Tu B’Shevat Commentaries

A section for posting commentaries from any source, as well as personal comments, about Tu B’Shevat.

44 thoughts on “Tu B’Shevat Commentaries

  1. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Yael Levy

    A Way In Jewish Mindfulness: A Minyan of Trees

    Dear Friends,

    A Minyan of Trees

    The woods are white.

    Hills and paths frozen with snow.

    Trees rising from hard ground

    Stand strong and sure.

    Dark brown trunks greet my heart,

    Branches reach

    Making intricate patterns in the gray sky.

    In these winter woods

    So much is revealed.

    I lift my eyes and count ten trees,

    They are my minyan.

    Despair, fear, anger

    Rise within me.

    Bitterness threatens my prayers.

    I reach for a tree

    And breathe its presence and trust.

    I lean my body against its trunk and close my eyes.

    And for a moment I feel the One.

    I feel the One within my raw, vulnerable life.

    I feel the One made manifest in trees, earth, water and sky.

    I feel the One here, present

    And for a moment the bitterness becomes sweet.

    My prayers meander

    As the strong branches dance in the wind.

    We are here, the trees whisper

    You are not alone.

    I close my davening by bowing

    In gratitude to the trees

    And asking to be guided

    By their generosity and wisdom.

    Blessings for Tu B’Shevat. May we be guided by the blessings trees so generously bestow.

    With love,
    Rabbi Yael

  2. Wendy Berk

    From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

    The Stewardship Paradigm

    Few texts have had a deeper influence on Western civilisation than the first chapter of Genesis, with its momentous vision of the universe coming into being as the work of God. Set against the grandeur of the narrative, what stands out is the smallness yet uniqueness of humans, vulnerable but also undeniably set apart from all other beings.

    The words of the Psalmist echo the wonder and humility that the primordial couple must have felt as they beheld the splendour of Creation:

    “When I consider Your heavens,
    The work of Your fingers,
    The moon and the stars,
    Which You have set in place.
    What is humanity that You are mindful of it,
    The children of mortals that You care for them?
    Yet You have made them little lower than the angels
    And crowned them with glory and honour.”

    Psalm 8:3-5
    The honour and glory that crowns the human race is possession of the earth, which is granted as the culmination of God’s creative work: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” This notion is fortified in Psalm 115: “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth God has given to humanity.” While the Creation narrative clearly establishes God as Master of the Universe, it is the human being who is appointed master of the earth.

    Grappling with the challenging notion of humans as divinely-ordained owners and subduers of the earth, we come face to face with the fundamental questions of our place in the universe and our responsibility for it. A literal interpretation suggests a world in which people cut down forests, slaughter animals, and dump waste into the seas at their leisure, much like we see in our world today.

    On the other hand, as Rav Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel, writes, any intelligent person should know that Genesis 1:28, “does not mean the domination of a harsh ruler, who afflicts his people and servants merely to fulfil his personal whim and desire, according to the crookedness of his heart.” Could God have really created such a complex and magnificent world solely for the caprice of humans?

    Genesis chapter 1 is only one side of the complex biblical equation. It is balanced by the narrative of Genesis chapter 2, which features a second Creation narrative that focuses on humans and their place in the Garden of Eden. The first person is set in the Garden “to work it and take care of it.”

    The two Hebrew verbs used here are significant. The first – le’ovdah – literally means “to serve it.” The human being is thus both master and servant of nature. The second – leshomrah – means “to guard it.” This is the verb used in later biblical legislation to describe the responsibilities of a guardian of property that belongs to someone else. This guardian must exercise vigilance while protecting, and is personally liable for losses that occur through negligence. This is perhaps the best short definition of humanity’s responsibility for nature as the Bible conceives it.

    We do not own nature – “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1) We are its stewards on behalf of God, who created and owns everything. As guardians of the earth, we are duty-bound to respect its integrity.

    The mid-nineteenth century commentator Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch put this rather well in an original interpretation of Genesis 1:26, “Let us make the human in our image after our own likeness.” The passage has always been puzzling, since the hallmark of the Torah is the singularity of God. Who would God consult in the process of creating humans?

    The “us,” says Hirsch, refers to the rest of creation. Before creating the human, a being destined to develop the capacity to alter and possibly endanger the natural world, God sought the approval of nature itself. This interpretation implies that we would use nature only in such a way that is faithful to the purposes of its Creator and acknowledges nature’s consenting to humanity’s existence.

    The mandate in Genesis 1 to exercise dominion is, therefore, not technical, but moral: humanity would control, within our means, the use of nature towards the service of God. Further, this mandate is limited by the requirement to serve and guard as seen in Genesis 2. The famous story of Genesis 2-3 – the eating of the forbidden fruit and Adam and Eve’s subsequent exile from Eden – supports this point.

    Not everything is permitted. There are limits to how we interact with the earth. The Torah has commandments regarding how to sow crops, how to collect eggs, and how to preserve trees in a time of war, just to name a few. When we do not treat creation according to God’s will, disaster can follow.

    We see this today as more and more cities sit under a cloud of smog and as mercury advisories are issued over large sectors of our fishing waters. Deforestation of the rainforests, largely a result of humanity’s growing demand for timber and beef, has brought on irrevocable destruction of plant and animal species.

    We can no longer ignore the massive negative impact that our global industrial society is having on the ecosystems of the earth. Our unbounded use of fossil fuels to fuel our energy-intensive lifestyles is causing global climate change. An international consensus of scientists predicts more intense and destructive storms, floods, and droughts resulting from these human-induced changes in the atmosphere. If we do not take action now, we risk the very survival of civilisation as we know it.

    The Midrash says that God showed 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 and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

    Creation has its own dignity as God’s masterpiece, and though we have the mandate to use it, we have none to destroy or despoil it. Rabbi Hirsch says that Shabbat was given to humanity “in order that he should not grow overbearing in his dominion” of God’s creation. On the Day of Rest, “he must, as it were, return the borrowed world to its Divine Owner in order to realise that it is but lent to him.”

    Ingrained in the process of creation and central to the life of every Jew is a weekly reminder that our dominion of earth must be l’shem shamayim – in the name of Heaven.

    The choice is ours. If we continue to live as though God had only commanded us to subdue the earth, we must be prepared for our children to inherit a seriously degraded planet, with the future of human civilisation at risk.
    If we see our role as masters of the earth as a unique opportunity to truly serve and care for the planet, its creatures, and its resources, then we can reclaim our status as stewards of the world, and raise our new generations in an environment much closer to that of Eden.

  3. Wendy Berk

    Prayer For Nature (Rabbi Nachman)
    Grant me the ability to be alone;
    may it be my custom to go outdoors each day
    among the trees and grass – among all growing things
    and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer,
    to talk with the One to whom I belong.
    May I express there everything in my heart,
    and may all the foliage of the field –
    all grasses, trees, and plants –
    awake at my coming,
    to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer
    so that my prayer and speech are made whole
    through the life and spirit of all growing things,
    which are made as one by their transcendent Source.
    May I then pour out the words of my heart
    before your Presence like water, O L-rd,
    and lift up my hands to You in worship,
    on my behalf, and that of my children!

    — Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

  4. Wendy Berk

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    For Whom Do You Plant?
    By: Rabbi Ben Richards
    There’s a terrific story for Tu Bishvat: An older man is planting saplings when he’s encountered by an important individual who asks him why he is planting. Will he live to see the literal fruits of his labors? The reply: “If I’m worthy, I will eat, and if not, my children will.”
    Up to this point, you might be saying to yourself, “I think I know this. It’s the story with the great talmudic sage, Honi, Ta’anit 23a, right? Where Honi meets a man planting a tree for his descendants, just as his ancestors planted for him. Honi then falls asleep and sees the next generation using a full-grown tree.
    Well, not quite. While a poignant tale, I’m talking about a lesser known but equally wonderful story, from Midrash Tanchuma Kedoshim 8:1:
    There is a story about the emperor Hadrian… He found an old man who was planting fig saplings. Hadrian said to him, “You are an old man. Why are you persisting in taking the trouble to toil for others?” He said to Hadrian, “My lord king, here I am planting. If I am worthy, I shall eat of the fruit of my saplings; but if not, my children will eat.”
    Hadrian spent three years at war, and after three years he returned. What did that old man do? He took a fruit basket, filled it with the first-fruits of beautiful figs, and drew near to Hadrian. He said to him, “My lord king, take these figs, for I am the same old man whom you found when you were on your way when you said, ‘You are an old man; why are you taking the trouble to toil for others?’ See, the Holy One, blessed be God, has already found me worthy to eat some fruit from my saplings. Now this fruit in my fruit basket is your portion from those saplings.”
    Hadrian said to his servants, “Take it from him and fill it with gold coins.”…Therefore one should not cease from planting. Rather, just as he found, one should still continue to plant even though he is old. The Holy One, blessed be God, said to Israel, “Learn from Me. Do I need fruits, as it were?” And yet it states (Gen. 2:8), “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east.”
    Great story, right? There’s even some comedy I skipped:
    The old man’s neighbors hear that the emperor gave him gold for fruit, and they want gold too. So the husband goes off with a bowl for the emperor. The emperor takes his fruit and has him pelted with it before sending him back home.
    Who said our tradition doesn’t have a sense of humor?!
    Returning to the bookends of the story, we find in our tale similarities to Honi’s tale and yet key differences. While both Honi and Hadrian come upon old men planting saplings, the message the planters teach is slightly different. Honi’s old man plants for his descendants, Hadrian’s plants for himself and his children.
    One act is selfless, pure altruism, planting seeds purely for the sake of others.
    The other act is more versatile, perhaps it is only for future generations, but perhaps it will benefit the planter as well.

    It is this nuanced difference in the stories that makes me favor the Midrash Tanchuma Hadrian one over that of Honi in our Talmud. Because while both are nice, one feels more realistic.

    Telling people to contribute to our world because down the line it will be necessary is nice. It’s accurate, it’s poignant, and it’s true. But how much more powerful to remind people that contributing now can enact change now. Sowing energy into our planet today can ensure that the appropriate weather and resources exist today, and tomorrow, and into the future.

    Honi’s story works for the average tzaddik, the commonplace righteous person who wants to always give. But what about the messy benoni, the all too fallible so-so human like you or me, who isn’t always motivated to place our energies into a future paradise for our distant descendants?!

    For us, there is the story of the boastful old man who hopes to benefit and recognizes it might or might not happen. It’s both self-focused and other-focused, and it’s full of that delightful humor all of us love. (Thank God his neighbor didn’t bring any watermelons!
    And it ends with the clincher for Tu Bishvat and life in general: Plant because that’s the way to be betzelem elokim, in God’s image. God planted a garden, not because God needs fruit, but because planting is a holy act. It combines you and me, connecting the past, present, and future, in a web of hopes and wishes, some bitter but most sweet and nourishing.

    Honi holds a place of great honor in our Tu Bishvat canon. But maybe it’s time to add a little Hadrianic fruit pelting?!

  5. Wendy Berk

    From Rav DovBer Pinson , The Month of Shevat

    … we can understand that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are really one and the same tree. They each respectively represent two different ways that we can relate to the single Tree of Reality…

    This begs the question: How do we relate to Life? Adam and Chavah, and we as well, are given a choice to eat, or relate to experience,from either a Tree of Life or a Tree of Knowledge perspective. To “eat from the Tree of Life” is to internalize the Oneness of Life, the Achdus Hashem / unity of Hashem within our own lives. Whenever we relate to the Divine Oneness through the prism of our world, we are tasting from the Tree of Life. To “eat” from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” is to internalize the apparent duality, separation, disconnection, and conflict in life. A tension between good and bad appears, which itself feels bad. Whenever we see things from this perspective, we are eating from the Tree of Duality. Whatever we taste and internalize is what we identify as, and this determines our output to others and to the world, as well.

  6. Wendy Berk

    From AJR/CA

    Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

    This week as well we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, awakening us to the beauty and miracle of nature, as another dimension of the glory of G-d and G-d’s blessings becomes manifest. Not only our Jewish tradition, but the mythic lore of all world traditions extols the’ World Tree,’ with all its mystery and power and blessing. Amongst the many comparisons of the Tree, to human beings by our Sages is a commentary by the Lubavitcher Rebbe brought by Mordechai Lightstone where he points out eight ways in which human beings can emulate a tree.(Igros Kodesh, Vol.1,247-250).

    Firstly, A tree always grows towards the light. We too must always grow towards the Light that resides in holiness. (Berachot 48A).

    Second, even the smallest scratch can have lasting effects. A small scratch on a young sapling can leave a scar on the fully grown tree. So can the scars remain on young children when we educate them in a harsh, insensitive manner.

    Third, by growing deep roots! Just as a tree strengthens with the depth of its roots, we as human beings can deepen our roots by increasing our connection to our tradition in all its depth. By studying the wisdom of our ancestors and their commitment to spread holiness in the world, ACTING in G-d’s image, we grow firmly and confidently into the destiny meant for us. As it says in Pirkei Avot, “One whose deeds are greater than his/her wisdom, to what is s/he compared? To a tree with many roots .., which all the winds in the world cannot budge from its place (Avot, 3:17).

    Fourth, by providing refuge for others. Just as a tree selflessly provides shade and shelter, we must be a source of comfort for others and provide resources for those in need.

    Fifth, just as a tree grows sweet fruits for others to enjoy in the present and the future, so we can provide fruits for others to enjoy, sustaining others with our gifts in the present and for their future. Indeed, just by our planting a tree that will outlive us we will be providing for future generations.

    Sixth, by being supple and bending in the wind. Only a tree that can bend in the wind will survive a storm. We too, must be flexible and adaptive, facing what is, and utilizing our strength to respond both faithfully and sensitively.

    Seventh, by growing stronger through life experiences. Just as the rings of a tree records its growth through years of trial and the vicissitudes of life, so too must we always add deeper levels of insight and nurture others from our vast experience culled through the years.

    And eighth, by utilizing our gifts to make a positive Impact on our world. Just as trees provide not only immediate benefits like shade, wood, and food; they also enrich the ecosystem, filter the air, and give off oxygen making a lasting impact on the world. So too, by our honest efforts we can impact our fellow humans with our grace, humility, and wisdom.

    May we each utilize the energy of Tu B’shvat to heal many of the ecological crises that the world faces today. May we transform the perception that the earth itself is merely a resource to be used for our personal human benefit, rather than a blessing to be shared and benefitted by all. Our air, our water, our food chain deserves our care and guardianship. We must protect their health just as our trees protect our well-being, and the time to do so is now!

  7. Wendy Berk

    From the Hebrew College

    The Blessing of the Tree
    By Sam Blumberg

    I didn’t have much of a personal connection with Tu B’Shevat until three years ago, when my daughter was born at 9:53am on the fifteenth of Shevat. We bestowed on her the middle name of Arava (ערבה), meaning willow, as a nod to the auspicious day on which she was born, the New Year of the Trees, and to honor my wife’s grandmother who loved the willow tree.

    Trees signify all that is good and precious in our world. The Talmud in Taanit 5b relates that when taking leave of one another, Rav Nahman would ask his teacher Rabbi Yitzchak for a blessing. “Let me tell you a parable,” Rabbi Yitzchak replied. “It is like one who was walking through a desert, hungry, tired, and thirsty, and came upon a tree with sweet fruit, beautiful shade, and a stream of water beneath it. He ate from the fruit, drank from its water, and sat in the shade of the tree. When he got up to depart, he said: ‘Tree, Tree, with what shall I bless you? If I say to you that your fruits should be sweet, your fruits are already sweet; if I say that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant; if I say that a stream of water should flow beneath you, a stream of water already flows beneath you! Rather, I will bless you as follows: May it be God’s will that all saplings which they plant from you be like you.’”

