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Rabbi Yonah Bookstein

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Celebrating Tu Bisvhat, The Jewish New Year For The Trees, With A Kabbalistic Seder

Posted: 02/ 7/2012 2:11 pm

Before there was Earth Day, the Jewish people introduced an "Earth Day" of the full moon of the Jewish month of Shevat.

Called Tu Bishvat, the 15th of Shevat, it marks the time of year in Israel when sap begins to flow, giving new life to the trees. Awareness of our dependence on the environment, as represented by Tu Bishvat and other Jewish laws, is an underlying theme in Jewish law and customs all the way to ancient time.

This year, Tu Bishvat, also called by the Mishna the New Year for the trees, falls on Tuesday night, Feb. 7.

In the 16th century, the kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat and his disciples created a new ritual called the Tu Bishvat Seder, based on the Passover Seder. The Tu Bishvat Seder created an order of eating fruits with specific properties, and many that are indigenous to Israel. (Download a PDF of the Seder below.)

Each fruit eaten during the ceremony corresponds a kabbalistic spiritual level: Asiah, the world of action; Yetzirah, the world of formation; Briah, the world of creation; and Atzilut, the world of emanation and Godliness.

Kabbalist's believe that eating 12 specific fruits and drinking four cups of wine in a specific order while reciting the appropriate blessings would bring human beings, and the world, closer to spiritual perfection. (View the slideshow and the Tu Bishvat Seder guide (PDF) for more on this.)

The Talmud discuses the importance of Tu Bishvat holiday to the redemption of the world:

Rabbi Abba taught: There is no more revealed redemption -- no greater indication of the impending redemption -- than that which the verse (Ezekiel 36:8) states: "And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for my people Israel, for they shall soon come.

The medieval commentary Rashi explains: When the Land of Israel will give fruit bountifully, this is an indication of the impending redemption, and there is no greater indication than this.

Tu Bisvhat is considered an important day to learn and spread the inner dimension of Torah, wherein is found, according to the Seder, "the greatest sweetness and pleasure of Torah." The fact that the full moon coincides with Tu Bishvat reflects "the fullness and joy of Tu Bishvat."

One can also draw a lesson on spiritual and personal growth from Tu Bishvat. Just as a tree is constantly growing so must we. A tree produces fruit and so must we. On Tu Bishvat we must renew personal growth, just as the trees on Tu Bishvat begin to draw moisture from the earth.

I have compiled a comprehensive and easy-to-use Seder for a kabbalistic interpretation and celebration of the holiday, which can be downloaded here as a PDF.

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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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