Watch an actual Tu B’Shvat Seder video: https://youtu.be/DG1P97Qq8OA
Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for the Trees ראש השנה לאילנות. As in all other points in the Jewish calendar, Tu B’Shvat ט”ו בשבט offers a unique opportunity for insight into our lives and personal growth. Throughout the centuries, Kabbalists have used “the tree” as a metaphor to understand G-d’s relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, in his 18th century classic The Way of God דרך ה’, teaches that the higher spiritual realms חלקי הבריאה 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 Pesach. It involves enjoying the fruits of the tree, especially those that are native to the Land of Israel (שבעת המינים), 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; including Eretz Yisrael. (Kabbalistic work, Chemdat Yamim, later published separately under the title Pri Eitz Hadar).
- The seven species by which the Land of Israel is praised:
- Wheat חיטה (in the form of cake, cracker, bread)
- Barley שעורה
- Olives זית
- Dates תמר
Grapes / Raisins)גפן
- Figs תאנה
- Pomegranates רימון
- Fruits with inedible pits (e.g. peaches, plums)
- Fruits with mostly inedible peels (pomegranates, apples, oranges, avocado).
- Fruits with edible seeds (e.g. blueberries)
- Various nuts with the shells (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts)
- Wine or grape juice (both White and Red)
Why do we celebrate the New Year for fruit trees ראש השנה לאילנות , on Tu B’Shvat?
Since the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, the Jewish people can no longer bring the First Fruits (ביכורים) to Yerushalayim. On Tu B’Shvat, we offer instead the fruit of our lips, to praise G-d for all the fruit trees in the world and in Eretz Yisrael.
The secret of “blessing” , retrieves the sparks from impurity to holiness. The bracha prevents the divine sparks in the food from being appropriated by the evil forces and recycles them to the forces of קדושה. This is brought about by the mouth. We chew with 32 teeth (לב). This corresponds to the 32 times אלו-הים is mentioned in first section of בראשית and about מעשה בראשית. The 32 teeth which chew food that has been blessed, return the sparks of קדושה, correspond to these 32 holy names.
Tu B’Shvat marks a new period for taking Ma’aser מעשר)), a portion of which is given to the poor. Therefore:
When a person is privileged to eat in the presence of G-d, he must show his appreciation by giving charity to the poor and feeding them, just as G-d in His bounty feeds him ( Zohar, Parshas Terumah).
The Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashana (1:1) says that Tu B’Shvat is the New Year for the TREE (singular).
משנה ראש השנה א:א
באחד באלול ראש השנה למעשר בהמה. רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרים: באחד בתשרי. באחד בתשרי ראש השנה לשנים ולשמטין וליובלות, ולנטיעה ולירקות. באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן;כדברי בית שמאי. בית הלל אומרים: בחמישה עשר בו.
On the first of Elul, it’s the new year for ma’ser of animals. Rebbe Elazar and Rav Shimon say: that ma’ser of animals is on the first of Tishrei. On the first of Tishrei it’s the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) for Shemita and Yovel, for planting and fro vegetables. On the first of Shvat, it’s the new year (Rosh Hashanah) for the tree; according to Beis Shamai. Beis Hillel say: the new year for the tree is on the 15th of Shvat (Mishna Rosh HaShanah 1:1).
This reference to a singular tree alludes to “The Tree” – the Tree of Knowledge עץ הדעת in Gan Eden; or to the “tree” of the Kabalistic Sefiros.
זהר לג עמוד א, בראשית א:יא
ויאמר אלקים תדשא הארץ דשא עשב מזריע זרע עץ פרי עשה פרי למינו אשר זרעו בו על הארץ, ויהי כן:
And G-d 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 קדושה , 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 – Bereishis 33a)
One should intend that he is eating at the celestial table before G-d, in Gan Eden before the Divine Presence שכינה ( Raishis Chochma – Sha’ar HaKedusha).
Take a few moments and think deeply about being in the company of G-d. Sitting at His table, and experiencing the sublime spiritual pleasure of a relationship דביקות with the Creator Himself.
- A) When Adam and Chava were in Gan Eden, they were permitted to eat only fruits and vegetables. Only after Noah’s Flood did G-d 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?
