WUJS Haggadat Tu B'shvat
"Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with seed on it" (Bereshit 1:11)
"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 say: the fifteenth of Shvat." (Mishna "Rosh Hashanah", 1:1)
The First Cup of Wine
The first cup of wine is white. It represents the season of winter. Winter is a time when nature is asleep, the earth is barren, sometimes covered with snow.
A blessing may be recited over the first glass of wine - "Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-gafen".
The First Plate of Fruit
The first fruits are those with a hard inedible outer covering and a soft edible inside. These fruits remind us that the winter makes the ground hard, but life is underneath waiting to be reborn. A blessing may be recited over the first fruit eaten - "Ba-ruch ata A-do-nai El-o-hay-nu mel-ech ha-olam bo-ray pree ha-etz".
Tu B'shvat is the festival of the land of Israel. Jews have used the festival to remember their love for the land and the commandments that relate to it. It is a festival celebrating agriculture and nature's renewal; the festival of love for trees that reaches back to our distant roots as a people in the land of Israel. In the time of the Temples, Jews took yearly tithes from the fruit of its trees and gave it to the priests, the Levites, and to the poor.
Every year, in Jewish homes, festive tables are adorned with the fruits for which the land of Israel is legendary - raisins (or grapes) and nuts, figs and dates, olives, pomegranates, and the grains constituting the "seven species" of the land.
It is a festival that reminds us of our responsibility and debt to the land.
When you enter the Land of Israel you shall plant all kinds of trees for food ... (Lev.19:23) "Even if you find the land full of all good things, you should not say, 'We will sit and not plant;' rather, be diligent in planting! Just as you came and found trees planted by others, you must plant for your children; a person must not say, 'I am old, how many years will I live? Why should I get up and exert myself for others? I'm going to die tomorrow.' You must not excuse yourself from planting. As you found trees, plant more, even if you are old." (Midrash Tanhuma, Kedoshim)
G-d, from the very start of the creation of the world, was occupied before all else with planting: And first of all The L-rd G-d planted a garden in Eden (Gen. 2:8)
Therefore, when you are in the Land of Israel, occupy yourselves first and foremost with planting. Hence it is written, When you come into the land, you shall plant ... (Lev. 19:23)
(Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 25.3)
All his life, the righteous Honi the Circle-maker was troubled by this verse:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion - we were like dreamers (Ps. 126:1) He thought, "Can someone really dream for 70 years?!" Once Honi the Circle-maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi said: "You know a carob tree takes 70 years to bear fruit; are you so sure that you will live 70 years so as to eat from it?"
"I found this world provided with carob trees,:the man replied, "and as my forebears planted them for me, so will I plant for my offspring."
Honi then sat down to eat and was overcome with sleep. As he slept, a small cave formed around him, so that he was hidden. And thus he slept for 70 years.
When he awoke, he saw a man gathering carobs from that same tree, and eating them. "Do you know who planted this carob tree?" Honi asked. "My grandfather," the man replied. "I must have been like a dreamer for 70 years!" Honi exclaimed ...
(Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 23a)
If you have a sapling in your hand, and someone should say to you that the Messiah has come, stay and complete the planting, and then go welcome the Messiah. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan, 31) Not abusing the land is a recurrent theme:
"When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?" (Deuteronomy 20:19)
Whoever cuts down a food tree is flogged [39 times]. And not only during a siege: whenever a food tree is cut down with destructive intent, flogging is incurred. But it may be cut down when: it damages other trees; or it damages a field belonging to someone else; or its value for other purposes is greater [than that of its food yield].
The Torah forbids only wanton destruction. (The Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Book of Judges, Laws of Kings and Wars, 6.8)
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.
The Talmud explains that our forebearers planted trees to celebrate the birth of a child (a cedar tree for a boy, a cypress tree for a girl) and then used the branches of the trees to form the wedding canopy for the marriage celebration. (Gittin 57)
It is forbidden to live in a town where there are no gardens (Yerushalmi, 114)
The Second Cup of Wine:
The second cup is white wine with a bit of red mixed in. The snow melts, winter fades away and the earth starts to come alive again with spring.
The Second Plate of Fruit:
These fruits have an edible softer outer covering and a hard inedible inner core which symbolizes the ground slowly thawing out.
