Pesach comes and goes and I am sure that it has an impact on us all. But… so much work and so much upheaval and then, in a puff of time, it is gone. It seems a little unfair. After all, the preparations seem to take much longer than the actual Yom Tov! But, of course, we know in our heart of hearts that the real preparation is spiritual, and that it is supposed to carry us through this Pesach and all the way to next Pesach.
But, the month of Pesach — Nissan — is famous for something else as well. In Nissan we are commanded to make a beracha over the trees — “Birkat Ha’ilanot”. The beracha must be made over a fruit tree that has blossom on it, and one of the reasons it is recited in Nissan is because the month of Nissan is the time that the trees begin show some life after the bleak winter. In my more impetuous days I once asked the Bostoner Rebbe why it was that we make the beracha over budding trees and not over trees that are almost ready to be harvested andweighed down with luscious fruit. He told me that making the beracha over a fruit-laden tree is far too late. The essence of what we are doing is recognizing G-d’s blessings even when they are not so easy to see and utilizing those blessings to their fullest, so that, when the time comes, we too will proudly bear the fruits of our labors.
What is so important about Nissan? It is the beginning of the year, it is the beginning of the Jewish People and it contains our potential for the whole year to come — and,just like the fruit tree we have to grow and reach upwards to G-d and not let anything get in our way.
The Biala Rebbe often relates the story of how when he was a young child, he fled the Nazis together with his family, and eventually arrived in Siberia. There, the Communist prison guards attempted with all their might to prevent them from fulfilling mitzvot. Nevertheless, his father, the Chelkas Yehoshua, zatzal,constantly defied them. He smuggled in a Sefer Torah and some other sefarim, organized clandestine minyanim, and baked matzot from the meager flour rations they were granted. Once the Rebbeoverheard the guards saying to his father, "We see that we will never be able to influence you. You are old, and set in your ways. But your children will be ours, you will see." When the Chelkas Yehoshua heard this, he uttered a deep and terrible groan that resounded in his son's memory for many years to come. What was so terrible about what he had just heard? Because, as we all know, it is the children who represent the nascent beginnings of the next generation. They are the buds on the latest branch of the Jewish People. They haven't yet blossomed, they hadn't yet evolved into their final shape, but without them there is nothing.
Today, when the Biala Rebbeparticipates in the Bar Mitzvah celebrations of his grandchildren, he always retells this story, and makes a public declaration of gratitude to G-d for having protected him and allowed him to keep the Torah and pass it on to his children and grandchildren. When we realize what a precious gift the Torah is to us, and what a privilege it is for us to be G-d’s chosen nation, every moment of Torah study becomes that much more meaningful. The Torah is something our ancestors fought to preserve, uphold, and transmit to the next generation.
When I asked the Bostoner Rebbe about the beracha I fear that I was being a little flippant. But when he answered me he was being anything but. He was teaching me that being Jewish is all about the potential that is extant within every single one of us, and it is all about wanting nothing more than to draw out that potential. I think that's what Nissan and Birkat Ha’ilanot is all about. It is an acutely personal moment. Each person has to come to the realization and to verbally acknowledge that there is "nothing lacking in His world". What we are saying, in effect, is that we may not be able to see the blessing right now but that does not mean that it is not there. It is just “waiting to come to life" and to blossom and grow into something truly majestic.
If we can absorb and act upon the inspiring message that the Bostoner Rebbe is passing down to us we can raise ourselves to new levels of appreciation and awareness not just of what Nissan is supposed to mean, but of what every day of the year is supposed to mean. We can appreciate every word of Torah and every mitzvah that we learn and fulfill in our time-restricted schedules. We can appreciate every act of chesed kindness that we successfully achieve in a day that has no spaces in it. We can watch our spiritual buds begin to flower and mature into beautiful ripe fruit that will be a source of wonder to all who see it.