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Tu Bishvat 2012: Environmental Jewish Holiday Celebrates Mystical Fruit

First Posted: 02/07/2012 6:15 pm EST Updated: 02/07/2012 6:15 pm EST

Early February, when branches are bare, may not seem like the best time to celebrate trees. Nonetheless, Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, is observed this year at sundown on Feb. 7.

While Jews increasingly focus on the environmental aspects of the holiday, one Tu Bishvat ritual adds mystical meaning to the day: the kabbalistic seder.

The structure of the Tu Bishvat Seder, modeled after the ritualized Passover meal, is not set in stone. Still, it is firmly rooted in the Jewish mystical tradition. Most seders will include one or both of the following: praise for the seven species of fruit mentioned in the Torah and four glasses of wine paired with four fruit types.

In Deuteronomy 8:8, the Torah praises the land of Israel for its native species: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. A Tu Bishvat seder will likely include readings of rabbinic commentaries about these fruits.

The other common practice is based on the four glasses of wine. Each glass -- matched to a type of fruit -- mirrors one of the four spiritual/mystical realms of divine creation.

View the slideshow below for an explanation of the fruits that correspond to this mystical structure.

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  • Olive

    The Sages taught: "Just as olive oil brings light into the world, so do the Jewish People bring light into the world" (Midrash Shir HaShirim Raba 1:2). The blessing over olives: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Date

    "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree" (Psalms 92:13). The righteous are fruitful and sweet, just like a date palm. The blessing for dates: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Grapes

    "Just as a vine has large and small clusters and the large ones hang lower, so too the Jewish people: Whoever labors in Torah and is greater in Torah, seems lower than his fellow [due to his humility]" (Midrash Vayikra Raba 36:2). The blessing over grapes: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree." (Photo credit: HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Figs

    Rabbi Yochanan said: "What is the meaning of 'He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit'? (Proverbs 27:18) Why is the Torah compared to a fruit tree? Figs on a tree do not ripen all at once, but a little each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs he finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds" (Talmud Eruvin 54a). The blessing for figs: <em>Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Pomegranate

    "Even the most unidentified of Jews are as full of merit as a pomegranate is pips" (Song of Songs 4:4, 6:7). The blessing over pomegranates: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree." (Photo credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Coconut

    In the Tu Bishvat Seder, four different categories of fruit are eaten. Each of these fruits also corresponds to four spiritual realms, spiritual worlds. Each level becomes more spiritually refined and connected to the Creator. As we eat, we elevate the fruits -- and ourselves -- through the various levels, rising higher and higher. The World of Action (<em>Assiyah</em>), a realm where evil exerts a powerful attraction, is represented by those fruits that are enclosed in a totally inedible protective shell. The blessing over coconut: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Chestnut

    Meditation: As you toss away the peels and shells, you are peeling way the effects of evil in our lives. Peel away the materialism that prevents our spiritual growth. The blessing over chestnuts: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Mango

    The World of Formation (<em>Yetzirah</em>) is a lower level of purity and is represented by those fruits of which all is eaten except for a pit on the inside. The blessing over mango: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Apple

    The World of Creation (<em>Beriah</em>) is far removed from the realm of impurity and is represented by those fruits that are wholly edible. This is the highest level in the created world. <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Pear

    Meditation: Sowing seeds are also like the fulfillment of good deeds. Once a seed is planted, it breaks apart and releases growth potential. In other words, it ceases to be what it was and becomes something greater. When a Jew fulfills a mitzvah, it is because God has commanded him to do so. He lets go of his ego and his inclinations and becomes something greater than he was before. The blessing over pears: <em>Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Citrus

    The World of Emanation (<em>Atzilut</em>) is too purely divine to have physical representation. Instead we rely on fragrance. We pray on Tu Bishvat, when all the trees are judged, that God should make available for us a kosher and especially beautiful <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etrog" target="_hplink">etrog</a> in time for Sukkot. The blessing for smelling fragrant fruit: <em>Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam boreh minei besamim.</em> "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe Who creates different types of spices."

  • Ugli

    Meditation: Think about being alone among the trees and grass, among all growing things, and praying, talking, to God. Imagine expressing everything in your heart in prayer. Imagine pouring out the words of your heart before God like water. The blessing over an <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugli_fruit" target="_hplink">ugli</a>: <em>Baruch atah adonai, elohainu melech ha-olam, boray peri ha-etz. </em> "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree."

  • Pomelo

    A special blessing may be said over a seasonal or other fruit on the table that one has not tasted in at least a year: <em>Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha-olam, she'hechiyanu v'kiyimanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.</em> "Blessed are You God, Creator of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season."

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Filed by Josh Fleet  |