The idea of a seder Tu B'shvat originates with the Kabbalists of Tzfat in the 1500s. The Kabbalists interpreted the Torah and its commandments through secret methods of study. They gave the festival new rituals and meaning and observed "night ceremonies of rejoicing for trees", resembling, in some degree, the traditions of the Pesach seder. Family members would gather around the table, set with a white cloth and an abundance of flowers and fruit, as well as flasks of white and red wine. The ceremony would include, readings relating to fruit from the Torah,the Talmud and the Zohar (a major work of Kabbalah). Blessings would be recited over fruit-bearing trees.
The focus was to honour all of nature. The seder was a four part ceremony honouring the four worlds: Assiyah, Yetzirah, B'riyah, Atzilut (Earth, Water, Air, Fire). They ate and drank to represent one of the four kabbalistic worlds. Much focus was given to eating fruit.
Everything in the physical world is a metaphor for a deeper spiritual concept. Eating is to the body, what knowledge is to the soul. When we eat, we internalize the good part of the food - and through that we grow and develop. Similarly, when we learn a new piece of information, we must "chew it over," digest it, and integrate it into our very being. Only then can we truly grow in wisdom and spirituality.
Eating 12 different fruits is significant, since it corresponds to the 12 different arrangements of the four-letter ineffable name of God. Upon eating the 12th fruit, we recite the verse: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit each person under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Micah 3:3-4)
Eating 15 different fruits is also significant, since this is the numerical value of Yud-Heh, the Name of God which connects the physical to the spiritual, between this world and the next world. In the Holy Temple, the Levites would sing each of the 15 "Shir HaMa'alot" Psalms as they ascended each of the 15 steps.
Each life form, including fruit, is entrusted to a specific angel. By saying a blessing over a fruit, we empower that angel to reproduce more of that fruit. One who refrains from partaking of a fruit deprives the world of the spiritual influence that the blessing would have provided. (Chemdat Yamim)
The Talmud says that someone who eats and doesn't say a blessing is considered a thief. Why? Because every aspect of God's creation is inherently holy. So when one eats a piece of fruit, he is depriving the world of a piece of holiness. A blessing re-infuses the world with holiness. Eating without a blessing, however, lowers the level of holiness in the world without replacing the loss - and is regarded as theft.
(Maharal of Prague)
The Kabbalists also developed the idea of a tree of life, and use trees as a model for human behaviour. "Whoever has more wisdom than deeds is like a tree with many branches but few roots, and the wind shall tear him from the ground... Whoever has more deeds than wisdom is like a tree with more roots than branches, and no hurricane will uproot him from the spot."
(Mishnah, Tractate Avot, Ch.3, Mishnah 17)
A Tzaddik (righteous person) is often compared to a cedar tree. A cedar grows straight, its shade extends a great distance, just as a righteous person's good deeds help many others.
A tree grows simultaneously in two directions: it pushes its roots further into the ground while producing fruit above.
What is it seeking above? Light: below it seeks water. A tree which can perform these two actions simultaneously is a tree of life and its life will be blessed. If man is as the tree of the field - in the Kabbalah he is referred to as a "inverted tree", since he has roots and branches, but the roots are above and the branches below - and if his roots and branches are strong, then he will live eternal life. "I shall bring you an example of what this resembles. It is like a man, who wanders in the desert, weak with hunger, exhaustion and thirst, and finds a tree with sweet fruits and shady leaves, beneath which is a source of water. He eats the fruit, drinks the water and rests in the shade. When it comes time to leave, he thinks: "O, tree, how shall I thank you? If I say, "May your fruit be sweet" - they are already sweet; shall I say, "May your shade be beautiful?" - it is so; or, "May your roots find moisture?" - they already have it. So I shall say, "May everything which comes from you resemble you."
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta'anit, p.5)
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.
The Mishnah in Tractate Rosh Hashanah 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. "'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)
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. 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."
The Third Cup of Wine
The third cup of wine is red with a bit of white mixed in. In the summer, vegetables and fruits are abundant and , we are reminded of the richness of life.
The Third Plate of Fruit
These are soft edible fruits that allow us to recognise that the earth has come alive once again.
