Some call it Israeli Arbor Day. Others think of it as Jewish Environmentalism Day. Mystics make a symbolic holy meal called a seder at night. Others plant a tree in Israel.
Its true name is Tu Bishvat, Hebrew for the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat which always comes at this time in the winter, and is known as the New Year for Trees. Years ago it was practically an unknown or un-celebrated holiday on the Hebrew calendar but over the last ten years it has grown in popularity for different groups, from different angles.
Older traditional kabbalists started the original “seder” in Tsfat, Israel in the 16th Century. The seder consists of symbolic eating of fruits combined with recitation of verses from holy books. And with the popularity of Kabbalah these past years… this holiday has also taken on new meaning for some mysticism enthusiasts.
On the other hand young people who are into environmentalism are also taking part in a seder, but for different reasons.
For example, Next Dor is a local organization in a house that offers a place for young Jews to gather for social and educational events in a non-denominational atmosphere. At the house in St. Louis City, Next Dor is hosting a Tu Bishvat Seder. According to Yoni Sarason, spokesman for Next Dor, the seder will include both traditional aspects as four cups of wine and four types of fruit corresponding to the kabbalistic concept of four realms of creation, and also, as he puts it, “more modern Eco Jewish aspects.”
In general the holiday is focused on the theme of appreciation to the Creator for the benefits and pleasure of food. Because of its sweetness, fruit is most iconic for this focus. Fruit is nature’s dessert.
And in some ways this holiday is not that unsimilar to Thanksgiving, but with kabbalistic pilgrims.
You can do your own version of a Tu Bishvat seder by merely having a variety of fruits and expressing your appreciation to the Creator for the blessings you have.
Shvat is the month of Aquarius, the water carrier. Water is a symbol for wisdom. There is a potential outpouring of wisdom at this time. What is wisdom? The type of knowledge that allows you to become one with the Infinite.
There’s a three step process that the sages seem to be telling us is good for this:
Step One: Make a brocha and take a bite of a sweet juicy grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, date, apple, pear, etc.
Step Two: Silently thank the Creator for making the fruit, the tastebuds to enjoy the fruit, and your ability to have access to the fruit.
Step Three: Feel the closeness of Creator.
We celebrate the fruit in the winter when things look bleakest. Outside its pretty barren, but deep down the sap is starting to rise in the trees. This marks the beginning of the blessings to come.
Sometimes when things look bleakest, the blessings are in the making.
Eat some fruit! Enjoy life!
For more about the month of Shvat see: KME and St. Louis Spiritual Living Examiner
Chemdas Yamim claims credit for the Tu biShvat Seder, and he quite frequently tells you that other ideas came from the Ari haQadosh. So, I would take him at his word.
Now, the provenance of Chemdas Yamim is a complicated question, and R’ Yehonasan Eybeschutz found numerous Sabbatean gematrios (involving 814 = Shabbatai Tzevi) in it. (Academics simply debate which Sabbatean authored it; the notion that it’s not really Jewish is taken for granted.)
On the other hand, most Chassidic groups and many Sepharadi communities consider it authentic.
Rabbi Max Weiman said:
“Older traditional kabbalists started the
original “seder” in Tsfat, Israel in the 16th Century. The seder consists of symbolic eating of fruits combined with recitation of verses from holy books.”
I believe that the kabbalists in Tsfat were Sephardic, yet their emphasis on TuBiShevat seems to have been embraced by the Ashkenazic world. Same for Lecha Dodi, another innovation of the kabbalists in Tsfat.
I’m sure everyone knows this already, but it’s nice to eat one of the “seven fruits for which Eretz Yisroel is praised,” one of the food items for which we make the long brochah achronah “al hapeiros.” The more the better, and think of all the anti-oxidants you’re ingesting (better than thinking about all that fructose).
I do not recommend eating Bokser (Carob) because those hard things are difficult to eat without breaking a tooth. Rather buy ground carob powder and substitute for cocoa powder in your favorite chocolate cake recipe.
Or plant a tree in the Carmel Forest in Northern Israel to replace one of the five million trees destroyed in the fire.
Or take your leftover esrog from Sukkos and boil up with some lemons and oranges to make esrog jelly; bake cookies and put a tiny dab of the jelly on each one.