V'haya Im Shamo-a: A Prayer for Tu B'shvat?

Tu B’Shevat “on one foot”:

Tu B’Shevat is the new year for the trees. It is around January usually, when the first trees are blossoming in the Land of Israel. For more on this holiday, see: https://www.jewfaq.org/holiday8.htm

“V’Haya Im Shamo’a” “on one foot”:

”V’Haya Im Shamo’a” is the second paragraph of the Shema prayer. It comes from Deuteronomy. For more on this prayer, see: https://reformjudaism.org/learning/torah-study/torah-commentary/if-then-you-really-listen-and-heed-my-commandments

Why is the holiday called Tu B’Shevat?

(יח) רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן חִסְמָא אוֹמֵר, קִנִּין וּפִתְחֵי נִדָּה, הֵן הֵן גּוּפֵי הֲלָכוֹת. תְּקוּפוֹת וְגִימַטְרִיאוֹת, פַּרְפְּרָאוֹת לַחָכְמָה:

(18) Rabbi Eliezer Hisma said: the laws of mixed bird offerings and the key to the calculations of menstruation days these, these are the body of the halakhah. The calculation of the equinoxes and gematria are the desserts of wisdom.

Context: Pirkei Avot is a collection of quotes from the rabbis of the Mishnah. They lived from the years 300 BCE to 200 CE, and their sayings form a tractate of the Talmud. It’s one of the few tractates of the Mishnah which has no Gemara commenting on it, and it’s the only tractate of the Talmud which is about ethical / moral ways of living but not about Jewish law. Pirkei Avot is traditionally studied after Shabbat Mincha in the summer months (Passover to Shavuot), so it’s printed in its entirety at that spot in most siddurim.

Note that Tu B’Shevat happens in the Hebrew month of Shevat.

Gematria is an alpha-numeric code. The word itself is Greek gematria (gamma - tri - a > gamma = 3). Aleph = 1, bet = 2, gimmel = 3, kaf = 20, kuf = 100, resh = 200.

How would you say 10 in gematria?

How would you say 11 in gematria?

How would you say 14 in gematria?

How would you say 15 in gematria?

Joke: Why is Tu B’Shevat called Tu B’Shevat? Because of gema-tree-a!

How Has Tu B'Shevat Evolved?

Tu B’Shevat around 500 CE

(כג) וְכִי־תָבֹ֣אוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם֙ כָּל־עֵ֣ץ מַאֲכָ֔ל וַעֲרַלְתֶּ֥ם עָרְלָת֖וֹ אֶת־פִּרְי֑וֹ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֗ים יִהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶ֛ם עֲרֵלִ֖ים לֹ֥א יֵאָכֵֽל׃ (כד) וּבַשָּׁנָה֙ הָרְבִיעִ֔ת יִהְיֶ֖ה כָּל־פִּרְי֑וֹ קֹ֥דֶשׁ הִלּוּלִ֖ים לַה' (כה) וּבַשָּׁנָ֣ה הַחֲמִישִׁ֗ת תֹּֽאכְלוּ֙ אֶת־פִּרְי֔וֹ לְהוֹסִ֥יף לָכֶ֖ם תְּבוּאָת֑וֹ אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

(23) And when you come into the land, and planted all types of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden; for three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. (24) And in the fourth year all their fruit shall be holy, for giving praise to the Lord. (25) But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that they may yield to you more richly: I am the Lord your God.

Context: This text comes from the Biblical Book of Leviticus, from Chapter 19. Chapter 19 is considered "The Holiness Code", giving instructions for acting in holy ways.

How would you know which year a given tree is in?

