Tu B'Shvat

 

INVITATION TO A T'U B'SHVAT SEDER

 

As you know, if you've been by recently, our outer gate is graced by a Dr. Seuss-like outline in metal of two palm trees leaning toward one another. For this occasion — and perhaps for others as well — I would like you to consider these PALMS as an acronym for Poetry, Art, Lore (& Learning), Music (& Movement), and Story. In Ivrit, TaMaR similarly suggests Torah, Mayim, and Ruach. According to the Torah, Ruach Elokim (the spirit of G*d) m'rachefet al p'nai haMayim (hovered over the face of the waters). At this time of year we also declare that G*d is the One Who masheev haRuach u-moreed haGeshem, "makes the wind blow and the rain fall...causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout!" The revival of the dead idea can easily be applied to deciduous trees because they appear to be dead, leafless and barren. Yet on T"U b'Shvat we celebrate the rising sap and, in many species, such as the shaked or almond, new buds and blossoms show forth.

 

We can also tease out from TaMaR TaNaKH, Midrash, and Remez. My friend Howard Schwartz, a guest reader here in Tzfat almost two years ago, writes, "PaRDeS (orchard) is an acronym for four levels of understanding: peshat, remez, drash and sod. Peshat is the literal level. Remez is the first hint of another level of meaning; in literary terms it is the use of metaphor. Drash stands for midrash, when the interpretation takes the form of a legend, or, in literary terms, of allegory, which itself is simply an extended metaphor. Sod is the level of mystery, of Kabbalah. Its literary meaning must remain inseparable from its religious meaning: entry into the realm of the transcendent. The existence of the level of Sod is also a reminder that metaphor is a kind of veil, and that ultimate truth transcends it and must remain imageless and unknown, like the remotest aspect of God, known in Kabbalah as Ein Sof."

The four letters of G*d's Name, the Four Worlds of Assiyah, Yetzirah, Briyah, and Atzilut, and the four levels of interpretation delineated above correspond to one another. By choosing to bless and partake of four kinds of tree-fruit; the fruit of the vine as grape juice or wine; to share tree lore and Torah teachings; recite poetry, sing songs, create art inspired by trees, and actually get our hands dirty planting, pruning, and harvesting; composting, fertilizing, and watering; organizing, agitating, and advocating for the protection of the Land, its natural resources, and its produce, we stand under the spreading boughs and delicate branches of the Etz Chayyim, the Tree of Life, happy to support her and help her to flourish.

Practical details: We plan to start our Seder as close to 5:30 pm as possible, on Yom Sheni b'Erev , Monday evening, Tet Vav Shvat (January 21), in the large upstairs room that has been used most recently for Yoga and dance classes. Please remove your shoes at the foot of the stairs when you enter. Bring whatever you would like to share at the Seder. We have a lot of red wine but could use more white. There's lots of dried fruit available at present in the local stores and some fresh fruit as well. We need fruit and nuts with hard outer shells and edible insides, others with edible outsides and hard insides, some that are edible all the way through, and some that are valued chiefly for their scent. We were thinking that for this meal we would not have bread but rather mezunot, so that in our after-brachot we give specific thanks for grains and seeds, nuts and the other fruits of the tree and of the vine.

— Reuven & Yehudit Goldfarb, 128 Keren HaYesod, Artists' Quarter

 

KAVANAH FOR T"U B'SHVAT

One thing we can learn from trees — from the fruit of trees and their seeds — is that G*d creates in great abundance.

The fruits, nuts, and seeds of trees serve many needs. First and foremost, of course, is the need to propagate, to raise up another generation of trees. Thus, throughout the plant and animal kingdoms, we notice that there is an abundance — indeed, a superfluity — of seed produced. This is necessary, as the conditions for appropriate growth are limited and temporary. Yet the seed serves another function; it meets another need. It is consumed by other species — insects, fish, birds, rodents and other mammals, including humans. Thus, plants in general and trees in particular — the highest ranking of all plants — support the growth of other species. There is a lesson here in regard to the interdependent web of life, of which our species is an essential part. As trees are generally benign in their effect on the environment, so should we be.

In addition to providing nourishment, trees provide habitat. Innumerable species owe their existence to the safe harborage freely given by the trees of the forest, meadow, mountain, and island, from their roots to their canopy and crown. Likewise should we be hospitable to other creatures that depend on us for life and sustenance.

It is also known that trees, like other green plants, purify the air. Through the miracle of photosynthesis, they transform carbon dioxide into oxygen. All species, including trees, need oxygen to live. When humans have polluted the atmosphere and by their industry created a massive artificial hothouse, trees have helped to detoxify the common air. Surely we can reduce the burden we place on them and on ourselves by reducing the amount of toxic substances we continually release.

Last but not least on my list, trees are for beauty. They inspire awe and reverence. They are a stable comfort among the vicissitudes of life. No wonder that the first humans were enjoined to care for them and even to avoid consuming the fruit of the most special one, upon whose sanctity their lives in the fertile garden where they were placed depended. Upon eating of its fruit they were expelled — for that, and, of course, for each blaming another, the man the woman, the woman the serpent, and both, by inference, even G*d Herself.

Our task at this Seder is to re-honor the Tree that we and our ancestors have despoiled, and by doing so, recreate and return to the garden we once knew, which today encompasses the whole earth. May our sweet planet return to its Edenic state and we become its faithful stewards once again.

Reuven Goldfarb, Me'or HaLev, Artists' Quarter, Tzfat, Galilee Elyon, Eretz Yisrael