    Rabbi Yitzchak turned to his disciple and said: “So it is with you. With what shall I bless you? If I bless you with Torah, you already have Torah; if I bless you with wealth, you already have wealth; if I bless you with children, you already have children. Rather, may it be God’s will that your children shall be like you.”

    If only we could all merit to be like Rav Nahman and like the tree! Just as the tree gives and gives as a paradigm of bliss and perfection, we too have the potential, through our relationship with the world we inhabit, to be blessed with a fullness that can only be replicated by bringing more people like us into the world.

    This Tu B’Shevat, as we acknowledge and thank the trees for the blessing and goodness they bring into our lives, let us remember that just as they sustain us, we too must help to sustain them. Let us assess and renew our own impact on the world around us so that our children can continue to find blessing in the world we inherited, allowing us to edge ever-closer to emulating the exquisiteness of the tree.

  8. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Produce and Potential

    By Rabbi Gail Labovitz

    Tu Bishvat (the 15th of the month of Shevat) is first mentioned in early rabbinic tradition, as a “new year” for trees – or more accurately, fruit and nut-bearing trees. In fact, according to the Mishnah, in Rosh haShanah 1:1, trees may have two separate new years. One of these is on the first of Tishrei to mark the age of the tree (that is, no matter what date a tree was planted or replanted, it becomes a year older on the first of Tishrei; this is important because according to Lev. 19:23-25 one may not eat of the fruit of a newly planted tree for four years). The other marks when a new year begins for tithing the produce of the tree – that is, it is a kind of rabbinic “tax” year. Fruit that was grown before this date was included in the prior year’s yield for the purpose of tithing, while all fruit that emerged after became part of the tithe of the coming year.
    There is a dispute about the date of this new year – the House of Shammai date it to the first of Shevat, while the House of Hillel designates the fifteenth. Neither of the Talmuds, when they comment (very briefly!) on this mishnah, take up directly the question of which House is correct, but since in debates between these two schools, Jewish law/practice almost always follows the House of Hillel, it came to be accepted that the date would be the fifteenth. What both Talmuds (Yerushalmi RH 1:2, 57a; Babylonian Talmud Rosh haShanah 14a) do attempt to answer is why the date should be in this month at all, on either the first or the fifteenth. This time of year is still during the rainy season the Land of Israel (which typically occurs from shortly after Sukkot until about Passover), and while it still feels very much like winter. Why now?
    One answer given in both Talmuds, in the name of Rabbi Elazar who in turn cites Rabbi Oshayah (or Hoshayah), is that “most of the rains of the year have passed, and most of the (winter) season is still to come [literally, “is still outside”].” This, though, prompts several (interconnected) questions. First is one asked in the Babylonian Talmud: why should it be significant that most of the winter is yet to come? In fact, wouldn’t that be a reason to wait until it is closer to spring – and the growing season? Rather, the passage answers, we mark the new year for trees, and the growth of their produce, from this time despite the fact that much of winter is still to come. Later commentators ask another question: what does it mean that “most of the rains of the year have passed” by this time – what makes this the tipping point in the rainy season? One possibility (offered by the medieval commentator Rabbenu Hananel) is that by either the beginning or the middle of Shevat a bit more of the actually rainy season has passed (depending on when exactly one thinks the season begins and ends). An alternate explanation (see Rashi, for example) is that the heavier rains are usually earlier in the season and that by this time most of the rain of the season has already fallen. Either way, though, the passing of the midpoint of the rainy season is the critical factor.
    So finally, why should the rain be the critical factor? Here, the Yerushalmi adds one small comment from Rabbi Zeira: “Up until now, they [the trees] live from the water of the previous year, and from now on they live from the water of the year to come.” This statement (or one like it) does not appear in the Babylonian Talmud, but similar ideas are taken up by the medieval commentators. They suggest that this is the time of the year when the processes by which produce grows on the trees is just beginning, when trees make the transition from the growth that marked the old year to that of the new. As Rashi notes, “and the sap rises in the trees and the fruits are found to start forming from this time.”
    That is, this last question points us towards one important way of understanding and learning from the significance of Tu Bishvat and the new year of the trees. In light of what both Rabbi Zeira and Rashi (and others) have to say about the choice of this date, this time of year, we can see that Tu Bishvat marks the deep value of potential and the sources that create and nourish potential, and not just the final product (or produce). While it is the eventual, actual produce of the tree from which a tithe will be taken and dedicated, that produce cannot come to (literal and figurative) fruition without that which first sets the conditions for growth – the water that nourishes the tree, the sap that carries nutrients from the water and soil to the leaves and buds and fruits or nuts that eventually develop.
    And so too with us. Are we to be measured primarily by what we produce (be it for our families, our communities, our professions, the world), to judge ourselves and our contributions only by that which we are able to bring to completion? On Tu Bishvat, let us rather take stock of and give thanks for all that was necessary to bring us to this moment and into the future. Let us look for what new potential is arising in us and let us nurture the potential rising in others around us. And then let us go forward in the hopes of a fruitful new year in which all that potential and more is fulfilled.

  9. Wendy

    From Bob Jaffe

    Commentary of the Trees…. Siblings From A Different Mother

    Ve Aleh Toldot

    We listen to the stories of the Birth of the Universe in the Book of Genesis; the word is unmistakable: Toldot. That means birth record, not just story or narrative.

    And the word then opens a doorway of meaning and relationship for us. Our ancestors include the stars, the animals of the Earth and especially the Trees…and gives us a place in Noah’s Ark as one of the creatures on the Journey.

    Trees look like us; and we look like them. Our lungs are like their root systems doing the same work of breathing each other… and thus we are linked in a vital embrace… we breath each other in the most intimate heartfelt embrace imaginable… a biological heartland process of infinite detail, breathtaking one would say.

    And so easily forgotten, overlooked… I am breathing the air that was just exhaled by my biological partner…a love story. The forgotten and overlooked part is a part of the Story…in fact: It is the Story. It is the teaching in our own Bible and so many of the other religious books of the World.

    Our Torah tells of us being born in a Garden of Trees and we are One with the Garden for one precious moment… and then we are seduced into seeing ourselves as separate from the Trees… Separation is Exile and we must leave this Garden and exile into the material world…and there begins our Journey…and How do we find our Way back to the Garden of Unity.

    It is no accident that Abraham’s first stop in Canaan are the Trees of Learning: the Terebinth’s of Moreh; and no accident that the Unity will manifest to him in that place..The Tree and the Trees are more than our most intimate love partner; they are a reminder of the Unity, of the forgotten Lover…to breathe and one begins to remember it.

    Many Pathways already know this: The Banyan, the Bodhi, the Baobab. The tree of the Jewish Story is the Great Oak; and it’s also the Olive, the Date Palm, the Willow, Myrtle…trees and trees.

    We celebrate today the Birthday of the Trees…and it’s our Birthday as well.

    Ve Aleh Toldot

  10. Wendy

    From Nimo

    This song features our friend Nimo who is an Indian American rapper. Although not Jewish, this sweet video seems appropriate for Tu B’Shevat

  11. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    What’s rising in you? – a d’varling before Tu BiShvat

    Tonight is the full moon of the month of Shvat, which means that it’s Tu BiShvat — the new year of the trees. (I realize that here at WCJA you’ll be celebrating Tu BiShvat next weekend. You get a week-long holiday! But tonight is the full moon — on some secular calendars it’s called the Full Snow Moon.)

