Tomorrow night, like millions of others, I will sit at a Tu b’Shevat seder in Jerusalem. But this year, I refuse to eat dried fruits. Why?
Our ancestors for generations dreamt and prayed to eat the fruits of the Land of Israel but, living throughout the vast expanses of our exile, they were denied this privilege. Outside of the land, spread far and wide, getting the fruits of the land to such distant locations as Poland or France or America or Russia or India or Morocco necessitated a tremendous journey and often extreme changes in climate.
Some Jewish communities had never even seen palm trees, or pomegranate trees, or fig trees, let alone tasted of them. In such a reality, the fruits assumed almost mythological proportions, existing only in legends, prayer books, and Biblical stories.
So what was the solution? The fruits of the land of Israel were processed, dried, packaged, and preserved for the long journey to the far reaches of the earth. By drying the fruits, the Jews of the world were granted a small, processed taste of what used to be, a trifling remnant of where we once came from, all the better to awaken collective nostalgia and yearning. By tasting of the dried fruits, the dream of what could once again be, the hope of where we were going, was made a little more real.
Yet as we sit in Jerusalem and across the Land of Israel today, we continue to eat dried fruits when there is no further reason to do so. Today, it is our duty to eat the fresh fruits of the land.
So why do we still insist upon eating dried fruits, as though we remain in a faraway Polish shtetl? While we are today physically in a different place, there is a change in mentality that we have yet to undergo. This transformation beckons us, waiting for us to recognize and internalize where in history we stand today.
Today we are at a remarkable moment in history of our people. Two millennia ago, our great national culture and civilization went into exile, and was consciously morphed into a compact and portable religion. Our national existence disappeared as we were removed from the stage of world history, leaving the only platform upon which we might experience ourselves to be the individual or community.
Like the dried fruits themselves, our civilization, all of its ways of life, and the entirety of its spiritual teachings, were preserved within what is known as the arba amot shel halacha (the four cubits of Jewish law). Everything we once were, our ideas about Man and the world and purpose and justice and history, plus all of our aspirations and dreams for the future, were inserted, as it were, into a bottle of preservatives, safe to roam the world. Our people’s unique takes on law, agriculture, politics, economics, international relations, and universal rights and obligations was shoved like a genie into a bottle, waiting to one day be opened. But this state of affairs was always viewed as temporary, in anticipation of a time when our civilization might reemerge and reach “old-new” heights.
And who can deny that the time has come to open the bottle? We are at a point in history where we no longer need to be drying and preserving the fruits of the land. We have returned to national existence and have been reinstated on the stage of the nations of the world. These spheres of life, long forgotten, are once again real and strikingly relevant. It is time that we realize where we are in history, return to our authentic identity, and begin once again to eat of the real and fresh fruits of the land.
Indeed it may be easier to continue along the same old lines, to deny our new reality, to continue in our old habits, to refuse to change mentality — in a word, to continue eating dried fruit. Yes, we can continue eating dried fruits in memory of the “distant Land of Israel” while raising our children in the cradle of Jewish civilization, in the hills of Jerusalem and Judea, but is this really our ideal?
Alternatively, in this new year of the trees, we can allow ourselves to transform and to begin again, like the trees themselves, to stop drinking the waters of yesteryear and to begin drinking of the new waters rushing under the surface of the earth. This Tu b’Shevat we should recognize that the transition from winter to spring is now taking place, and we must embrace this historic change. It is time to stop eating dried fruits, both actually and metaphorically.