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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