Can you be called a “religious” Jew if you do not celebrate Tu B’Shvat ? jokingly asked Reb Shlomo Carbebach. For too many us — we take Tu B‘Shvat for granted — eating some fruit, planting a tree or going on a tiyiul. What Reb Shlomo really implied is that we need to be more sensitive — to take notice of nature and the gift that Hashem has given us. In the depth of winter, when the trees are without leaves and almost look dead, it is a time for introspection and growth. Tu B’Shvat represents a strong connection to the Land, to Eretz Yisrael. At this time when our enemies wish to destroy us, we can be become despaired. But there is the always hope.
I want to bring a few ideas from Rabbi Arieh Trugman, who brings the following idea. According to tradition, the sap of the tree begins to once again ascend in the trees on Tu B’Shvat. This sap is the life force that culminates in the spring and summer with buds, leaves, and fruit. Therefore, on a symbolic level, Tu B’Shvat represents the time when new redemptive energy begins to well up from beneath the surface. This understanding of the holiday, incidentally, provides an answer to the perennial question of why we read the story of the ten plagues and the exodus from Egypt in the winter and not in the spring at Pesach time: Tu B’Shvat actually symbolizes the flow of redemptive energies instrumental in the Pesach story.
This welling up of redemptive energy is reflected in the consecutive cycle of three holidays that fall on the full moons’ of Shevat, Adar, and Nisan. These holidays — Tu B’Shvat, Shushan Purim (the additional day of Purim celebrated in walled cities), and the first day of Pesach — symbolize both the transition of winter into spring and the welling up of the forces of redemption. The Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt and transition from slavery to freedom is analogous to nature’s transition from hibernation and inaction to rebirth and rejuvenation. The sap rising in the trees on Tu B’Shvat represents the beginning of the redemptive process that climaxed in the Jews’ personal and national redemption from the narrow confines of Egypt on Pesach. Therefore, from a deeper perspective, it is no surprise that this portion is always read around Tu B’Shvat, for in this portion Israel is redeemed from slavery and leaves Egypt.
Another connection between Tu B’Shvat, Purim, and Pesach is that the drinking of wine is central to all of them. The Tu B’Shvat seder, created by the Safed Kabbalists, is organized around drinking four cups of wine, just like the Pesach seder. Drinking wine is also central to the festivities on Purim. Indeed, the Talmud states that “when wine goes in — the secret [sod] comes out” (Eruvin 65a). This connection between wine (yayin) and sod is also reflected in both Hebrew words having the numerical value of seventy (a number also alluded to by the seventy date palms mentioned above.) Delving into the inner dimensions of Torah on these holidays, a process aided by the drinking of wine reveals deep concealed secrets and releases redemptive energy into the world, just as the sap rising in the trees on Tu B’Shvat culminates in new growth and life.
As mentioned, there is custom from the 1600s started by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Tzfat and his disciples to have a Tu B’Shvat Seder. The first published version is called Pri Eitz Hadar, which means “the Fruit of the Beautiful Tree.” Unfortunately, this is not that widespread to have these Seders today . For those in Jerusalem, Rabbi Trugman is hosting a Seder this Sunday January 24th @ 7:30pm at Kol Rina, 26 Beer Sheva Street , Nachlaot, Jerusalem.