“Like Snow Falling on Citrus- A Tu B’Shvat Message” from Rabbi Davis

February 1, 2013 / 21 Shevat 5773

Like Snow Falling on Citrus

Once, the Baal Shem Tov (the 18th century founder of Hasidism known at the “Besht”) was traveling during the winter in Russia with his close disciple, Rabbi Moshe Shoham. Since the country roads in Russia were covered with snow, they travelled by sleigh.

As they travelled, they suddenly remembered that it was Tu B’shvat and they had no fruit with which to celebrate the holiday. So the Besht told his wagon driver to drive the sleigh off the main road and into the fields.

They went for a short distance and came upon an orchard of oranges that was not only clear of snow, it was tropical! While an orange grove must have been quite a sight in the dead of a Russian winter, Reb Moshe hardly thought anything of it. Being often in the company of the Besht, he was used to seeing wonders.

The two rabbis got of the sleigh and immediately picked some of the oranges. Together, they joyfully recited the blessings to celebrate the Tu B’shvat. Before they left, Reb Moshe picked a few oranges and put them in his pockets for later.

They got onto the sleigh and resumed their journey. When they reached the main road, the Baal Shem Tov announced that he wanted to rest briefly before continuing.  Reb Moshe immediately decided to take the opportunity and return to the orchard to pick a few more oranges. He followed the tracks to the field, but when he reached it, there was no orchard!  And the oranges in his pocket had also disappeared!

Upon returning to the sleigh, Reb Moshe asked the Baal Shem Tov what happened to the orchard.  The Besht told him, “When I felt unhappy about having no fruit and not being able to celebrate Tu B’shvat, I brought– by mystical means– an orchard here from the Land of Israel. But since my kavannah (intention) was to perform a mitzvah–not to enjoy for personal benefit–the orchard and the extra fruit you had taken disappeared after I fulfilled the mitzvah.”

The Baal Shem Tov’s intention is clear, but what is our motivation for doing mitzvot? To secure a place in the World-to-Come? To receive a reward in this world? To feel good? Because we are commanded to do so?

Recently, I asked one of our Yad V’Lev committee members why she volunteered to bring chicken soup to a fellow congregant who was ill?  Was it to gain his favor?  No, she didn’t even know the man. Was it to ensure that he’d return the favor? No, that hardly seemed likely. So why did she give of herself? “Because it’s a mitzvah,” she answered matter-of-factly. “Because it strengthens our community and it’s the right thing to do.”

The volunteer like the Besht, reminds us that when our motivations are pure, we free ourselves from a selfishness that says, “I’ll give only if I get,” or “what’s in it for me?”  But when we act solely for personal gain or for some ulterior motive, the orchard disappears.

At this point in our Minnesota winter, I could use a touch of the tropics. I suppose that I could fly to Florida for an orange grove. But there is a way to enter a garden paradise here, in our snow-covered state. And it is not a mirage or a miracle. It’s a mitzvah. Like the Besht, we can delight on our journey through winter, finding refreshment and renewal when we pause and enter the orchard of mitzvot and pure intentions.


This winter, let Beth El be your orchard. From classes to concerts, shpiels to speakers, we have a full calendar of events and many opportunities to perform mitzvot. I invite you to come in, take off your coat and feast on the learning, the spirituality and the fun!