| Spirit and Sparks |

Tu B’Shevat Tefillos

She’d left Judaism behind. Years later, the dormant seeds sprouted


Just as we daven for a good year on Rosh Hashanah, on their Rosh Hashanah, Tu B’Shevat, the trees daven for a fruitful year. At the time of creation, every tree bore fruit, and when Mashiach comes, they will return to that state. We should pray that the non-fruit-producing trees produce fruit. By doing so, we’re asking for the Redemption. On Tu B’Shevat, we daven: Please bring Mashiach.

Man is also a tree, an inverted one, with roots in Heaven. There are many fruitless trees among us. If we examine ourselves, we may even come to the conclusion that we are fruitless. “Where are my mitzvos, the fruits of a person? Even the fruits I do produce are so few and inferior!” On Tu B’Shevat, we daven: Let the most prized tree, the Yid, produce fruit.

On the grounds of the Beis Hamikdash, there were trees that produced fruits of gold. If our fruits aren’t good enough, we may have solid excuses. Perhaps what’s at fault is the soil, not the tree. On Tu B’Shevat we daven: Bring us back to the soil in which we can flourish.

—As heard from Rav Moshe Wolfson shlita


A lot of women feel guilty about their davening. They value tefillah, but are often overwhelmed.

For starters, women with small children should forgive themselves; halachah recognizes the intensity of that stage and relaxes their requirement. They’re saying a different type of tefillah, whether they realize it or not — the natural turning to HaKadosh Baruch Hu throughout the day. Like Dovid Hamelech said, “Va’ani tefillah,” we’re always full of prayer. If we can connect our constant inner tefillos to the formal words of davening, that would be so powerful.

When the Brisker Rav found himself in a difficult situation he uttered a short, potent tefillah, “Lishuascha kivisi Hashem — I hope for Your salvation, Hashem.” No matter how rushed we are, we can always use these words. “Hashem, help me get through this tantrum, shopping trip with my teenage daughter, etc.”

I think our guilt in the context of formal tefillah comes from thinking we need to daven with long stretches of tremendous emotional intensity; we don’t value the fleeting moments of connection. They shouldn’t be minimized. If we tune into them, we’ll realize how much potential we have for connecting to Hashem.

—Rebbetzin Esther Reisman

Rebbetzin Esther Reisman is mechaneches at Bais Yaakov Academy and rebbetzin at Agudas Israel of Madison.

The Line That Changed Me

“Mommy, did you have kavanah for the first six words?”

My son was feverishly occupied with filling out a family brachos chart, and he needed a few more checks in the section for having kavanah when saying the words, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam.”

Like many people, I begin my brachos on automatic and sometimes wake up in time to think about the meaning of the last few words. But the goal of saying brachos is to connect to Hashem, to experience standing before Him — and that’s achieved with the first six words.

Being forced to disappoint my son with a, “No, sheifeleh, I didn’t,” was a tad embarrassing. Since then, whenever I make a brachah, I try to focus on the fact that Hashem is right in front of me.

—Gitty Gold

Wonders of Jewish History #1

The greatest wonder of history is the eternity of the Jewish People. In this section, we’ll explore moments when we see Hashem orchestrating events or sending us the right person at the right time.

Shortly before Yerushalayim would be burned and destroyed, a Jewish leader with far-reaching vision took a gamble — lose Yerushalayim, but save the greater prize, Torah scholars. Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked that the city of Yavneh, where most of the talmidei chachamim were then living, be spared.

In galus for 2,000 years, we don’t appreciate the daring nature of this request, the unique combination of cunning and emunah required. Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai reasoned that Klal Yisrael could survive without a Beis Hamikdash and national independence, but not without Torah scholars. And Vespasian, a man who dealt exclusively with physical space and territory, didn’t appreciate that Yavneh would be a much bigger threat to Rome than Yerushalayim.

Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai, along with the other chachamim, rebuilt the Jewish People, creating a paradox of a vibrant Jewish society without a Beis Hamikdash, but with eternal loyalty to that Beis Hamikdash.

In the end, Yavneh defeated Rome.

Dormant Seeds

There’s a woman I’ll call Naomi who was born 104 years ago, just as the world was licking its wounds after World War I.

Her family lived in a European community that hadn’t been affected by Communism or influenced by the Reform movement, but the spiritual atmosphere was vague and Jews were gradually drifting away.

Nobody managed to open a Jewish school, so Naomi’s parents sent her to the shul’s Sunday school, as did most of the Jewish people in town, considering it a “good enough” Jewish education.

When Naomi reached her teens, she started questioning her parents about the difference between their lifestyle and the rebbetzin’s teachings. Her parents told her that they respected the rav and rebbetzin, but they weren’t as religious as them. In response, Naomi gave them an “all-or-nothing” ultimatum: either they take Judaism seriously or she drops everything.

Her parents saw this as a teenage whim. They tried to tell Naomi that life wasn’t that simple, that she shouldn’t be an extremist, but Naomi would have none of it. When her parents weren’t willing to be strictly observant, she threw Judaism to the wind.

When she married out, and her parents cut off the relationship, it looked like her rebbetzin had failed.

Ten years later, her non-Jewish husband told her that after reading the Bible many times, he realized that its teachings were all based on the Old Testament. After searching for the meaning of life, he’d contacted a rabbi to look into converting to Judaism. Would she support him?

Out came the old ultimatum of “all or nothing.” If he was going to keep everything, she was with him. Her husband agreed to her terms, and today their descendants are observant Jews.

Sometimes the results of the efforts of so many hardworking teachers can only be seen in the long run. The seeds sown in chinuch sprout, blossom, and give fruit only after years.

—Yael H.


“When you’re distressed, remember there will come a time when this will be behind you.”

—Rav Yehudah Hurwitz of Stuchin ztz”l

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 727)

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