    Tu BiShvat is the first step toward springtime. I say that with awareness that the world around us does not look much like springtime right now. In Williamstown, mid-February means snow and ice, not soft spring breezes and almond blossoms. For me, that makes Tu BiShvat all the more meaningful, because Tu BiShvat becomes a holiday about hiddenness.

    The Jewish mystics have a lot to say about what’s hidden and what’s revealed, נסתר and נגלה. The world we live in is a world of surfaces, and everything conceals deeper meaning and hidden sparks. On the surface, Tu BiShvat might seem to be about establishing an age for trees so that their fruits can be tithed. That’s how the holiday originated, back in Talmudic times. But deep down — say the mystics — it’s really about the spiritual sap of the universe beginning to rise for the spring to come.

    It seems appropriate that this holiday remind us to pay attention to what’s unseen. The outside world may be covered with snow, but deep down under the snow the roots of the trees are soaking up the water that will feed the sap that will support next summer’s verdant greenery — at least, that’s what Jewish tradition teaches. Our work is to trust in the spring that we can’t yet see.

    Torah says that human beings are like trees of the field, and we too have hidden undercurrents that aren’t always visible to the naked eye. As we move through this midwinter full moon, what is rising in you? What hopes are you nurturing, deep down in your most secret heart? What yearnings are enlivening you, even if you haven’t spoken them aloud?

    What gifts might you be able to bring to the world by the end of this semester? When the trees have leafed out, all chartreuse and fluttering in the spring breeze — when the lilac bushes in front of the President’s house bloom and scent the spring air — what new ideas or artwork or music or activism or relationships might you bring into being?

    That’s what Tu BiShvat is about for me: the sap of our hopes, the sap of our dreams, the sap that will fuel our work in the world. Imagine your feet planted in the earth like roots. Reach deep down into the earth and draw up the sustenance you need. With every beat of your heart, you can draw up more hope, and more of the energy you’ll need in order to create.

    On the outside, the world looks like winter — but in the heart of every tree, the first stirrings of spring are rising. This full-moon midwinter Shabbes, celebrate what’s rising in you.

    This is the d’varling — the short-and-sweet teaching — that I offered at the Williams College Jewish Association tonight at Kabbalat Shabbat services.

  12. Wendy

    From Rabbi Zelig Golden

    Celebrating Our Tallest Teachers: New Buds, Running of the Sap, Songs of Freedom

    A Teaching for Tu B’Shvat | 13 Sh’vat 5777 | Feburary 9, 2017
    By Rabbi Zelig Golden

    We celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the birthday of the trees, this weekend! Tu B’Shvat orients us to the mysterious awakening at this season in the Hebrew calendar. Tu B’Shvat also honors the wisdom of the trees. Trees have long held an esteemed place in Jewish tradition. The Torah is called Etz Chaim, a Tree of Life. Etz, “tree,” is similar to the “advise.” In the Talmud we learn that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai, one of Rabbi Hillel the elder’s great students, was proficient in the art of “speaking with trees” as well as other aspects of nature. (Bavli Bava Batra 134a) A midrash reinforces this understanding: “All trees converse with one another; all trees converse with humankind. All trees were created for human companionship.” (Breishit Rabbah 13:2) So each year, we gather to honor the trees.

    Tu B’Shvat coincides with parsha Be’shallah, where Israel claims its freedom from Egypt in its journey through the parted Red Sea. In an amazing midrash (Exodus Rabbah 21:10), we are offered a vision of this splitting of the sea as one with fruit trees blossoming and birds perched upon the trees singing songs of freedom in celebration of our liberation. In the minds of our sages, Tu B’Shvat — one of the four Jewish new years (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hoshana 2a) — is a powerful reminder of our liberation. And perhaps more importantly, the tall, tall trees — this day’s honorees — are powerful teachers that can advise us on our journey to freedom.

    This time of year, when the sap begins to rise in the trees again, is the energetic gateway between the freeze of winter and the blossoming of spring. At dawn, that magical transition between night and day, darkness lightens into color and the air waits for its perfect stillness to be broken by the first bird song. Tu B’Shvat is this liminal moment in the Hebrew calendar. It marks the transition from the unseen to the seen, from the frozen to the flowing, from sleeping to awakening — Tu B’Shvat marks the mysterious beginnings of rebirth and growth.

    Once a Talmudic tax-day to determine the fruit tree-tithing schedule on the 15th of the month of Shvat (in Hebrew Tu B’Shvat), the Tzfat mystics of the 16th century evolved our understanding and celebration of the budding trees. For them, it was an important opportunity to honor the mystery of the four seasons with four cups of wine and the four elements with different types of fruits. But most importantly it was a time to honor the trees and the natural world.

    For the Hebrew mystics and holy people of traditions from around the world, the tree is seen as a major gateway to G-d: “She [Torah] is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her.” (Proverbs 3:18) At Tu B’Shvat we celebrate the many branched pathways that climb toward the heavens and lead us to spirit. We marvel at the brilliant awakenings of the nascent beauty in first buds that we know will become flowers and eventually fruits. And we remember the roots that sink deep into the earth — ancestral pathways that draw from her depths all that nourishes and sustains us, and that which stabilizes us during the toughest storms.

    On Tu B’Shvat we remember that the trees are our teachers. The Torah teaches, “a person is like a tree of the field,” (Deut. 20:19) and as the Chasidic Rabbi Shlomo of Chortkov writes, “a person should learn how to pursue his spiritual life from the tree.” Like Avram, who encounters his “teacher oak tree” (Alon Moreh, Gen. 12:6) immediately upon leaving his father’s home, we can receive profound understanding and guidance if we tune into the trees.

    I wish for us all to deepen our relationship with our great teachers. Let them remind us of our own deep roots. Let them teach us how to tend our tender new shoots and how to tune into the deeper awakenings within ourselves. Happy Tu B’Shvat!

  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

    The Evolution Of Tu b’Shvat
    Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz
    Special To The Jewish Week

