Thursday, January 28, 2010

Parshas Beshalach/Tu B’Shvat 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh, “Shabbos Shirah”, Parshas Beshalach/Tu B’Shvat

14 Shevat 5770/January 29, 2010

The traumatic devastation emerging from earthquake-ridden Haiti is overwhelming. At the same time there are some stories which are incredible and heartwarming. The following is one such example:

Dan Woolley, a deeply religious Catholic, was in Haiti working on a film about the impact of poverty on the people of Haiti. On January 12th, he had just returned to his hotel with a colleague when the earthquake struck. Woolley dove into an elevator shaft, which was quickly buried under tons of rubble. Woolley was able to download a first aid application to his iphone, and was then able to treat his wounds, which he was able to see by the faint light of the phone.

Woolley realized that he would probably die before he could be rescued. He had a notebook and a pen with him and he composed a letter of farewell to his wife and two young sons. Then after 65 hours, Woolley was rescued. When he was pulled from the rubble he took the blood-stained notebook with him.

The story is very powerful because it makes a person wonder what he would write on such a letter, if, G-d forbid, he was ever in such a situation.

On Tisha B’av morning, we commence the recitation of Kinnos (lamentations) with the word, “שבת (Shavas) – everything came to a standstill!” When the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed and the national life of Klal Yisroel was about to change irrevocably, everything stopped.

In fact, whenever a tragedy strikes, the hustle and bustle of life comes to a screeching halt. The changes wrought about by the tragedy force philosophical reflection and contemplation. At such a time, it is not uncommon for mourners to bemoan the fact that they failed to appreciate who/what they had before it was lost. One of the most painful things to hear is, “If only we had appreciated it when we still had it.”

One of the greatest acts of kindness that G-d provided for His Nation, is the gift of Shabbos. The word “Shabbos” means a cessation, and indeed on Shabbos when we cease all our weekday endeavors, everything comes to a standstill.

One who views Shabbos merely as a day off and a time to get away, wastes an incredible opportunity. Shabbos is a day of reflection, when one is able to stop the bustle of life so that he can appreciate the gifts that G-d has granted him. The Jew, who observes Shabbos properly, does not need to wait for tragedy to strike. Every Friday afternoon when the sun sets, daily life stops. And in that warmth and radiance he contemplates his mission in life and all the blessings G-d has given him along the way.

The festival of Tu B’Shvat, is the celebration of the beauty of the trees and the fruits, with all of their attractive colors, variant textures, and sweet tastes. That such beauty grows from mud and sunlight only adds to their mystique and delectability.

Tu B’Shvat grants us a moment to stop and appreciate an aspect of this world which we often take for granted. At the beginning of bentching (Grace after Meals) we thank G-d, “Who sustains the entire world with goodness, with grace, with kindness, and with mercy.” G-d not only provides our needs, but He does so with grace, in the sense that our food has a resplendent beauty that piques our taste buds.

When Tu B’Shvat coincides with Shabbos it is a Shabbos of even more song than usual.

It is a day of true celebration.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum