by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – December 16, 2015
On a daily basis, observant Jews the world over praise the Al-Mighty G-d as they bless Him for all the good that they enjoy. Our Sages tell us (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 35a), “Whoever derives benefit from this world without a blessing [whereby one recognizes the source of our blessing] is tantamount to stealing from G-d.” Consequently, before biting into a slice of bread, we say, “Blessed are You, the L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.” Before eating products of wheat, barley, rye, oat or spelt in the form of cakes, cookies and pastries, we say, “Blessed are You, the L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates species of nourishment.” Before sipping a glass of grape wine or grape juice, we recite, “Blessed are You, the L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.” Before partaking of fruits from trees, we recite, “Blessed are You, the L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.” Before biting into produce that is grown from the earth, we say, “Blessed are You, the L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates fruit of the ground.” On all other food items, we say, “Blessed are You, the L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, that all has come to be through His Word.” Blessings are even recited upon enjoying the smell of pleasant fragrances. Before every incidence of enjoying this world’s bounty, we praise the good L-rd Who is responsible for our receiving this bounty.
In every prayer, almost every day of the week, observant Jews recite the blessing in the Shmone Esrei requesting, “Bless on our behalf – O L-rd our G-d – this year and all its kinds of crops for the best, and give (dew and rain for) a blessing on the face of the earth, and satisfy us from Your bounty, and bless our year like the best years. Blessed are You, G-d, Who blesses the years.” Once again, in a different form, we praise the good L-rd for providing us with the earth’s produce that we can enjoy its taste and its nourishment for our pleasure and our well-being; and we beseech G-d that He continue to provide us this bounty.
In a similar vein, recognizing G-d’s Hand in all the nourishment and pleasant foods extracted from the earth, we celebrate every year the day of Tu B’Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, recognized by our Sages (see Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 2a and Rashi on Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 14a) as the New Year of trees, when fruit begins to form on trees. This distinct day, marking the onset of the new season of fruits, is celebrated by observant Jews, of Ashkenazi and Sephardi origin alike, in a festive mood in which penitential prayers and fasting are prohibited and special customs are performed, especially that of eating various kinds of fruits (see Mishna Brura 131:6), with special preference given to fruits grown in the Land of Israel, and Sephardi communities add special liturgies on this day. In celebrating this day, we, again, praise the good L-rd for expressing His goodness to us in beginning anew the blossoming of the trees to bring forth again their fruits for us to enjoy, both their pleasant taste on our pallets and their nourishment to our bodies, recognizing, thereby, the source of our bounty.
May we always recognize G-d’s goodness via our blessings to Him and celebrating this special day of Tu B’Shvat marking a new beginning of the fruits of the trees, and may we all enjoy the speedy return of the Bet HaMikdash, G-d’s Holy Temple, where we may be able once again to praise the good L-rd, as enjoined in the Torah (Devarim 26: 1-11), in “the land that the L-rd your G-d gives you … that you shall take the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your land that the L-rd, your G-d, gives you, and you shall put in in a basket and go to the place that the L-rd, your G-d, will choose to make His Name rest there [the Bet HaMikdash] … Then you shall call out and say … He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me … And you shall rejoice with all the goodness that the L-rd, your G-d, has given you and to your household.” And may that return of the Bet HaMikdash along with the coming of the messiah be in our time!