    Tue, 01/27/2015

    We first hear about Tu b’Shvat — the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat — in the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 1:1) as one of the four days that start the year. Tu b’Shvat (it falls on Feb. 4) was not then considered a holy day. It was simply the legal date marking the new year for fruit trees. As a date noted only for practical purposes, it had little significance in other areas.
    In the course of the centuries, most of the Jews went into exile, and Tu b’Shvat became important on an emotional level. Since the date was connected with life in the Holy Land and with its trees, it became a “memorial day” for Eretz Yisrael. Tu b’Shvat became the day for remembering when the Jewish people lived in its Land and ate the fruit of its trees and the produce of the earth. In many places, the day became a minor festival, marked by eating fruit that came from the Holy Land — mainly carob, and later on also oranges.
    With time, the meaning of Tu b’Shvat deepened and broadened. It transformed into a celebration of the bounty of the land and, in particular, our yearning for those elements of life that were so lacking in exile.
    Several books have been written on the festive eating of fruits on Tu b’Shvat, explaining their scriptural and other meanings. There are kabbalistic interpretations of the different types of fruits (with a shell, with a pit, with both shell and pit or without either) and what they mean about our lives.
    For some people, it became a day of profound personal significance; one man used to work all year long in order to collect a hundred different kinds of fruits for Tu b’Shvat. In our time, Tu b’Shvat has acquired an even broader meaning — as the day that highlights the relationship between human beings and the trees and flora of the world.
    Despite the return of so many Jews to the Holy Land, most of us are city dwellers. Urban life is based mainly on inanimate objects: buildings, machines, technology. Yet, we still need the deeper emotional connection with the living world: the plants, the trees, and the earth.
    Living things are not only our main source of life: they are also connected with our own individual beings, as the prophet Isaiah tells us (65:22): “for as the days of the tree shall be the days of My people,” as well as other verses. Throughout the scriptures, plants serve as symbols for our national entity. In the Psalms, the Jewish nation is likened to a grapevine, with its growth, the spread of its branches and its fruits depicting our lives.
    In ancient times, it was a widespread custom to plant a tree whenever a child was born, thus connecting the life of a person with the life of the tree. (This was so much so that according to one opinion, the cutting down of such a tree ignited the great rebellion of the Jews against the Romans — see Tractate Gittin 57a.) We have a special relationship with plants and trees, and it is our duty to maintain and sustain them and not to cut them down in vain. The Torah even says (Deuteronomy 20:19): “for is the tree of the field like a man?” — thus establishing a direct connection between man and tree.
    This connection is not merely utilitarian: it also says that all living creatures — plants included — have a connection with the human spirit, a common bond of life. It means that all the forms of life around us are not only meant to furnish us with materials for our subsistence. They actually share a definition of life with us, of growth, or bearing fruit.
    In our times, people have a keener awareness of ecology, of the interconnection of the various forms of life, of the global unity of life. Even though humanity is becoming more complex — and using increasingly sophisticated technologies — we are beginning to understand that our existence depends on the viability of all living things. We have a growing understanding both of nature’s sentimental value and of the practical need for maintaining the diversity of life. This is true even when it interferes with immediate needs and uses.
    Thus Tu b’Shvat, which began as a mere date, has become more and more a day of thinking about the living world around us, of seeking ways to take better care of it, and of taking more steps so as not to harm and destroy it. For us, it has become a day of ecology, the day in which we try to re-establish our bond with the fields, the plants, the trees. Even if there is not very much we can do about global changes, we can still think about the unity of living things, their interdependence, and the ways in which they flower and give fruit. When we make the blessings over fruits, we can also admire both their taste and their beauty like the plants that God put in the Garden of Eden.

  14. Wendy

    From Open Siddur Project

    A Tree Comes of Age by Rabbi Dr. Daniel Sperber
    SHARED BY HAI BEN SHERIRA GAON AND DANIEL SPERBER ON 2016-01-28 – י״ח בשבט ה׳תשע״ו
    MAKE A PDF OF THIS PAGE (May contain שמות – Divine Names)
    The first mishnah in Tractate Rosh ha-Shanah tells us that one of the four dates for the New Year is the New Year for trees: “On the first of Shvat is the New Year for trees, according to the House of Shammai. The House of Hillel say on the fifteenth of that month.” The gemara (loc. sit. 14a) presents the view of the House of Shammai and explains:

    הכין אמרינן מאי טעמ׳ אמר ר׳ אלעזר אמר ר’ אושעיא הואיל ויצאו חב גשמי שנה ועדאן רוב תקופה מבחוץ.
    “Why? Rabbi Eleazar said, citing Rabbi Hoshaiah: since most of that year’s rain is past, and still most of the season is ahead.”
    Rav Hai Gaon, the last of the Babylonian geonim (11th century) was requested to interpret this gemara, and so he did. 1 But after doing so, he continued and said that the rabbis of the land of Israel – “the rabbis over there” – give another reason, namely that thus far the trees have been living off the water of the past year, and henceforth they live off the water of the coming year (according to the Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh ha-Shanah 1.2).2 Rav Hai Gaon added:

    ודברים נראין הן כי בזמן הזה הוא שקוראין אותו בלשון ישמעאל “אלגמרה אלתאניה” ובו מתלחלחין עצי אילנות ומתחלין לשתות לחיות ואומ׳ “גרי אלמא פי אלעוד” (בערבית: נכנסו המים בעץ.). ‏
    This seems reasonable. For this season is called in the language of Ishmael al’jamra al-taniya (= the second ember), and at this time the sap begins to flow and the trees begin to drink and come alive, and it is said gari al-ma fi al-ud (the water has entered the tree).
    What did Rav Hai Gaon mean by saying that this time of year is called “the second ember”? This remark can be understood in the light of an ancient Arab legend, according to which people spend the rainy season closed up in their tents, wrapped in layers of clothing, dozing by the glowing fireplace. The flocks and herds are also gathered into their enclosures surrounding the tent, shivering with cold and waiting for sunny days and expansive pasture in the fields and hills. Then Allah is stirred by his great mercy to bring down for them three embers from heaven: one ember, jamrat al- hawi (the ember of air) comes down on the seventh of Shvat and warms the air, bringing tidings of the arrival of spring. Then the farmer wakes from his slumber, opens the enclosure and begins to send his livestock out to the fields. However they will not yet find good pasture, and the weather is still bitter cold. Then the farmer waits expectantly another seven days, until the fourteenth of Shvat, on which day Allah brings down another ember from heaven (jamrat al-mayi – the ember of water), and then the water warms up, enters the trees and makes them blossom and bear fruit once more. This makes the farmer joyful, and he sends his livestock off to the hills to pasture. However the weather is still too cold and windy to go out and till one’s fields. The farmer counts another seven days, and then Allah brings down the third ember from heaven (jamrat al- ard – the ember of the earth). The soil gets warmer and begins to be covered by tender blades of grass. Then the farmer shakes off the laziness cast over him by the rainy season, and goes out to work in the field and in his garden until evening.3
    Another variant of this legend about embers appears in the work of the 13th-century Arab geographer, Al-Kazwini, in his cosmography. 4 During the month of Shvat the farmers of the land of Israel gradually make the fire which warms them less. On the seventh of Shvat they remove one ember from the fire, because the air is beginning to get warmer. On the fourteenth of Shvat they take out a second ember, because the water is getting warmer, and on the twenty-first of Shvat, a third ember, because the ground is also warming up. The day after the second ember is removed, on the fifteenth of Shvat, they plant roses, Jasmine and narcissus.5

    So we see that Rav Hai Gaon meant to explain the view of the School of Hillel, that the New Year for trees falls on the fifteenth of Shvat, and brought as evidence what he had heard from Arab farmers, that the trees begin to drink the warming water of the coming year.6 This legend draws a comparison between the farmer, sleepy in winter and awakening in the month of Shvat, and the trees, dormant in winter and awakening on their New Year. Indeed, the Torah compares trees to human beings, saying, “Are trees of the field human” (Deut. 20:19).7

    The Sages felt kindly towards trees and cared for their welfare and health. They even said that if a tree is unhealthy, restrictions against its fruit do not apply (Tosefta, Shevi’it 1.10): “The tree may be pruned with a knife … and neither the laws of the seventh year nor concerning the customs of the Amorites are to constitute any hindrance.” In other words, one may paint a red mark on the unhealthy tree in order to announce that its fruit is allowed, and one may even do so during the sabbatical year and even if the gentiles do the same, or even if passersby might pray over it.

    Just like human beings, trees have their own birthday and New Year, a sort of Bar Mitzvah, marking their no longer being orlah (their fruit forbidden because of the trees’ young age). Trees are dormant in winter and awaken to drink the water that grows warmer from the second ember in the middle of the month of Shvat, so that they can produce their fruit in due season and enable us to recite a benediction over trees and the fruit they bear.


    Another noteworthy theme connected with Tu biSh’vat is that the fifteenth of Shvat was traditionally a day off for teachers and pupils in the Beit Midrash. On that day the Beit Midrash did not function, and the youngsters did not come to their rabbi’s house to study. Upon leaving the morning prayer service, the melamed (instructor) had to give his pupils wine and honey cake at his own expense, not theirs.8 This date was also considered the end of the term:9

    When the New Year for trees came on the fifteenth of Shvat, … the melamed would depart, regardless of his employer’s wishes, for he would have in mind to find another location and a city where he would be more highly respected than in his previous position, and where the pay would be better. Until the beginning of the next term the number of students would dwindle, until a new melamed arrived… And thus it would continue, until the youngsters would grow up and chirp like birds and the rabbis would not know what they are saying … and they would begin to behave superciliously … and impudence, levity and the like would increase.