- Rabbi Yosef Albo, author of Sefer ha-Ikkarim (“The Book of Principles”), understands G‑d’s instructions to Adam as an implication that the original G‑dly plan was that man should refrain from killing and eating meat. In his view, the killing of animals is a cruel and furious act, ingraining these negative traits in the human character; in addition, the meat of certain animals coarsens the heart and deadens its spiritual sensitivity. The people of the first generations mistook this, however, to mean that human and animal were equal, with equal expectations and standards. This led to the degeneration of society into violence and corruption—for if the human being is but another beast, then killing a man is the equivalent of killing an animal. It was this attitude and behavior which prompted G‑d to cleanse the world with the great flood.
- After the flood, G‑d laid down a new world order. People needed to recognize the moral obligations and divine purpose entrusted to humankind. To make this clear, G‑d told Noah that humankind can—indeed, must—eat the flesh of animals. Our dominion over animals highlights our superiority, and reminds us that we are charged with divine responsibility to perfect the world. To minimize its negative effects on the human being, when the Torah was given, G‑d forbade the flesh of those animals that have a coarsening influence on the soul.
- Kabbalah teaches that creatures which are lower on the food chain originate on a level that is in fact higher. Their lofty origins enable them to journey forth to low and distant states, because a stronger source is capable of sending its offspring much further than a weaker source.
When we view the hierarchy from this perspective, we discover that the origin of the animals and vegetation is in fact higher than that of man. Man is not sustained by the food’s substance, but by G‑d’s energy within it, the spiritual origins contained within, which are indeed higher than he.
- When we eat with the intention to use the energy to further our uniquely human service of G‑d, we have lifted the food up. When a person performs a G‑dly deed—a deed which transcends his natural self—the food he eats is elevated along with him, and is reunited with its G‑dly source.
- According to Kabbalah, the characteristics of physical objects are a result of their source in the spiritual realms. Red meat, once a home to warm blood, is a mirror of its source in the spiritual element of fire—leaping flames, which correspond to a passionate yearning for a higher existence. In a realm where the primary dimension is a yearning for a truth beyond its current state, there is less focus on illuminating the current reality, which leaves much room for the failings of those standing on the sidelines. Therefore, the meat of luxury, standing on the periphery of mindful and focused eating, is much more likely to fail and drag down its consumer, instead of being elevated by him or her.
If, however, when eating the meat one maintains focus, and succeeds at converting and harnessing the meat to further his or her uniquely human service of G‑d, than the leaping flames inherent in the meat translate into a passionate love of G‑d, a much greater love than one could achieve through harnessing “cold” vegetation-based foods. (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Likkutei Torah, Behaaloscha 31d and Vezos Haberachah 97d).
- Noah emerged from the ark to a changed world, a world where everything has the creative ability to go beyond its natural state of being and to assume a much greater identity. A new era of earthly potential was born. The world was now a place where man could elevate the very nature of earth’s components to supernatural heights—and even elevate their power of enticement and pleasure as well. Now man was given the ability to eat even meat and elevate its energy.
- According to this approach, it may be cruel to not eat meat, because doing so robs the animal of its chance to serve a higher purpose.
B) There were two trees in the center of the Garden: the Tree of Life עץ החיים (representing Torah and eternal life) and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil עץ הדעת (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 experience prior to wisdom, especially since G-d had explicitly instructed them not to?
- Evil existed in the world before the first sin. Man’s mission is to separate the good from the bad. This is done by extracting sparks of holiness from the lowly physical elements of creation.
- Initially evil was something outside of man, it was in the serpent .נחשThus Adam was initially completely holy in a holy environment. Man would annihilate evil by rejecting it. He would redeem sparks of goodness, like a fruit is removed from its negative shell. This was the job of Adam to “work” and keep Gan Eden, to keep evil out and to only cultivate goodness.
- Chava and later Adam, were drawn to the unknown intimacy with all the realms of G-d’s creation; the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil עץ הדעת טוב ורע. By eating from the fruit of knowledge; evil which was external now entered mankind’s soul.
- Now we have an internal struggle of good and evil. We need to make choices of good and bad. Refine the unholy and make it sanctified.