(א) אַרְבָּעָה רָאשֵׁי שָׁנִים הֵם. בְּאֶחָד בְּנִיסָן רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לַמְּלָכִים וְלָרְגָלִים. בְּאֶחָד בֶּאֱלוּל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לְמַעְשַׂר בְּהֵמָה. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר וְרַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמְרִים, בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרֵי. בְּאֶחָד בְּתִשְׁרֵי רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לַשָּׁנִים וְלַשְּׁמִטִּין וְלַיּוֹבְלוֹת, לַנְּטִיעָה וְלַיְרָקוֹת. בְּאֶחָד בִּשְׁבָט, רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה לָאִילָן, כְּדִבְרֵי בֵית שַׁמַּאי. בֵּית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים, בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ:

(1) There are four new years: The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of beasts. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishri. The first of Tishri is the new year for years, for shmitta and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of] vegetables. The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to the words of Beit Shammai. Beit Hillel says: on the fifteenth of that month.

Context: This is from the Mishnah, Tractate Rosh Hashanah, which is about Rosh Hashanah (as one might expect). It seems to suggest that the 15th of Shevat is for determining the age of trees so you know when you can start eating the fruit. However, little known fact is that that’s actually what Rosh Hashanah is for (Rosh Hashanah 9b). The new year for the trees is so that you can figure out when to set aside a new year’s tithe for the priests (Rosh Hashanah 14a). This detail is buried in the Gemara, so you are unlikely to run into it unless you have gone into the Gemara to get the explanation.

Tithing involved setting aside some of your food, both to thank G-d and to provide for people who couldn’t get their own food (the priests had no land). What would be a modern equivalent?

Tu B’Shevat in the 1500s

(יט) כִּי תָצוּר אֶל עִיר יָמִים רַבִּים לְהִלָּחֵם עָלֶיהָ לְתָפְשָׂהּ לֹא תַשְׁחִית אֶת עֵצָהּ לִנְדֹּחַ עָלָיו גַּרְזֶן כִּי מִמֶּנּוּ תֹאכֵל וְאֹתוֹ לֹא תִכְרֹת כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר. (כ) רַק עֵץ אֲשֶׁר תֵּדַע כִּי לֹא עֵץ מַאֲכָל הוּא אֹתוֹ תַשְׁחִית וְכָרָתָּ וּבָנִיתָ מָצוֹר עַל הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר הִוא עֹשָׂה עִמְּךָ מִלְחָמָה עַד רִדְתָּהּ.

(19) When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them; for you will eat from them, but you shall not cut them down - for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged by you? (20) Only the trees of which you know that are not trees for food, them you may destroy and cut down, so that you build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy, from a chapter about ethical ways of dealing with war. It is the origin of the Jewish value of Ba’al Tashchit — not destroying needlessly. In the 1500s, the mystical Kabbalists used a phrase from this verse “is a tree of the field a man” and decided that they could use trees as a way to connect with G-d. They realized that there are four combinations of produce with edible or inedible insides and outsides (think orange vs. plum vs. blueberry vs. wheat grain), and, seeing that as a mystical metaphor, built a Tu B'Shevat seder around it. The Tu B'Shevat seder also tends to include the Seven Species (Deut. 8:8), and 4 cups with varying combinations of red and white wine, symbolizing the seasons (going from all white as winter to all red as fall).

How could trees and/or fruit help you connect with G-d?

Tu B'Shevat in the late 1800s to early 1900s

(כג) וְכִי־תָבֹ֣אוּ אֶל־הָאָ֗רֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם֙ כָּל־עֵ֣ץ מַאֲכָ֔ל וַעֲרַלְתֶּ֥ם עָרְלָת֖וֹ אֶת־פִּרְי֑וֹ שָׁלֹ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֗ים יִהְיֶ֥ה לָכֶ֛ם עֲרֵלִ֖ים לֹ֥א יֵאָכֵֽל׃

(23) When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten.

Context: This is the same verse that we saw earlier from Leviticus. When the chalutzim, pioneers, came back to the Land of Israel in the late 1880s and early 1900s, they took this verse and made Tu B'Shevat a tree-planting holiday. The Jewish National Fund "Blue Box" became ubiquitous as a way for ordinary Jews around the world to collect coins for buying land and planting trees. You can still buy trees in Israel for as little as $18 (https://usa.jnf.org/jnf-tree-planting-center/).

