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Terumah: Shalom Aleichem
Shalom Aleichem; peace unto you, is the classic Jewish greeting. It is beautiful, meaningful, and succinct. The classic response, however, is curious. Rather than responding with Shalom Aleichem, we reverse the greeting and say Aleichem SHalom, unto you peace.
Now, Jews like to be contrarian. Next time you are …

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Home » Tu B'shvat

Tu Bishvat: Economic Blessings

Submitted by on February 8, 2009 – 3:51 amNo Comment | 1,489 views

Full Moon

The fifteenth day of every lunar month, when the moon is at its fullest, is a day of celebration. From that point forward the moon’s size diminishes slightly every night until it disappears. The curious point is that the moon neither grows nor shrinks. Its light is neither dimmed nor reduced; the only thing that changes is our ability to see it. What then is the point of our celebration? (1)

The sad fact is that we are creatures of relativity; if it is inaccessible to us it may as well not exist. The fact that the moon is always full stops neither our melancholy when we cannot see it nor our excitement when we can. Its light absolutely exists, but relative to us, it is useless.

The economy bears a striking resemblance to the moon. Just like the moon, it waxes and wanes and just like the moon the money never really disappears; it merely goes into hiding. The current recession, according to many analysts, is not a product of cash loss but a crisis of confidence. The money has not fallen into a black hole, we are simply afraid to use it. Yet we are creatures of relativity. If the money is not available to us, it is as good as gone until the cycle turns and the money appears again.

Investors are afraid of exposure and the market hesitates to recover. No one can map out precisely what drains consumer confidence and which actions will restore it. Market analysis is, at best, educated guesswork. Nudging an entire market forward, coaxing it out of its slide, is beyond even the largest fund managers; in a sense it is a science that belongs to G-d.

Tu Bishvat

However, there is good news on that front. Tu Bishvat, the fifteenth of Shevat is around the corner and when viewed correctly is reads almost like a message from above; a message of confidence, renewal and growth.

Jewish farmers in Israel are required to tithe from their annual yield. While it is permissible to offer a single tithe for an entire year’s yield, it is forbidden to tithe from one year’s crop for the next; each year must stand alone. The cutoff date, by which all tithes for the past year must be delivered, is the fifteenth of Shevat. This day was chosen because it marks the end of the rain season in Israel, when the ground is saturated, the trees’ sap replenished and the season’s fruits begin to bud. (2)

The Talmudic sages called it the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) for trees and we mark it today by sampling fruits indigenous to Israel. The mystics tell us that on this day G-d determines just how many fruits each tree will yield. The fact that the ancient Israeli economy was primarily agrarian rendered Tu Bishvat the Rosh Hashanah of the business year. On this day the destiny of next year’s economy is determined.

Here we return to the message of the fifteenth – the day the moon looms bright with yesterday’s hidden light. The light was always there only in hiding. Now it shines again – it has been taken out of hiding. Perhaps the message for us is that it is time to stop hiding; a new economic year has been ushered in and it is bright with last year’s hidden light. Another way of putting it: we have hidden our cash in the last year, but it is time to take it out of hiding. Time to regain our confidence. Time to spend again.

Prayer

I hasten to assure the reader that I am neither an economist nor a market analyst. One should no more rely on me for investment advice than one does on the groundhog for whether predictions. Just the same, it is our tradition to turn to G-d in hard times and to trust in His blessing. It is incumbent on us to consult our financial advisors, tread our way wisely and with caution. Just the same, it is also incumbent on us to provide for the spiritual dimension. We must pray for G-d’s blessing and trust in Him to deliver. We must turn ourselves into recipients worthy of His blessing by enhancing our religious involvement and increasing our Jewish practice.

Tu Bishvat, a day when G-d sits in judgment on economic matters is conducive to such thoughts. It is day to consider G-d’s hand in our lives and how it is His blessing that delivers our success.

Counting Eggs

Above all it is important to drive away melancholy and despair. These are destructive emotions that do not assist us in recovery. One way of addressing these feelings is by recalling that G-d’s blessing can arrive in a heartbeat. There is no point in obsessing over a bleak future when the forecast can change in an instant. And in the market it often does.
It is true that even if the market turns around tomorrow it will take several months to jumpstart the economy and for the money to trickle into our shops and homes. Nevertheless we have reason to be confident.

The blessing of Tu Bishvat applies to fruits that have barely begun to sprout; it will take many months before these fruits will reach our homes. Nevertheless, we do not venture into the fields to watch the fruits grow nor do we bide our time to see whether the crops will flourish. On this day we obtain fully ripened fruits and eat them with great fanfare. We know that the fruits on the trees are far from blossoming, but we are confident that G-d’s blessing will take root.

It will take a while, but we are not worried. G-d has a perfect credit rating; He always pays his premiums.

Footnotes

  1. David Marcus, an American Jewish soldier, who assisted in the formation of the Israeli Defense Forces, once wrote, “I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until at length she is only a ribbon of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her and just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout on the other side of the sea, “There! She comes!” From Wrestling with the Angel: Jewish insights on Death and Mourning.
  2. Talmud Rosh Hashanah 1:1.

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