The mitzva of eulogizing the dead stems from the dignity of man, created in the image of God * The special duty to eulogize those martyred in the sanctification of God’s name, and while fulfilling the mitzva to settle Eretz Yisrael * Dafna Meir HY”D, lived a holy life of lovingkindness, tenacity, and devotion * Tu B’Shvat: Calculating the years of ‘orlah’ * The mitzvot of ‘orlah’ and ‘neta revai’ teach us restraint, patience, and the proper way to live our lives
The Mitzva of Hesped
It is a mitzvah to eulogize the deceased
(hesped), to reflect on his or her life as a whole, seeing all the good and truth they personified. This mitzva
is a specific application of the mitzva to dignify man, who was created in the image of God. In life, we all tend to neglect seeing the overall good in people and praise them accordingly; pressing concerns force us to deal with details. So when eulogizing an upstanding person, it is a mitzva to return to the basics and recall all the truth and goodness they exemplified.
It is also a mitzva for all the deceased’s acquaintances and friends to reawaken themselves and repent, as Scripture says: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of every man, and the living should take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes, 7:2). And if, God forbid, people are not awakened to repent, it is cause for concern. Thus, the Sages say: “When one of a group dies, the whole group should fear” (Shabbat 106a).
Certainly, then, when a member of our circle, the settlers, is sacrificed in the sanctification of God’s name and recalled to the heavenly academy, we must make a special effort to eulogize them and bind their private live with the sanctity of the Clal (the collective).
On The Sanctification of God’s Name
A martyr, someone murdered while sanctifying God’s name, because he or she was a Jew, occupies such an exalted position in the next world that they are beyond the reach of any created being (see, Pesachim 50a). To the human eye, it seems that the lives of the murdered were diminished and cut short, but in truth, in the eternal world, they are more alive than all others. They are kedoshim, holy, and “kadosh le’olam kayam” (the holy endures forever) (Sanhedrin 92a). All the more so when it comes to a woman who devoted so much of her life settling Eretz Yisrael, and who, in face of the claims of our enemies who oppose our right to make the wastelands of the Judean Hills bloom, built her home in Otniel. In the face of murderers who seek to annihilate us, threatening our lives inside our communities and on the roads stained with Jewish blood, she continued her blessed daily routine, raising a family and travelling to the hospital where she worked, displaying the strength to lovingly care for her household while being kindhearted and compassionate to every individual she encountered in her job. She did all this despite a profound awareness of the security risks involved, and of life’s travails.
Even as we shed tears over her memory, we must stand tall and make ourselves worthy of the great and awesome task we have undertaken: to fulfill the mitzva
of yishuv ha’aretz (settling Eretz Yisrael), a mitzvah equivalent to all other mitzvot; to enlarge and expand our communities to the extent possible; to fulfill, through our lives and actions, the words of the prophets; to enhance the quality of life in our communities, intensifying Torah study on Shabbat and weekdays for men and women, adults and children, and increasing acts of kindness within these communities, and towards all human beings.
As someone worthy of being a korban tzibur (communal offering), Dafna, may God avenge her blood, merited having all of Israel hear about her deeds, and shed tears in her memory. Thousands of pioneering settlers attended her funeral; distinguished rabbis and ministers spoke in her memory; and her body was carried on its final journey to eternal rest by rabbis, ministers, members of Knesset, and friends.
Testimony in Her Memory
My brother, Rabbi Yisrael Melamed, lives next-door to the Meir family. Based on what he told me, I have written some words in her memory.
Dafna was a member of the local board and often inspired the community to deal with safety and security flaws on the roads. Alongside the firm criticism that she asserted fearlessly, she made sure to finish each letter she wrote with a smile, an “emoji” of a large, beating heart, as a sign of friendship and love.
Dafna was an extremely professional nurse, and was happy to assist all who turned to her for help, free of charge. When injured children arrived at the hospital, she would deftly and skillfully stitch their wounds.
Dafna was an expert in the fields of female infertility and the treatment of difficulties in pregnancy. She had a method of contraception when required, and at times even contended with doctors and rabbis without fear or prejudice, personally fulfilling the Torah command “fear no one.” She believed that it was forbidden to spare the truth from enquirers.
Dafna worked as a nurse in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Soroka Medical Center. In order to take better care of immigrants from the Soviet Union she studied Russian. Recently, she had begun studying Arabic in order to take better care of Arab patients. Dr. Ahmed Nasser, who specializes in the department where she worked, mourned her death. He noted that it was a great privilege to have been acquainted with her, and that she even served as a mother figure for him.
Before marrying, she and her husband agreed that no matter how many children they beget, they would make an effort to adopt more. They merited to realize that dream astonishingly well.
In her personal life, Dafna experienced a great deal of suffering. She was raised in institutions and later by an adoptive family, and was able to successfully transform her difficulties and suffering into powers of creativity and chesed, lovingkindness.
‘Tree, Oh Tree, How Can I Bless You’?
Come see the difference between the Jewish nation and our enemies! Their martyrs are despicable murderers, destroyers and demolishers of the world; our martyrs – a compassionate nurse, kindhearted, engaged in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, and tikun olam (repairing the world)!
As we approach Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of Trees, it is fitting to bless her precious children that they follow in her path and be like her –their fruit should be as sweet, their shade as pleasant. May they remain firmly rooted upon the banks of rivers – the Torah and mitzvot – adding blessing to the world.
