in our everyday trundle through our lives.

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The Power of Kaddish – Rabbi Akiva

There is a story told in the Talmud.
Rabbi Akiva was walking in a forest. He saw a man, darkened with coal dust, carrying a heavy load of fire wood on his shoulders and running as fast as his legs would carry him. Rabbi Akiva commanded the man to stop.
“Why are you running with such a heavy burden? If you are a slave, I shall free you! If you are poor and must exert yourself to such an inhuman extent, let me give you money and make you rich”

“Please,” the man entreated Rabbi Akiva, “Let me go and continue my work!”

“Are you human or are you from the demons?”

“I am neither a poor man nor a slave. I am a soul that is being punished by collecting huge amounts of fire wood for a giant fire into which I am to be thrown.”

“Tell me, what was your occupation when you lived in this world?”
The man answered, “I was a tax collector. I took bribes from the wealthy, and I had the poor killed. Not only that, I had illicit relations with a betrothed girl on the holiest day of the year, on Yom Kippur.”

Rabbi Akiva inquired, “My son, have you not heard that something from the other worlds that could be done to help you and help with your suffering?”

“Please,” he cried, “Allow me to resume my work. My task masters will be angry with me and punish me further. They say that I have no way of being redeemed. Had I had a son who would stand up in front of others and cause others to praise G-d, then they could release me from this punishment. But I left a wife who was pregnant, I don’t know if she had a son or daughter? And if he were a boy, who would teach him Torah for me?”
“What is your name?”

“My name is Akiva, my wife’s name is Shosmira, and I was from the place called Elduka.”
Rabbi Akiva felt extremely bad because of this soul and he searched from village to village until he came to that very place. He asked in the village, “Where is this Akiva’s house?”

The villagers answered in hatred, “May his bones be ground to dust in Hell!”

“Where is this man’s wife?”

The villagers answered with bitterness, “May her name and memory be blotted out from this world!”

“Where is this man’s child?”

“He is uncircumcised, and no one will circumcise him!”

Rabbi Akiva found & grabbed the man’s son and began to teach him Torah. Rabbi Akiva fasted for forty days and then heard a voice from heaven. “Rabbi Akiva, do you fast for this boy?”

Rabbi Akiva answered, “Yes!”

Teach him to read and write. Teach him to say the grace after meals, teach him to say ‘Shema’ and to pray.” When the boy shall pray in public, causing the people to praise G-d’s name, then the punishment shall be lifted from this man soul.”

When this happened, the soul of the man came to Rabbi Akiva in a dream.. “You have spared my soul from the punishments of Hell.”

(This story is from one of the many legends found in the Talmud. In the Zohar Chadash, it is mentioned that the prayer is the Kaddish.)

What is the power that is demonstrated here? What can cause a evil man to be redeemed from a fitting punishment?
The answer is simple. The redemption is not in the mere saying of Kaddish, but in causing others to praise G-d. Children who live lives of doing good, bring credit to their parents.

Judgment is not only on the deeds that are done, judgment is also on the actions that are caused. If a man leaves a child who increases the respect that others have for G-d, then it is a credit for the parents, even if the parent is evil. This is the secret of the greatness of the Kaddish, that the causing of others to acknowledge the greatness of G-d in public can serve to counter balance the evil that was perpetrated by the parent.

The Roots of Belief

At its roots the meaning of the Kaddish prayer is the Jewish people’s belief in the bigger picture. If there ever was a nation that could have been excused for raising up its hands and saying thats it – no more surely they fit the bill. However many years of persucution, all the miles of wandering in exile the belief and yearning that we would one day return to our land never stopped. Next Year in Jerusalem was always on our tounges.

With all the pain that comes at a particular moment in time whether it be when slaves in Egypt or during the recent Holocaust we have always understood that we are part of the makeup of the Jewish people and that we have not been forgotten and that we will always survive and in the end thrive under our own rule.

One expects that the Kaddish prayer would be about the departed and or death. The opposite is the truth. Kaddish is our belief in life and therefore G_d himself.

The loss of a loved one turns the world upside down and plunges one into darkness. However, even when confronted by darkness we see the light that the kaddish brings us at every place and at every time. It is all about G_d and our peoples belief that He is with us in all times, in all places and in all undertakings. However hard this might seem if one looks closely the Hand of G_d can always be found. We might not realise it at the time but if we look back sometimes after a short period of time or sometimes after a historical era His Hand can be seen often with more ease than other occasions.

When we reach every year the yarzheit for a departed one, despite the sadness that one naturally feels one should also feel in an elevation due to all the signs we use: the candle, the kaddish the prayers and study. All these enable us and the soul of the departed to soar higher.

Traditions of Kaddish

Jewish law requires that Kaddish be said on behalf of a person who has died. The seven family members that this applies to are: mother, father, spouse, son, daughter, brother and sister. It is part of the son’s duties to say Kaddish for a parent, however if he cannot, for whatever reason, then one may also hire someone to recite the Kaddish, a practice dating back over 500 years.
There is also a custom to say Kaddish for any Jewish person that there is no-one else to say Kaddish on their behalf.
Kaddish is said for the first time at the burial service and from then for eleven months at the three daily prayers (Ma’ariv in the night, Shacharit in the morning and Mincha in the afternoon). On various days throughout the year that there are additional services, Kaddish is also said then (Shabbat, Festivals and New Moon). The last time that Kaddish is said during the first year is on the Yahrtzeit (anniversary of the Jewish Calendar date of passing or burial – there are different opinions). After this, one should say Kaddish on the aniversary of the date of death.
The general requirement is to say Kaddish in the presence of at least 10 men over the age of Barmitzvah, which is thirteen years old.
If Kaddish was never said for a person in the past , there is no reason why one cannot start to say Kaddish on his behalf now.
This has been written in memory of Alan Green z”l ( Avraham Yitzchak Ben Toiva ) who passed away yesterday in London – 24 Tevet 5670.