26 Jan PARSHAS BESHALACH – SHIRAH
The first Rebbe of Sadegur zt’l said, “…Of course this Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah, a Shabbos of Song. There are so many miracles and wonderful things in this week’s parsha: Kriyas Yam Suf, Az Yashir, the manna, Milchames Ameleik…
One of the miracles stated in this week’s parsha happened in Marah. When the Yidden set up camp there, they discovered that its waters were bitter. Hashem commanded Moshe to throw a stick into the water and the waters turned sweet (see Shmos 15:25).
The Beis Yisrael zt’l commented, that being that the stick is made of wood, which comes from a tree, it represents Tu B’Shvat, Rosh Hashanah for the trees. The month of Teves and the beginning of Shvat represent ‘bitter’ times, but once Tu B’Shvat arrives things get ‘sweetened.’ From now on, with Hashem’s help, we will experience better and happier days. On this day we don’t say Tachanun. In addition, in Halachah it states that if a wedding day coincides with Tu B’Shvat, the chassan does not fast.
What’s special about Tu B’Shvat? Why are we happy? Is it because it’s the Rosh Hashanah for the trees? What does that have to do with us? We can answer this question when we consider the joy of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of our new year. The Navi says, “Eat fatty foods and drink sweet drinks… because your joy is your strength” (Nechemyah 8). We are supposed to be happy on Rosh Hashanah. But Rosh Hashanah is also a day of fear. We blow the shofar, which sounds like cries. These conflicting emotions can be explained with the following analogy: A father was walking with his young child through a forest. The father warned his son to remain at his side and not to run ahead, so he wouldn’t get lost. The child didn’t listen; he ran ahead, and got lost. Alone, the child was frightened; fears of wild animals and the dangers of the forest overwhelmed him. Whilst searching for a way out, he suddenly saw his father approaching. His father chastised him for going astray. The child cried, yet he was also happy because he was reunited with his father.
On Rosh Hashanah, we’re afraid of the judgment, but we’re also joyous, because we are united with Hashem. The same is with Tu B’Shvat. It’s a day when Hashem’s presence is more revealed and it’s easier for us to have a connection with Him. And that’s always a reason to rejoice. The Avnei Nezer zt’l said that he can tell the difference between the Torah he studied before the 15th of Shvat and the Torah that he learned after Tu B’Shvat. The month of Shvat is mesugal for learning Torah, since in this month Moshe Rabbeinu taught Sefer Devarim to the Jewish nation. As it says “On the eleventh month [Shvat]… Moshe began to explain this Torah…” (Devarim 1). The fifteenth is the middle of the month, so the quality of Torah that this month is conducive for is even more potent. The halachos pertaining to Tu B’Shvat are in regard to the laws of maasar, tithing fruit. Each year, one must give a tenth of the fruit produce to a Levi. Those fruits that grew before Tu B’Shvat are tithed together with the previous year’s crop, and those fruits that grew after Tu B’Shvat are tithed with the following year’s fruits.Why is Tu B’Shvat the cut-off date? The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 14) teaches, “Most of the rainy season [in Eretz Yisrael] has passed.” Sap has already entered the trees and the trees are ready to produce new fruits. It is therefore the date chosen to differentiate between the previous year’s fruits and this year’s. Logically, it seems that it would be more appropriate for the cut-off date to be based on the solar calendar. We know that in the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the solar system, the dates are the same time every year, while the Jewish calendar, which is lunar-based, varies from year to year.
That’s why it’s a bit surprising that Tu B’Shvat is the date that determines when to tithe the fruit and not a solar calendar date.1 The Chasam Sofer explains that when Hashem created the world He decreed that the world must be subjugated to the Torah and its laws. Nature must bend and abide to the halachos of the Torah. 2 Therefore, Tu B’Shvat will be the date to determine when the sap has gone up into the trees, annually. Nature will need to adjust itself and follow the dictates of the Torah. In this week’s parsha there’s another example of nature bending to accommodate the Torah: The Midrash (Shmos Rabba 21) teaches: “The Yam Suf said to Moshe Rabbeinu, ‘Man was created on the sixth day of Creation, and I was created before you, on the third day…’” Therefore, the Yam Suf thought it didn’t have to part for the Jewish nation. The Midrash says, “Hashem placed His right hand by Moshe’s right hand… and the sea split.” Why didn’t the sea want to split for the nation? Chazal tells us that at Creation, Hashem made a condition, with the sea that it must split for them.3 So if this agreement was prearranged, why then did the sea refuse to split for the nation? The Or HaChaim answers that Hashem didn’t only make a condition with the Yam Suf. The condition was made with all of creation that it must be ready to bend to serve Bnei Yisrael. The Or HaChaim writes “Hashem made a condition with all creation that they must be submissive to the Torah and to those who toil in it. Nature must do whatever [the Jewish nation] decrees on them. They rule over nature as Hashem rules over it… And this is all due to the power of Torah.”But the Jewish nation hadn’t received the Torah yet, and at that point, the sea felt that it wasn’t required to bend the rules of nature for them.
Hashem put His right hand next to Moshe’s, and then the Yam Suf split. Hashem’s right hand represents Torah, as it says “From Hashem’s right hand, He gave the fiery Torah…” (Devarim 33:2). When the sea saw the sign of Torah, it was ready to split for the nation. As the Or HaChaim explains, “Hashem, with His wisdom, brought His right hand by Moshe’s right hand. This proved that Moshe was a Ben Torah… When the sea saw this, it split immediately, according to the original condition.”
At first, the sea considered itself older than mankind: “Man was created on the sixth day of Creation, while I was created on the third day.” But with the merit of receiving the Torah, the Jewish nation precedes the entire world [hierarchy], because Torah was in existence even before Creation. Thus the sea, which was created later, had to split for them.