Although it's too cold in North America for tree planting during Tu B'Shevat, what's something you could do in this spirit?

Tu B'Shevat Since the 1970s

(טו) וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ׃

(15) The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it.

Context: This is from the Biblical Book of Genesis, from the second version of Creation (Chapter 2). In this version, G-d creates Adam, makes the Garden of Eden, and then puts Adam into the garden. In the 1970s there was a secular and Jewish interest in taking care of the environment, and this verse became the cornerstone of reinterpreting Tu B'Shevat as a Jewish holiday about taking care of the earth.

What are some practical ways that you can make a difference in the well-being of our planet?

Introduction to V'haya Im Shamo-a

”V’haya Im Shamo-a” is the second paragraph of the Shema. It comes from Deuteronomy 11:13-21. Please consider whether this prayer relates to the themes of Tu B’Shevat, and if so, which iteration(s) of the holiday.

(יג) וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃

(13) If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the LORD your God and serving God with all your heart and soul,

What does it look like to love G-d? What does it look like to serve G-d, particularly with all your heart and soul?

(יד) וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִֽירֹשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃
(14) I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil—

If you were doing a modern reward for following G-d’s commandments, what would you suggest?

(טו) וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃
(15) I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.

This is the source of the halacha (Jewish law) that one must feed one’s pets (and farm animals) before yourself (Brachot 40a). Why does that come from this verse, and why is this rule a good idea (if it is)?

(טז) הִשָּֽׁמְר֣וּ לָכֶ֔ם פֶּ֥ן יִפְתֶּ֖ה לְבַבְכֶ֑ם וְסַרְתֶּ֗ם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶ֖ם לָהֶֽם׃
(16) Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them.

What aspects of modern life might people treat almost like gods?

(יז) וְחָרָ֨ה אַף־יְהוָ֜ה בָּכֶ֗ם וְעָצַ֤ר אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֣ה מָטָ֔ר וְהָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן אֶת־יְבוּלָ֑הּ וַאֲבַדְתֶּ֣ם מְהֵרָ֗ה מֵעַל֙ הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶֽם׃

(17) For the LORD’s anger will flare up against you, and God will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the LORD is assigning to you.

One of G-d's commandments is taking care of the earth (Gen. 2:15, Deut. 20:19). Is it reasonable to read this verse as referring to acid rain, climate change, and soil erosion, among other possibilities?

(יח) וְשַׂמְתֶּם֙ אֶת־דְּבָרַ֣י אֵ֔לֶּה עַל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וְעַֽל־נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּ֨ם אֹתָ֤ם לְאוֹת֙ עַל־יֶדְכֶ֔ם וְהָי֥וּ לְטוֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֵיכֶֽם׃ (יט) וְלִמַּדְתֶּ֥ם אֹתָ֛ם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְדַבֵּ֣ר בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃ (כ) וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּז֥וֹת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃
(18) Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, (19) and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; (20) and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates—

In the V'Ahvata, 5 chapters earlier (Deut. 6:5-9), it refers to these same things but in a different order (there - teach, Tefillin, Mezuzah; here - Tefillin, teach, Mezuzah). Some interpret that as meaning that everybody has their own Jewish journey. What has yours been?

(כא) לְמַ֨עַן יִרְבּ֤וּ יְמֵיכֶם֙ וִימֵ֣י בְנֵיכֶ֔ם עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֧ע יְהוָ֛ה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לָתֵ֣ת לָהֶ֑ם כִּימֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (ס)
(21) to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.

Why is "enduring on the land" the summative reward for following G-d's commandments?

