Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tu BeShvat and Earth Quakes

In Ta'anis 23a-b there is a story about "Choni the Circle maker" (no it's nothing to do with baking Biegals) who came across a man planting a Carob tree. He asked him how long until the tree bears fruit. Seventy years came the reply. He asked the man if he thought that he would live another 70 years to receive benefit from the tree. The man replied no, but his grandchildren would receive the benefit. Choni sits down in a field to eat his lunch and falls asleep for seventy years. (I wonder if the author Washington Irving knew of this gemara when he wrote "Rick Van Winkle"?). Upon waking he sees who he thinks is the same man who planted the Carob tree, only this time he is harvesting the carobs. Choni inquires who this man is and is told that he is in fact the planter's grandson.

I remember that when I was a teenager I read a remarkably similar story in a book about supposedly true stories of the early chalutzim who made aliyah from Poland to settle the kibbutzim. The book was written in Polish around the 1930s and translated into English by a youth movement shaliach in the 1980s. I suspect the author of this story drew slightly more than inspiration from this gemera relying on the fact that 99.9% of his audience would be secular madrichim and the chances of them having heard of meseches Ta'anis would be almost zero. The story goes like this:

Some Arabs from the local village came up to a group kibbutz settlers and asked them why they were planting carob trees. "Don't you know that they won't bear fruit for 70 years!" the Arabs mocked. The Jewish settlers calmly replied that they were planting carob trees not for themselves but for their grandchildren. This will show everyone that the Jews have returned to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile and are now here to stay.

Chaza"l say that the mitzvah to plant fruit trees when we enter Eretz Yisrael (and the source of Tu BeShvat) comes from Vayikra 19:23-24. As well as teaching the halachic issues of Orla and kidushin, the Rabbanim tell us that it shows us that we have a responsibility to the next generation even though we ourselves may not benefit from our actions. We benefit from the actions of past generations who did not see their efforts "bare fruit" (forgive the pun). We should do the same for future generations.

(To play video click here)

This leads me nicely into a worrying article I read yesterday in the Jerusalem Post entitled '16,000 Israelis could die in quake'.

Dr. Avi Shapira, the head of the interministerial steering committee on preparation for an Earth quake in Israel told the government that we were ill prepared for a quake of the same magnitude as that which took place in Haiti, (that is, above 6 on the Richter scale).

He warned that it wasn't a matter of if but when the quake would hit. Dr. Shapira explained that most deaths would be caused by collapsed buildings; buildings which should have been built according to Government standards but were not. It was the government's responsibly to invest in reinforcing all buildings so that they would withstand a quake without collapsing.

He said that the thousands of buildings that were built on stilts in order to provide car park space for the residents have a 100% chance of total collapse and loss of life to whoever is inside. Some residence committees have investigated the cost of reinforcing their building and had been given astronomical price quotes. They insist that the government step in to (a) oversee the work so that building contractors do not take advantage of the situation and massively overcharge and (b) to subsidise the work.

So far the government has failed to do anything. I suggest that the government start by demanding payment of fines from all those building contractors who built buildings after 1980 that did not meet government building quake standards. Those fines however would not actually have to be paid back. The money should be spent on fixing the buildings instead.

I was speaking to a Russian friend at work and his response was that he felt that the government had no obligation to spend any money on something that might happen tomorrow or may not happen for another 60 or 70 years. He expressed the opinion that he'd be long dead by then so why should he have to pay for it?

Earthquake damage at Beth-shean in the Jordan Valley around 749 ce

Tu Beshvat teaches us that we do have a responsibility to the next generation. We benefit from the previous generation's efforts and we must reciprocate for future generations.

The story is told of a Rebbi who gave a regular weekly shiur (no it's not me). That week it was raining hard and only two students turned up for the shiur. Despite this, the Rebbi proceeded to give the shiur with the same enthusiasm he always gave. The students asked him why he wasn't despondent and behaved as if there were 20 students in the room instead of 2? The Rebbi replied that there were in fact far more students in the room than 20. In fact he was teaching Torah to these two student's children and grandchildren as well. From those two students his words would reach out far beyond the physical confines of the walls they were learning in.

Chaza"l teach us that everything we do in this world should be beShem Shamayim. We should not expect reward in this world but in the next. If we do receive benefit then count it as a bonus!


Ale Yarok said...

It's a huge responsibility to have your generations to come in mind all the time. I suppose it's just part of being a religious jew and knowing that there is so much more apart from our life now.

Bouncer said...

Ale Yarok, what has being either Jewish or religious got to do with a sense of responsibility for future generations? It's a commonplace sentiment among people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Reb Mordechai said...

Bouncer, in theory you are correct. All cultures and religions ought to have an inbuilt system of honouring the elderly and making sacrifices for future generations.

In practice this isn't the case. People in Western society at least can be very self centred. Birth rate is at an all time low in Europe because the 20-40 age group want to spend their money and their time on themselves and not on children. They don't seem to care about the future. They also don't seem to feel an obligation to the elderly members of society either. LBC radio was talking about this very thing a few months ago. So many OAP freezing their homes. Some of them phoned up. The compare asked them where their children were? The OAP's answered that they were in other towns or busy with their own lives...

Amongst Jews, even secular Jews, we feel an obligation to our elderly and to our children. Indeed, in my experience whilst working in Britain, more than once a goy has praise the Jews on this issue. They realise its something lacking in their culture.

Anonymous said...

Didn't realize they had digital cameras in 749 ce?