The early pioneers of the state of Israel were deeply motivated to renew the Jews' relationship with the land. They drained the swamps and made fruitful its wastes. With scant regard for the effort required, the enthusiasts cleared the hills of stones and planted forests. In the mosquito infested swamps they planted eucalyptus trees.
The first tree-planting Tu B'shvat ceremony of modern times was performed by the inhabitants of the Galilee in the 1880s. Tree planting became a symbol of return and of continuation and was emphasised until the founding of the state. Today tree planting has become a national celebration of Tu B'shvat, and after the festival is called Chag Hanetiot (Holiday of Planting).
On Tu B'shvat in 1949, Jerusalem was encircled by a "Forest of Defenders" in memory of those who fell in the War of Independence. The first tree in the forest was planted by then Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. The day also marked the beginning of the Knesset's first session, which is why the Knesset celebrates its own birthday on the fifteenth of Shvat (Tu B'Shvat).
The relationship with the land took on messianic proportions
We seek life, no more and no less, our own life, from our own life sources, from the nation of our land, for the subsistence of the body and the spirit. We come to our land to be imbedded in our natural soil from which we were uprooted: through our roots we draw sustenance from the earth, through our leaves to breathe nourishment from the winds and from the creative power that lies in the rays of light. Although the other nations living on their soil may live as they please, we who were torn up by the roots, must learn to know the soil, and to prepare it properly - this soil in which we stake our roots. We must know and understand the conditions of the climate in which we are to grow, to blossom, to bear fruit (A.D. Gordon, Nationalism and Socialism)
Make deep their roots and widen their crown that they may blossom forth into grace amongst all the trees in Israel, for good and for beauty. And strengthen the hands of all our bretheren, who toil to revive the sacred soil and make fruitful its wastes. Bless their might, and may the work of their hands find favour. (Blessing to be recited on planting trees, JNF.)
To plant a tree is to say:"I believe." I believe that we will overcome our problems. I believe that the world will get better. I believe that the day will come when, as the Bible says, everyone will be able to sit under his own fig tree and be unafraid. The many who fears that the world will end tomorrow, or next year, does not plant trees. (Jewish Agency.)
We have come up to the Land, we have tilled the soil and sown the seeds, but we have yet to harvest our crop. (Song of the pioneers.)
The concept of 'ge'ulat hakarka' (redeeming the land) embodies the Zionists' environmental goal of re-establishing fertile lands and beautiful landscapes. However, 'geulat hakarka' means not only the physical aspect of reclamation but also the spiritual reunification of the Jewish people with their homeland and the earth. There are no other historical analogies to such an interrelated process of environmental restoration and spiritual healing.
The re-engagement with the land inspired and captured many souls
'Artzie' (Rachel) Land of Mine,
I have never sung to you
Nor glorified your name
With heroic deeds
Or the spoils of battle
All I have done is plant a tree
On the silent shore of the Jordan
And my feet have trodden a path
Across the fields
This life, so close to nature, made a new person of me. I gained new confidence in myself and my abilities. I went everywhere on my own, confident that I could handle any situation (Sarah Malkin, Kibbutz founder.)
I was a worker, a farmer, a member of Degania (first kibbutz). And here I was confronted with passage from the life of a young girl to the life of a married woman. How should we celebrate this day?….It was also the time of the completion of the harvest……instead of a cloth 'chupah' we used sheaves of wheat. I, as the bride, felt that day a need to sanctify myself and the occasion through work, by working (the land), which is the core of our life, the basis of my personal revolution and that of all the young people in Palestine. (Miriam Baratz, founder of Kibbutz Degania.)
The Fourth Cup of Wine
The fourth cup of wine is red. In the Autumn, plants prepare seeds for the next cycle, the leaves of the trees turn colors and fall ... the cycle is continuing.
The Fourth Plate
We have enjoyed eating the three types of fruit, now let us enjoy the simplicity of the seeds, the lingering essence of the fruit.
"Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed - to you it shall be for food. (Bereishit 1:29)
G-d led Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, 'Look at my works. See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world - for if you do, there will be no-one to repair it after you.' (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.13)
In modern times we are being made acutely aware of our relationship with the environment. In many Jewish communities, Tu B'shvat has become an opportunity to reflect on it. Tu B'shvat can be regarded as a cry against the degredation of the environment. Many Jews, in the modern world, use the festival to explore our relationship our use of trees and other natural resources.
Since our tradition mandates the protection of the environment it would be fitting to expand the celebration of Tu B'Shevat to include activities promoting environmental issues. (Stephen Butterfass.)
If a person kills a tree before its time, it is like having murdered a soul (Nachman of Bratslav.)
Ten Modern Plagues (Judaism and Ecology, Haddasah)
Water Pollution, Air Pollution, Pesticides and other Agricultural Chemicals, Toxic Chemicals, Acid Rain, Global Warming, Ozone Destruction, Soil Erosion, Deforestation and at the Loss of Biological Diversity, and the Destruction of Habitat.
What can we do as a community to cultivate an authentically Jewish response to the environmental crisis, one that will contribute to our relationship with the earth as well as the renewal of Jewish life? We can revive the customs that celebrate the wonders of life and involve us in a caring relationship with creation. Both Judaism and ecological consciousness beckon us to acknowledge and act upon the recognition that there is something much larger than us at work in the universe. Learn about the place in which we live by becoming familiar with the creatures, plants, hydrology, and geology of our habitats. We must develop an understanding of the impact of human activity on the natural system of our cities, states and regions so that we can act as informed citizens. Such knowledge is also fundamental to the development of a commitment to protecting each strand in the fragile web of life, for we will only passionately protect love, and we can only love what we know.
How should we use resources?
Human beings have indeed become primarily tool-making animals, and the world is now a gigantic tool box for the satisfaction of their needs….(Avraham Heshel.)
The human capacity to destroy is tremendous, so we must be very careful in all our actions. The Jewish tradition provides us with a second principle, 'yishuv ha'aretz', the settling of the land, or in modern terms, sustainable development. This requires careful planning and consideration in the building of our social life, so that we may achieve a just, productive, healthy and sustainable society. (COEJL Hagaddah)
When Noah came out of the ark, He opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, 'Master of the world! If you destroyed Your world because of human sins or human fools, then why did you create them? One or the other you should do: either do not create the human being or do not destroy the world!….God answered him, 'Foolish shepherd, [before the flood] I lingered with you and spoke to you at length so that you would ask for mercy for the world! But as soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch your heart. You built the ark and saved yourself. Now that the world has been destroyed you open your mouth to utter questions and pleas!' (Zohar)
Ba'al Tashchit - The needless destruction of anything is wrong.
'This text [directly above] has become the most comprehensive warning to human beings not to misuse the position which God has given them as masters of the world and its matter by capricious, passionate or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction of anything on earth. Only for wise use has God laid the world at our feet' (Samuel Raphael Hirsh)
Are attitudes changing?
Would you believe that in Israel the almond trees are beginning to put forth their blossoms? White and tinged with pink, the trees make the valley of Israel come to life with the promise of spring. Years ago, the children in religious schools in America and in Israel made 'hashkediot' (almond branches) to celebrate the event. Cotton balls dipped in pink resembled the almond tree closely enough so that the children could celebrate Tu B'shvat, the festival of trees.
Today our children look to other ways to celebrate. A concern with the environment has made our trees even more dear to us. Our children plant trees in the land of Israel and here at home. Jewish ecological concerns are taught in our religious school, so that our students will grow up with a sense of their partnership with all living creatures in God's world. Tu B'shvat has come round once again to remind us of our duty to safeguard the world. (Rabbi Silver, UAHC.)
Two people were once fighting over a piece of land. Each claimed ownership, and each bolstered the claim with apparent proof. After arguing for a long time, they agreed to resolve their conflict by putting the case before a rabbi.
The rabbi sat as an arbitrator and listened carefully, but despite years of legal training could not reach a decision. Both parties seemed to be right. Finally, the rabbi said, 'Since I cannot decide to whom the land belongs, let's ask the land.'
The rabbi put an ear to the ground, and after a moment stood up. 'My friends, the land says it belongs to neither of you - you belong to it!' (unknown folk story, David E, Stein ed. Garden of Fruit Choice)
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