Appendix: Environmental Takes on This Prayer

From Barbara Barnett’s sheet “Second paragraph of the Sh'ma--An Environmental Take”

Joe Rosenstein offers an alternative interpretation in his siddur, Eit Ratzon. If we lead a mindful life, “the rain that falls in your fields will also fall in your lives, enabling everything to grow. Your fields will be fruitful…and you will be fruitful in body and spirit… [Turning away from this heritage and way of life], you will also turn away from My rain; you will no longer be aware of this blessing and its source, so that, for you, the rain will no longer exist. You will be unable to fully enjoy the fruits of your fields or the fruits of your lives” (p. 52).English

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (z''l) contemporary translation of the text:

11:13 How good it will be

When you really listen, And hear my directions,

Which I give to you today,

For loving Yah, who is your God,

And to act godly With feeling and inspiration. /

11:14 Your earthly needs will be met At the right time, Appropriate to the season. You will reap what you planted For your delight and health.

11:15 Also, your animals Will have ample feed. All of you will eat and be content.

11:16 Be careful -- watch out! Don't let your cravings delude you; Don’t become alienated; Don’t let your cravings Become your gods; Don’t debase yourself to them

11:17 Because the God-sense within you Will become distorted. Heaven will be shut to you, Grace will not descend, Earth will not yield her produce. Your rushing will destroy you! And Earth will not be able To recover her good balance In which God's gifts manifest.

11:18 May these values of Mine, Reside in your Feelings and aspirations: Marking what you produce, Guiding what you perceive.

11:19 Teach them to your children So that they are instructed How to make their homes sacred; And how they deal with traffic. Even when you are depressed, And when you are elated.

11:20 Mark your entrances and exits With them, So you will be more aware.

11:21 Then, you and your children, And their children, Will live out on earth That divine promise Given to your ancestors To live heavenly days Right here on this earth. {prose}

וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹתַי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם, לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶם וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם׃

וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ, וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ, וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ: וְנָתַתִּי עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ, וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ׃

הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם, וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹקִים אֲחֵרִים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם לָהֶם׃

וְחָרָה אַף ה' בָּכֶם וְעָצַר אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלֹא יִהְיֶה מָטָר וְהָאֲדָמָה לֹא תִתֵּן אֶת יְבוּלָהּ, וַאֲבַדְתֶּם מְהֵרָה מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר ה' נֹתֵן לָכֶם׃

לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם וִימֵי בְנֵיכֶם עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה' לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לָתֵת לָהֶם, כִּימֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ׃

A Prayer in a Time of Planetary Danger by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Im Sh-Sh-Sh-Sh’mo-a
Tish’sh’sh’sh’ma-u:
If you hush’sh’sh’sh, truly hush’sh’sh’sh
To hear my Name, yes to hear and to listen —
YyyyHhhWwwwHhhh;
If you Breathe in my quiet,
Interbreathe with all Life
Still small Voice of us all —-

You will feel the Connections;
You will make the connections
And the rain will fall rightly
The grains will grow rightly
And the rivers will run
So you and all creatures
Will eat well in harmony,
Earthlings / good Earth.

But if you break the One Breath into pieces
If you erect into idols these pieces of Truth,
Bowing down to Big Oil, to Big Coal –
If you heat my Breath with your burnings —

Then my Breath will flare up into scorching,
The corn will parch in the field,
The poor will find little to eat,
And my Breath, my Wind, Holy Spirit
Will become a Hurricane of Disaster:
Floods will drown your cities,
My Wind will tear down your Power.

What must you do?
Connect what you see with your eyes
To what you do with your hands.
Look with joy and respect
On the threads of connection
That you tie as fringes
On the edges of your self.
Smooth Mountains of Power
Into valleys of abundance.
Turn to sun and My Wind
To empower my people.
Make My breath amidst you
A Hurricane of justice —
Then the grass will grow,
The forests will flourish,
And all life will weave the future in fullness.

Then eysh and mayim,
Will join in shamayim:
Fire and water,
No longer in battle,
Will each find its place
In the balance of Earth:
The heavens will clear
And your lives will be lived
in heavenly joy.

With appreciation to Nelly Altenburger and Barbara Barnett