    During term-time, however, they were very strict in disciplining their instructors, as we learn from the records of the communities of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek, 1724:

    It has become known to the community that there are some melameds who have been doing the Lord’s work fraudulently, letting off the youngsters from their studies on days that are not vacations, as on the past Sunday, the day after the fifteenth (of Shvat, which that year fell on the Sabbath), not only canceling studies on the holy Sabbath but also on Sunday, thereby contravening the law of the Torah and not only causing irrevocable damage but also coming under the general rule, “Cursed is he who does the Lord’s work fraudulently.” Seeing this, the community cannot stand silently by and therefore warns that such a thing shall not be repeated in the future, but that the melameds shall teach the schoolchildren regularly, and if anyone violates this rule he shall be given a punishment beyond bearing.

    No more need be said.

    “A Tree Comes of Age” was originally given as a lecture on Parashat Yitro 5769/ February 14, 2009 and published on Bar-Ilan University’s Parashat Hashavua Study Center’s website, here. I have transcribed and added a number of the sourcetexts referred to in the lecture and in doing this I have added to the annotations in the original post.
    1. See B. M. Levine, Otzar ha-Geonim le-Rosh ha-Shanah, Jerusalem 1933, p. 23.
    ופרישנה דהכי קאמ׳ הואיל ויצאו רוב גשמי שנה אע״פ שרוב תקופה מבחוץ לא נותר להזכרת גשמים אלא ששים יום ויצאו יותר ממאה נמצא הקיץ שקרוב ואע״פ שרוב תקופת טבת מבחוץ לראש תקופת ניסן
    2. ורבנן דתמן אמרין בה טעמא אחרינא שעד כן חיין ממי שנה שעברה מיכן ואילך הן חיין מימי שנה הבאה (ירושלמי פ״א, ה״ב)‏
    3. Yom-Tov Levinsky, Sefer ha-Moadim, Part 2, “Yemei Mo’ed ve-Zikaron,” p. 321.
    בימות הגשמים עצור איש השדה באהלו, עטוף בגדים, יושב על יד האח הבוערת ומנמנם. הצאן והבקר מכונסים גם הם במכלא שמסביב לאהלו, רועדים מקור ומצפים לימות חמה, למרחבי מרעה בשדות ובהרים. והנה קם אללה בחסדו הגדול ומוריד להם מן השמים שלוש גחלים. גחלת ראשונה (ג׳מרת אלהאווי — גחלת האויר) יורדת שבעה בשבט, מחממת את האויר ומבשרת את בוא האביב. מתעורר האכר מתנומתו, פותח את המכלא ומתחיל לשלוח את בהמתו לשדה. אולם עדיין לא ימצאו מקום מרעה טוב ועוד גדול הקור. ייחל האכר עוד שבעת ימים אחרים. עד יום ארבעה־עשר בשבט. ובארבעה־ עשר בשבט יוריד אללה מן השמים גחלת שניה (ג׳מרת אלמאיי — גחלת המים). יתחממו המים, ייכנסו לעצים ויחזירום לפריחתם ולפריים, ישמח האכר וישלח את בהמתו להרים, למרעה. אולם עדיין שולטת הקרה ויתהולל הרוח ואין עוד לצאת לעבודת השדה. מונה האכר עוד שבעה ימים, ואז מוריד אללה את הגחלת השלישית מן השמים (ג׳מרת אלארד — גחלת הארץ). תתחמם האדמה ומתחילה להתכסות בדשא רך. ואז יתנער האכר מעצלותו שימות הגשמים נסכו עליו ויצא לעבודתו בשדה ובגן עד הערב.
    4. Abu Yahya Zakariya’ ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (أبو یحیی زکریاء بن محمد القزویني) or Zakarya Qazvini (Persian: زکریا قزوینی) ‎(1203–1283), Marvels of Creatures and the Strange Things Existing (عجائب المخلوقات وغرائب الموجودات), Vol. 1, p.76.
    5. Levinsky, Sefer Hamoadim, 321.
    נוסח אחר של אותה אגדת הגחלים מביא הגיאוגרף הערבי קאזוויני (מאה שלוש־עשרה) בקוסמוגראפיה שלו (כרך א׳ עמ׳ 76) : אכרי ארץ־ישראל מתחילים להקטין בחודש שבט את האח המתחממת. ד בשבט מוציאים גחלת אחת מן האש, כי האויר מתחיל להתחמם. י״ד בשבט — גחלת שנייה, כי המים מתחממים ובכ״א בשבט — גחלת שלישית כי האדמה מתחממת כבר. ממחרת הגחלת השניה, בחמישה עשר בשבט, שותלים בארץ ורדים. יסמינים ונרקיסים
    6. Rav Hai Gaon in Otzar ha-Geonim le-Rosh ha-Shanah, p. 23.
    והוא קרוב לט״ו בשבט שלתקופה ובדין הוא שיהא ראש השנה לאילן.
    7. In the film Lord of the Rings we see the wondrous and beloved characters known as Ents, large old and wise trees, full of kind-hearted wisdom, who play a central role in saving the world of humankind.
    8. According to Minhagei Wormeise by Rabbi Yospe Shemesh, 1673. Perhaps the widespread practice of handing out report cards on Tu b’Shvat, even though there is no vacation then, originated from this custom.
    9. Records of Talmud Torah, Kiev, 1765, appearing in: S. Assaf, Mekorot le- Toledot ha-Hinnukh be- Yisrael, Part 4, Tel Aviv 1948, p. 193.

  15. Aryae Post author

    Prayer in the Redwoods
    from Aryae’s Blog

    Blessed are You our God
    and God of our fathers and mothers,
    God of everyone and everywhere since time’s beginning,
    God of our children to time’s end.

    My heart is bursting beyond its boundaries
    in this company of ancient holy beings,
    in their forest home
    for the chimpmunk darting through the bushes,
    for the bird calling out its exhuberent song overhead,
    for the flower unfurling its orange petal glory by the clear flowing creek,
    and this old man seeking a little quiet time with You.

    These gentle giants are naked and defenseless
    against the terrible machinery
    of human greed, arrogance, blindness.
    This land without boundaries,
    flowing with milk and honey,
    which You gave us for an inheritance
    for ourselves and our children to the end of time,
    has been decimated, desecrated, clear cut for quick bucks.

    If we had ears
    to hear her screams of anguish and her sobs of mourning,
    who could survive?
    Now a few small precious vulnerable remnants,
    protected only by governing bodies
    themselves under attack by the same forces that decimated the ancient forests,

    As I sit here in the circle of ancient holy beings,
    they embrace me and comfort me.
    We have been here a long time, they say.
    More has happened than you can imagine.
    More is yet to come.
    This moment is alive, radient.
    Be here with us.

    God wipe away our tears,
    heal our broken hearts,
    teach us to treasure each other,
    make us worthy to receive the inheritance
    that you’ve temporarily placed in our hands for safe-keeping.

    Bless us with the wisdom
    to learn from these ancient holy beings
    and all the holy beings that surround us every day
    to treasure and care for your gifts,
    to pass them on in undiminished glory
    to our children and our children’s children
    to time’s end.