Mitzvot of the Land – Orlah and Tu B’Shvat
In continuation, I will now discuss mitzvot ha’teluyot ba’aretz (those that are dependent on the land) and concern Tu B’Shvat – the mitzva of ‘orlah‘ (fruits grown in the first three years of a tree), seeing as the end of three years of ‘orlah‘ fall on Tu B’Shvat (according to the shita of ReZaH, Tosephot, Rashba, and others).
The shita of the machmerim (stringent) is that the years of ‘orlah’ always end on Tu B’Shvat. The calculation is complex, and this is not the place to elaborate in detail, but in general: If a tree has taken root in the ground from the 29th of Av, then until the 1st of Tishrei, thirty days will have passed, and those thirty days are considered as a full year. Afterwards, one must wait another two years until the end of the three years; since the New Year for Trees is Tu B’Shvat, one must wait until then, because the fruits that ripen before Tu B’Shvat, ripened by virtue of rains from the previous year, when the tree was still ‘orlah‘. Therefore, in practice, the din of orlah applies to a tree for two years and five and a half months.
But if the tree has taken root in the soil from the 30th of Av onwards, since it did not accrue thirty days until the 1st of Tishrei, only on the 1st of Tishrei will the counting of the first year begin, and one will have to wait three whole years. Since the New Year for Trees is Tu B’Shvat, one will have to wait a few more months until then. Consequently, if a tree took root in the ground on the 30th of Av, the din of orlah applies for three years and five and a half months.
In chutz l’aretz (outside of Eretz Yisrael), the din of orlah is applies as a ‘halakha le’Moshe mi’Sinai’ (a Law to Moses from Sinai), but in any case of a safek (doubt), the halakha is to be meylkel (lenient), in contrast to Eretz Yisrael, where in a case of a safek, we are machmir.
The country’s borders in regards to mitzvot of orlah are the borders of olei Mitzrayim. And even according to those who are of the opinion that the southern Arava is beyond the border of olei Mitzrayim, since it is under Israeli rule, the Torah mitzva applies to it.
The Mitzvot of ‘Orlah’ and ‘Neta Revai’
It is a mitzva to refrain from enjoying the fruits of orlah, which are fruits grown in the first three years of a tree, and it is a mitzva to bring the fruits grown in the fourth year up to Jerusalem and eat them in holiness and with praise to God, and as a result, blessings will carry on to the fruits that grow from the fifth year onwards (Leviticus 19:23-25). Today, when we are unable to eat the fruit of the fourth year in purity near the altar in Jerusalem, all fruits are redeemed on a pruta, and thus, the fruits become chulin.
The meaning of the word orlah is to be sealed, such as an arel lev, or someone whose heart is impervious (Ezekiel 44:9). In other words, we are commanded that fruits of the first three years be sealed-off to us, and not be eaten or enjoyed.
The ta’am (reason) for the mitzva is to honor God with the first fruits of the tree, to eat them in kedusha (holiness) in Jerusalem, and through them, praise God for all the good he has bestowed upon us. And since in general the fruit grown in the first three years are not plentiful and the choicest, it is not fitting to praise God with them, and therefore, the Torah forbade them so that our first eating be in holiness and praise to God in the fourth year in which the fruit have already begun growing abundantly and finely. And as a result, God’s pleasantness and blessing will extend to the fruit that grows in the future years; their consumption will be coupled with emunah (faith); and will provide vitality and blessing in the world. Similarly, we find that the Torah commanded us to sanctify man’s firstborn, the firstborn of beast, and the first fruits. This is also the reason for mitzvot of terumah, challah, and reishit ha’gez (see, Ramban, ibid; Chinuch 246-247).
The Mitzva of Orlah Teaches Us the Importance of Restraint
The ability to resist temptation and defer satisfying one’s desires until the appropriate time, is a prerequisite for a person’s success in this world and the World to Come. For example, it is well-known that someone who learns diligently in his youth, will be more successful in his personal life and livelihood. Nevertheless, many young people are unable to resist temptations, are dragged after their tendencies, and waste their time with various distractions. Similarly, it is also known that friendships between young men and women for reasons other than marriage damage their ability to get married and establish a faithful and loving home, and yet, many of them are unable to resist and are dragged after their urges into stormy relationships that do not lead to a true marital covenant. And then there are people who incapable of resisting, and waste their money on luxuries, such as buying an expensive apartment for more than they can afford. As a result, they are unable to save money to marry off their children, help them learn a trade, and sustain themselves in their old age.
Adam HaRishon was also dragged after his inclination, and sinned by not being able to resist, ate from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, and caused death to himself and his descendants. By means of the mitzva of orlah, man learns to see his fruits grow, and to refrain from enjoying them; at the same time, he learns to overcome his desires and resist. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “Who will uncover the dust from your eyes, Adam HaRishon, for you were unable to endure your command for one hour, but behold, your sons wait for orlah three years” (Vayikra Rabba 25:2; see also, Beitza 25b).
We should learn from this mitzva educational guidance for our children, that they must learn to resist temptations in order to build-up their strengths in the light of Torah, and not depart from it while they are still undeveloped; only after their capabilities have matured properly should they set out to function in the world.
And from the mitzva of neta revai we can learn that after a person has graduated and has a profession, the beginning of his work should be l’shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven); thereby, one will be able to continue working at his job, warranting blessing in this world, and the next.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://en.yhb.org.il/