May 27, 2024
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Celebrating the Fruits of Our Labor: A Tu B’Shevat Message

One of the key roles Tu B’Shevat plays is in the Orlah calendar. The mitzvah of Orlah requires us to abstain from eating fruits of a tree for the first three years of its life (plus a fourth, for Neta Revai). Practicing this mitzvah requires incredible patience. We work the soil, prepare it for planting, and fertilize it with fresh nutrients when the tree is first planted. Every subsequent year we must prune back the branches at exactly the right time of the season to encourage optimal growth, and for fruits to blossom in the following year. We do this year after year, watching the blossoms turn into fruits, and watching the fruits fall off the tree and decompose. We cannot eat them until the fifth Tu B’Shevat arrives, at which point we are finally permitted to eat from the tree. It’s a jubilant feeling. It’s celebratory. It is joyous! It is so fantastic because we have given so much to this tree, and we have been forced to wait. It tastes so good because it WAS forbidden fruit.

This very restraint is precisely what makes the fruits seem so sweet and the Mishna in Avot (5:23) echoes a similar concept, “The reward is in proportion to the exertion.” Oftentimes the harder we work, the more enjoyable the final result can be.

Students at The Idea School learn this value in a particularly fascinating way: They’ve been tending to a hydroponic garden tower in their classroom at the JCC since November. They fix broken pumps. They identify problems with the lights and work on solutions. They tend to each individual plant, nourishing it, ensuring that it grows properly in these manufactured conditions. Growing lettuce and herb varieties indoors might seem like a circuitous route to understanding and appreciate the underlying values of Orlah and Tu B’Shevat, but the students internalize this message deeply and personally.

Ultimately, our motivation for keeping the mitzvah of Orlah (it DOES apply outside of Israel) should be the same as for any other mitzvah. However, if in the process, we are able to refine our midot and become more resilient, spiritual individuals, then we’re better for it. May we practice hard work and patience, and may we enjoy the fruits of our labor this Tu B’Shevat.

By Yosef Gillers

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