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    The fourth cup represents the pure essence, what is contained in the seed. Something of the seed is always present in what grows from it. Sometimes the wind carries the seed far from its origin. What does the seed carry of the tree from which it came? What do all seeds, all trees owe to the wind?
    The walls of the labyrinth are high and the paths are twisting, you can barely feel the wind as you are standing there, staring up at the silent walls of the labyrinth. But you can. You can feel the wind, even there.
    — from the Stone Seder

    The fourth fruit is the seed, pure and lofty, the fourth level the essence, the source of life represented by the seed.
    So we end where we begin, with the seed, with what grows from the seed, with the wind that takes the seed and plants it, with the planting, the planter, the circle where there is no beginning, no end.
    There just is. The circles. The ones we know, the ones we don’t know.
    — from the Stone Seder

  17. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Here’s a “shtickel” Torah–a little bit of Torah teaching–and I’m sharing it for my birthday. It’s the kind of Torah that Reb Shlomo Carlebach would call a “cash Torah” — something you can khop (get it) in one sentence, that is powerful and impactful. (“Cash torah” because you can get it and use it right away.)

    The Talmud teaches that eating food without saying a brakhah (a blessing) beforehand is like stealing. A lot of people know that teaching, and it’s pretty deep. But here’s an even deeper part: the Talmud doesn’t call it “stealing”, but “me’ilah”, which means taking from sacred property that belongs to the Temple. So that means that everything in the world is sacred and this Creation is like a HOLY TEMPLE.

    Here’s the next part:

    If me’ilah means that you can’t use property that’s sanctified, that’s because sanctified property must be used for a sacred purpose and it must be used by the priests. So if saying a brakhah changes the status of something so that you can now eat it, what status is the brakhah changing? Is it turning the food into something that’s no longer sacred and can therefore be used by an ordinary person (a “hedyot”)? OR, is it turning the person from a hedyot into a priest?

    I think it means that by saying a blessing before we eat–or before we take in any pleasure that has a brakhah–we become like priests administering to Creation, which means we take on an awesome responsibility: that we should act not just for our own sakes but for the sake of all people and all beings. That’s the role of the priest in the Temple.

    Wow! As Shlomo hevra would say, I bless us that we all merit to really see the world through such eyes, and that our every act of eating, of taking, from this world, be an act of sanctification and blessing — meaning, not just blessing God, but bringing blessing, to all the creatures that we share this planet with. Or, in R’ Moshe Cordovero’s words, may we live and work and act so that our actions “cause life to stream forth, to all beings”.

    Another teaching from Reb David Seidenbeg

    Here’s a bit of Tu Bishvat Torah, paraphrased from my book — which is
    almost almost completed. It’s based on a passage from Pirkei d’Rabi
    Eliezer ch.12.


    When God created the first human being, Adam Harishon, and stood the creature up, it was magnificent like one of the ministering angels. God said: “If I let this one be the unique and only human in the world, then all the other creatures will see it and say, ‘this one created us’. Therefore, ‘it is not good for the adam to be alone’. (Gen 2:8) So God split the human into male and female.

    When the Earth heard that there would be human beings would multiply, she trembled and quaked. The Earth said: “I do not have in me the strength to feed the flocks of humanity.” God said: “I will feed humanity at night with sleep, and so share the burden with you.”

    According to this midrash, humanity must bet fed by our sleep, by our
    resting, by our dreaming, by being connected to the realm of the
    unconscious, to the realm of the soul. If we are not fed in this way,
    we can (will?) overwhelm and destroy the Earth.

    What about the way we live now makes it hard to connect to the
    unconscious? How can we strengthen our connection to it?

  18. Aryae Post author

    Rabbi Dovid Dilman

    A Thought for Tu B’Shvat

    The way a gift is given reveals the interest of the one who is giving. He who gives because circumstances force him to do so will give the minimum. Someone who wants to benefit the recipient will seek to give extra. When a present laden with extras is received, it implies that the benefactor is deeply interested in the benefit of the recipient. It also bespeaks of a desire to foster a strong relationship.

    Fruits are typically sweet, juicy and desirable. In contrast, grains and legumes offer sustenance and not much more. They are the minimum needed to sustain life. Hashem does not stop at that. He gives us the extras — rich, sweet fruits. Trees and their fruits reveal Hashem’s deep desire to benefit us to the fullest measure.

    Tu B’shvat is the Rosh Hashanah of trees because this is the day when the capacity of trees to produce is renewed. On this day Hashem renews his from-the-heart kindness. He demonstrates again His interest in giving to us. Tu B’shvat is not only about fruits .It’s about the relationship Hashem wants to have with us that is implied in fruits. If you savor this with each fruit you eat, it will be a different Tu B’shvat.

    With this perhaps we can understand why the Torah is called “Eitz Chayim”, the tree of life. Through this “tree” Hashem affords us rich sweetness that stays with our neshama forever. All the pleasures of this world pale in comparison. This wildly exceeds the minimum necessary for sustaining life. From this “tree”, we also see Hashem’s deep interest in giving us the best and the most.

    On fruits we say the bracha, “Borei pri ha’eitz”. If we say “borei pri ha’adama” or “shehakol”, we are yotzei only bedi’eved. This is so because only the bracha “pri ha’eitz” gives expression to the goodness that is unique to the fruits of the tree. We are meant to take notice of the extra kindness that is contained in fruits. This bracha can remind us how much Hashem loves and cares for us. Anything short of this is bedi’eved.

    Similarly, we can change our whole relationship to Hashem if we will remain mindful of the fabulous goodness He bestows on us by allowing us to connect to His Torah and mitzvos. Thinking about this before saying birchas haTorah is a good place to start.

  19. Aryae Post author

    Photo by Aryae, of his and Wendy’s Meyer Lemon tree.

    Teaching By Reb Shlomo
    (Sent by Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo)

    Reb Shlomo on Tu B’Shvat

    What is exile? Lack of growth. So the growth is the beginning of Redemption.
    What is the difference between a tree and a vegetable? A tree is perennial. The vegetable is new every year. On Tu B’Shvat, the tree is at the point of death. On the outside, dead completely. Unless you are receiving newness, you are completely dead.

    Now listen to this. The Redemption is all about timing. Once I went to a Reiki healer. Stupid, I put on Shabbos clothes by mistake, I get there and I have no money. She gives me her card, nebekh I lost it, even forgot her name. I promised to pay her for the treatment, but now how could I? Very spiritual lady, but not Jewish. What a Hilul HaShem (desecration of haShem’s Name)! Three years later, I’m at Famous (deli restaurant on 72nd street) for breakfast, and whom do I see outside the restaurant. The Reiki healer! And what does she tell me? Oy vey! Last night I was robbed and all my money was taken. So I’ve been walking up and down 72nd street all morning looking for someone from whom I can borrow some money. This is Tu B’Shvat. When you think you’re at the end, it happens.

    The Zohar teaches us, “Vahamushim alu bnei yisroel m’eretz mitzrayim.” The literal transation of “hamushim” is weapons. But what it really means is that we are at the final gate, the fiftieth gate of impurity, the gate from which there is no return, G-d forbid, and at that very split second, we get out of Egypt and the sea splits open. Until the sea split, we thought the redemption was for but three days. Now we know the redemption is forever.
    The first two Holy Temples were but for a while The Third Temple is Forever. The first two Holy Temples were built by the Kings of Israel. The Third Holy Temple is built by HaShem Himself. Haman’s tree stands fifty feet high. What is Amalek? He tells you he is the fiftieth gate of holiness. But really he is the fiftieth gate of unholiness. So he is hanged from the tree that he built himself.

    So on Tu B’Shvat, I am mamash at the end. So Reb Leible Eiger tells us, we get back our soul, new energy pill, the strength not to give up.

    Like the seed, you have to descend into such depth, such darkness to grow again. If you didn’t get the redemption at the very second you reached the deepest depths, then you aren’t yet open for it. In Shvat we get the vessels to receive it.

    Ok, now here comes a really deep Izhbetzer Torah. What’s the difference between a cute little vegetable and a tree? How come a vegetable is dead when it’s done? A tree can live for hundreds of years. He says the deepest Torah. The tree prays to G-d, please make something out of me. You know what’s praying the most? And this is one of the top ten Izhbetzer Torahs. It’s good to remember. How come one apple tree tastes so good and another one not? When the apple seed is praying before G-d the very last second before it’s completely disintegrated it’s the prayer of the deepest depths. And if its prayer is not so deep…There you have two trees.

