Alternative Tu Bishvat Seder Guide
Tu B'Shvat marks the end of the season of major rain (Rosh Hashana 14a) and the beginning of the rising of the sap in trees (Rashi). The seder, an ordered ritual, was first conducted by the Kabbalists of Safed in the 16th century. It was modeled after the Passover seder and was called a tikkun, a repairing of the world. The tikkun provided a ritualistic means by which to celebrate this change in season from major rain to the delicate time of re-emergence and growth. The Kabbalists drank four cups of wine, each one redder than its predecessor, symbolizing the gradual awakening from slumber and the growth and ripening of the fruits. Each glass of wine is a praise of God and a movement toward spring. It is as if with each glass we actually feel the awakening of the earth and of a partnership that has long been slumbering within us. The foods that they partook in represented the variety of species (at least seven) found in Israel. Each food in itself was a metaphor for the physical and spiritual realm of existence.
"And there are four new year dates: - The first of Nissan - new year for kings and festivals - The first of Elul - new year for animal tithes. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishrei. The first of Tishrei- new year for calculation of the calendar, sabbatical years and jubilees, for planting and sowing - The first of Shvat - new year for trees, according to the school of Shamai; The school of Hillel says: the fifteenth of Shvat." (Mishna "Rosh Hashanah", 1:1)
Atzilut: Divine Emanation - The First Cup
The Seder symbolizes our development from the highest of the Kabbalistic world, that of Divine emanation, Atzilut, in which the infinite and transcendent God dwells, to the lowest world of our existence, the physical world. In the world of atzilut, there is communication only through music. We do not require physical sustenance in food, instead we rejoice in drink alone.
As we prepare to drink our first cup of wine, we remember that nature has been asleep, awaiting the springtime of its rebirth. We lift our cups filled with white wine symbolizing winter and silence.
Recite the following blessing:
Alternatively you could use Marcia Falk's feminist prayer
Briah: Creation - The Second Cup
Pour red wine into the white and read the following:
We add red wine to our "winter white" wine and watch it begin to flow with the blood of life. This touch of red in our second cup warms the white: just as the sunlight begins to warm the frozen earth at this time of year. We move from the Divine purity of atzilut into the physical, created world. The spark of life travels further away from its source and brings the universe into being. The natural world is created first, then humankind, then Israel. We are close to God as humans can be…
We eat fruit that can be eaten whole, with no interfering shell, husk or pit, inside or out.
Yetzirah: Formation - The Third Cup
Pour more red wine into your white wine and read the following:
After the matter of earth is created in the stage of briah, it is molded and shaped to form a being; the way that the first human (adam) is created from clay of the earth. We drink a cup of wine that is half red and half white. We move further and further away from the purity of Divine emanation into the blood-red vitality of the real world. The fruits we eat have pits or seeds inside them reminding us that our creativity flows for a Divine source within each of us. As we bite into these fleshy fruits and find the pits inside, we hope to look inward and bring our creative expression forward in song, dance, and poetry. The inedible pit of fruit is also a reminder of how we are tied to the cycles of the earth. We return this impenetrable substance as a seed of cultivation to the earth (adamah), and watch it take root and renew itself.
Asiyah: Action - The Fourth Cup
Pour a cup of purely red wine and read the following
The fourth world is asiyah, the world of physical creating - of transforming the natural world. We can now celebrate nature and partake in the joys of rebirth. At this point, we drink a cup of red wine, symbolizing the concrete, vital flourishing world of nature and action. In this cup we see the beauty of spring, the colors of new buds and new leaves and we think that although this may be momentary, we can look forward to the same rebirth year after year.
Asiyah is symbolized by fruits with a hard inedible shell and an edible core. Like fruit and nuts, the world of asiyah is characterized by thick shells. The challenge of this existence is to break through these shells to free the sparks inside.
Suggested Questions for Discussion
In the stage of asiyah, the fruits that we eat could reflect the way that human beings approach nature; we are covered by a thick skin marking us as separate and distinct from our surroundings, and some of us doubt that within us lies the Divine spark which connects us to the natural world outside.
What are the benefits and drawbacks to such an approach? Most of our lives we, as creative beings exercise our mastery over the earth, following the biblical mandate to "subdue [the earth]" (Genesis 1:28) at what point should mastery over the earth be tempered by having the earth guide us?
If possible, give each student some seeds and soil, or better still, do this planting outside in a garden. As each woman plants her seeds, she invests each seed with something that she would like to see grow and blossom in the coming year, e.g. planting new hopes for a job or a relationship, or anything else. Encourage the participants to share their thoughts about what they planted.
Alternatively, if you do not have access to the equipment needed for this exercise, ask each woman to draw a tree on a piece of paper and by using the branches, write the hopes that she would like see to take root and grow in the coming year.
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