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Kabbalistic Tu B’shvat Seder

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In the 16th century, the Kabbalists of Tzfat compiled a Tu B’Shvat seder, somewhat similar to the seder for Passover. It involves enjoying the fruits of the tree, particularly those native to the Land of Israel, and discusses philosophical and Kabbalistic concepts associated with the day. Among other things, the seder is a great way to appreciate the bounty that we so often take for granted, and to develop a good and generous eye for the world around us.

On Tu B’Shvat, you can ponder a world-full of fruits for hours.

– Copyrighted material used with permission from A Person is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat, by Yitzhak Buxbaum (Jason Aronson Inc.), available from www.bn.com.

(1) INTRODUCTION

Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for the Trees. As in all other points in the Jewish calendar, Tu B’Shvat offers a unique opportunity for insight into living and personal growth. Throughout the centuries, Kabbalists have used the tree as a metaphor to understand God’s relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his 18th century classic The Way of God, teaches that the higher spiritual realms are roots that ultimately manifest their influence through branches and leaves in the lower realms.

In the 16th century, the Kabbalists of Tzfat compiled a Tu B’Shvat seder, somewhat similar to the seder for Passover. It involves enjoying the fruits of the tree, particularly those native to the Land of Israel, and discusses philosophical and Kabbalistic concepts associated with the day. Among other things, the seder is a great way to appreciate the bounty that we so often take for granted, and to develop a good and generous eye for the world around us.

The seder presented here is based primarily on the Kabbalistic work, Chemdat Yamim, later published separately under the title Pri Aitz Hadar.

PREPARATIONS

To enjoy this experience in your own home, try to prepare the basic items mentioned below. Don’t worry if you can’t find all these items; do the best you can. Since the order and the contents of the seder do not follow a specific Jewish law, there is much room for flexibility and creativity.

You will need lots of fruit, including:

a. The seven species by which the Land of Israel is praised:

a. Figs

b. Dates

c. Pomegranates

d. Olives

e. Grapes(or raisins)

f. wheat and barley (in the form of bread, cake or cereal)

b. Various nuts with the shells (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, coconut), and fruits with peels (oranges, pomegranates, avocado)

c. Other fruits with edible seeds (e.g. blueberries)

d. Other fruits with inedible pits (e.g. peaches, plums)

e. Wine or grape juice, both white and red

f. charity box

Important note: Since insects are not kosher, check your fruits to make sure they are bug-free. Bugs are especially common in figs, dates, and dried apricots. To check, split the fruit in half and look carefully before eating.

(2) THE SEDER BEGINS

The leader asks:

Why do we celebrate the New Year for fruit trees on Tu B’Shvat?

All say:

Since the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people could no longer bring the First Fruits (Bikkurim) to Jerusalem. On Tu B’Shvat we offer instead the fruit of our lips, to praise God for all the fruit trees in the world.

A participant says:

Tu Bishvat marks a new period for taking tithes, a portion of which is given to the poor. Therefore:

When a person is privileged to eat in the presence of God, he must show his appreciation by giving charity to the poor and feeding them, just as God in His bounty feeds him. ( Zohar – Parshat Trumah)

At this point it is appropriate to pass around a ‘pushka’ to collect tzedakah. After the seder, the money should be donated to a worthy cause.

A participant says:

The Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashana says that Tu B’Shvat is New Year for the TREE (singular). This reference to a singular tree alludes to The Tree — the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

And God said: ‘Let the earth put forth grass, herb-yielding seeds, and fruit trees bearing fruit of its kind.’ ‘Fruit tree’ means the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which put forth blossoms and fruit. ‘Bearing fruit’ is the tzaddik, the basis of the world. ‘Of its kind’ means all the human beings who have in them the spirit of holiness, which is the blossom of that tree. This is the covenant of holiness, the covenant of peace — and the faithful enter into that kind and do not depart from it. The Tzaddik generates, and the tree conceives and brings forth fruit of its kind. ( Zohar – Bereishit 33a)

Meditation:

One should intend that he is eating at the celestial table before God, in the Garden of Eden before the Divine Presence. ( Raishit Chochma — Shar HaKedusha)

Take a few moments and think deeply about being in the company of God… sitting at His table… experiencing the sublime spiritual pleasure of a relationship with the Creator Himself.

Discussion questions:

A) When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they were permitted to eat only fruits and vegetables. Only after Noah’s Flood did God permit meat. In what ways is it considered spiritually higher to eat meat? And in what ways is it considered spiritually higher to be a vegetarian?

B) There were two trees in the center of the Garden: the Tree of Life (representing Torah and eternal life) and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (representing death and distortion). Another way of expressing this distinction is that the Tree of Life is objective wisdom, while the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is personal experience. Why would Adam and Eve have chosen to eat from the latter, especially since God had explicitly instructed them not to?

A participant says:

Man’s very name — Adam — is derived from the word Earth, adama. While man is at once the pinnacle of creation, the master and caretaker of the world, he is also dependent on the earth for his most basic needs. The Torah, in outlining the negative commandment of destroying fruit trees, refers to man himself as a tree of the field (Deut. 20:19). Our sages learn from this verse a prohibition against any needless destruction. In other words, fruit trees serve as the archetype for man’s relationship and responsibility to his environment.

It was through a mistake in eating fruit that caused Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. Eating fruit is a metaphor for our interaction with this world. Correct usage leads to a perfected world and spiritual bliss. Misuse leads to destruction and spiritual degradation. The seder of Tu B’Shvat is our opportunity to rectify the past iniquity and return once again to our rightful place within the Garden.

All say:

Adam and Eve erred by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. To correct this mistake, we eat our fruit today with pure intentions, as if from the Tree of Life.

A participant says:

Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote:

My teacher [the holy Arizal] used to say that one must intend while eating the fruits [at the Tu B’Shvat Seder] to repair the sin of Adam who erred by eating fruit from the tree.

Partaking in the physical world inappropriately, for its own sake, lowers us spiritually and diminishes our enjoyment. The solution is to engage in the physical world as a means to a worthy end — i.e. appreciating the greatness of God who created all. (Aish.com)

(To Be Continued)

Yitzhak Buxbaum

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