Rosh Hodesh Shevat Torah Essay
This week’s parsha, Parshat Bo, teaches us that Nissan is the first of the lunar months of the year and the onset of national Jewish history, though Tishrei is considered the beginning for counting years agriculturally (Mishnah Rosh haShana 1:1). Shevat is the fifth month from Tishrei, the first month for counting trees, and it is the eleventh month of the Jewish national calendar which begins in Nissan. As we approach the first of the month of Shevat, we must take a look at the historical biblical event that transpired on this day thousands of years ago.
At the very start of (Sefer Devarim 1:3) we are introduced to Moshe’s final momentous and powerful speech meant to prepare Bnei Yisrael for their imminent entrance to the Land of Israel:“וַיְהִי֙ בְּאַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה בְּעַשְׁתֵּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ר חֹ֖דֶשׁ בְּאֶחָ֣ד לַחֹ֑דֶשׁ דִּבֶּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כְּ֠כֹ֠ל אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֧ה ה’ אֹת֖וֹ אֲלֵהֶֽם” “It was in the fortieth year in the eleventh month on the first day, that Moshe spoke to Bnei Yisrael based on everything that Hashem commanded him to tell them.” The date specified is the first day of the eleventh biblical month which is Shevat. Moshe addressed the people in this forum for the next thirty-seven days until his passing on 7 Adar. This qualifies Rosh Chodesh Shevat and the entirety of the month (as well as the first seven days of Adar) as a very significant time. On that first day of the month of Shevat, while Bnei Yisrael stood on the eastern side of the Jordan River, they reaccepted and were reinspired to observe the entirety of the words of the book of Devarim. Moshe began his monumental speech by reminding the nation of the covenant of mitzvot forged at Har Sinai and addressed them as if they were reliving the theme of that day – receiving the Torah from Moshe, suggesting that Rosh Chodesh Shevat is a reenactment of Matan Torah. Therefore, this time period of the next thirty-seven days should be a time of renewal, introspection, and finding deep inspiration from Torah study and performing mitzvot.
This theme of renewal continues through the month both in a theoretical sense and through the concrete celebration of Tu B’Shevat (on the 15th – ט״ו of the month) as ״ראש השנה לאילנות״ “New Year for the Trees”. We celebrate the agricultural renewal in the middle of the month for the rain tends to stop shortly before the month of Shevat allowing for the trees to start blossoming and blooming around this time. Rabbi Shraga Simmons (aish.com) elucidates that just as the trees renew their blossoms on Tu B’Shevat, man, who is compared to a tree (i.e.Devarim 20:19 – – ״כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה״ “a person is like the tree of a field”), is meant to undergo renewal and recharge now as well. Just as trees are nourished from the four natural elements (soil, water, air, and fire), so too people require the spiritual versions of these elements in order to properly develop. The soil serves as a means for the roots to grow and firmly plant the tree into the ground; so too, people need to have strong foundational roots in an environment that fosters their growth in order for them to withstand the forces that try to uproot them.
The element of water is often compared to Torah, and just as a tree without water will not be satiated or be able to survive, so too without Torah, we will not be able to sustain our faith and commitment to Hashem. Air is essential for the tree to maintain its survival as it is key to the process of photosynthesis which is essential for the tree to live. Similarly, as we read in Bereishit, when Hashem created man, He breathed life into him (which is what we know as our neshama). Just as air physically sustains the tree, so too our neshama spiritually sustains us as people. Lastly, fire, or the sunlight, is a vital component for the process of photosynthesis to successfully synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water to generate oxygen for survival and growth. People also need a warm type of energy and support provided for by community and connection with family and friends in order to survive and thrive. Many Jewish practices are centered around communal and familial gatherings to enhance our Jewish lives and commitment to our rituals.
During this upcoming month of Shevat, we should be appreciative of the enriching resources that we have been given as symbolized by the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, dedicated to the renewal of the trees. As Am Yisrael heeded the words of Moshe Rabbenu’s final speech and reaccepted their commitments at this time, we should renew ours as well. May we be mindful and inspired to internalize the underlying theme of this month – a time for reflection and inspiration, introspection and growth!