    I mean the depths of this Torah is awesome. Gevaldt, it’s the very last prayer we say before we leave the world… A vegetable prays a cute little prayer. A vegetable grows and then just stops… But an apple seed, it prays so much. It’s every second. It can’t stop. The apple seed’s prayer is a “forever” prayer. So the tree lives forever because this seed prayed so hard. Shvat is the Rosh HaShona L’Elanot, the new year– the headquarters– of the trees.

    Now listen to this, it’s so deep. A vegetable when it disappears doesn’t cry. It says, “I had my day. I’m happy. I had a summer. I had a good time on the earth, saw the sun, went to the supermarket, ended up on Shabbos in the chulent… halivei (it should only be).
    Do you know what the tree is crying out? The tree is at is end, each year. Listen to this. The tree when it reaches the end, mamash, all its prayers are rising up again. The tree prays all its prayers again. Awesome.

    I want to tell you something very very deep. Imagine I need coffee. I say, “Please G-d, give me some coffee.” And G-d answers me, “Ok, I’ll get you some coffee.” But when I pray for something very deep, my prayer is all that there is. The more I need something from G-d, the deeper the depths my prayer touches my neshama. And that prayer touches all the prayers which I ever prayed in this lifetime and perhaps other lifetimes as well…

  20. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


    Next winter when you can walk
    we’ll make our way into the woods
    at the edge of our land, trees webbed
    with plastic tubing, clear
    and pale green against the snow.

    We’ll go down to the beaver dam, pond
    punctuated with cattails, and
    I’ll show you the rounded buckets
    galvanized tin bright
    against the grizzled trunks.

    Dip a finger beneath the living spigot:
    what drips is thin, almost tasteless, but
    at every sugar shack across these hills
    clouds of fragrant steam billow.
    And after long boiling, this amber…

    Where I grew up, the air is soft
    already, impatiens and begonias thinking
    about blooming. In these hills
    as this winter moon waxes, this
    is what rises, hidden and sweet.

  21. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg

    Tu Bish’vat wisdom
    These three teachings were submitted by Jacob Fine, great-great-great-great grandson of the Zhidachover, the author of the first teaching. The second two teachings can be found in Yitzhak Buxbaum’s compendium A Person Is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu Beshvat (available here). See links to more Tu Bish’vat Torah compiled by Reb Duvid and others here.

    1) It is indeed a sign of a good heart when one’s every action is for the sake of God and he does everything with heaven in mind, nevertheless, this is not what we call “the perfect service” in the tradition we have received. So did I hear in the name of the Maggid (R. Yisrael of Koznitz), with regard to the talmudic saying, “What is perfect service? One after which no other service follows.” The Maggid said: “When one’s eating is intended only to strengthen his body for Torah study and worship, how can one call this a perfect service? While eating, he neither prays nor learns; hence this is merely an act of service for the sake of and which leads to the true service which follows.” However, if the eating is done in accordance with the meditations of R. Isaac Luria, to refine and elevate the holy sparks in the food… then he can unify as much with his eating as he can with his prayer.

    R. Tzvi Hirsch of Zhidachov, Sur me-Ra va-Aseh Tov, 116a, (18th-19th c.)

    2) A blessing recited over a fruit that one eats draws down a supernal flow from above. The angelic minister appointed over that species of fruit is infused with power to again produce more of that fruit. Therefore, someone who eats without a blessing is called a “robber” because she consumed a creation that contained spiritual power, and destroyed and removed that power from the world. She should have drawn down a renewed flow of blessing from above to replace what she had consumed. Now, because she failed to recite a blessing, that angel is deprived of that power and has been “robbed”…To encourage this flow of divine life-energy from above, it is fitting on Tu BiShvat to eat many kinds of fruits and to recite blessings over them with this intention. Although this should be our intention in eating during the whole year, it is still true that it is precious to perform a mitzvah at its best time.

    Pri Etz Hadar (ca. 17th c.), p. 3-4

    3) A person should intend [on Tu BiShvat], when reciting a blessing, to channel divine life-energy to all creations and creatures–inanimate, plant, animal and human. He should believe with perfect faith that God, blessed be He, gives life to them all and that there is a spark of divine life-energy in every thing, which gives it existence, enlivens it, and causes it to grow.

    Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadiger (19th c.), Beit Yisrael, Emet LeYaakov, 38b

    Also from Reb David:

    “Here’s a first for neochasid: I bundled all the Tu Bishvat resources
    in one zip file–that’s a simple haggadah, a black and white version
    and a color version of a Kabbalistic haggadah, the blessing from the
    first Tu Bishvat seder (pdf and doc), and 3 pages of texts to study.”
    You can get the zip file for these documents at the Neohasid home page.

  22. Wendy

    From Nava Tehila

    The text is Psalm 96:12: יַעֲלֹז שָׂדַי, וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ; אָז יְרַנְּנוּ, כָּל-עֲצֵי-יָעַר — “Let the field exult, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy.”

  23. Wendy

    From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
    A Teaching for Tu-Besh’vat from Gershon…

    “The very life force of the human emanates solely from the tree”
    (Midrash Sif’ri, D’varim 20:19).

    The oral tradition of our people tells us that the proverbial Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden was a fig tree (Talmud Bav’li, Sanhedrin 70b), and it too sinned by allowing us to pluck its fruit when we were told not to. The tree should have stopped us but didn’t (Sefer HaSh’lah, Vai Ha’Amudim, Hak’damah [toward End]). Instead, it loosened its grip on the forbidden fruit, allowed it to be released from its branch by our tugging at it, and then watched us eat it while knowing fully well we weren’t supposed to. After all, trees, our sages taught, are high-level communicators (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 13:2), and the Tree of Knowledge should have communicated to us, and said: “Don’t do it.” But it didn’t.

    The fig we ate then opened our eyes so wide that we felt naked before the One Who Knows All and is All because our body awareness now became as vivid as our God Awareness, and the contrast became now so overwhelming that it drove us to flee. While we made every effort to get as far away from the place as possible, it was to no avail, and we continued to feel uncomfortable around being naked because the vividness of our sense of God Presence failed to subside with geographic distancing, and our body awareness became more and more conspicuous with every step, and the contrast – which we had never known before – became increasingly bothersome and disconcerting.

    And so we wandered about uncomfortably naked and hungrily salivating with the taste of fruit now flavoring our tongues. It was the first fruit we had tasted, and we now hungered for more! And so we went from tree to tree in search of more fruit. But much to our dismay, every tree we approached turned us away and refused to let us pluck its fruit. “You are thieves!” they cried, holding fast to their fruit, “and we refuse to give to those who have taken what was not theirs to take!” (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 15:8).

    How tragic. In the beginning, we were told we could eat the fruit of all the trees, and now, having eaten of the one tree we were supposed to avoid, we couldn’t eat from any of them! So this is what the ancient rabbis meant when they taught, “He who sets his eyes on that which is not his – what he desires is not given to him, and what he possesses is taken away from him” (Talmud Bav’li, Sotah 9a).

    And so we wandered about, looking for a tree that would let bygones be bygones and grant us our wish for a nice ripe and juicy fruit. Any fruit. But alas! No success. Wherever we went, we were turned down. And we started feeling really uncomfortable around one another. We used to look into each other’s eyes most of the time, and feel our love of Other in our hearts, and our admiration of Other in our minds. Now we found ourselves primarily staring at each other’s genitalia, and thinking only about how we could be pleasured by Other, and our hearts and minds mostly lusted, for fruit and for sex. The love we once felt toward one another was starting to become tainted. “What can I give to Other” slowly began to morph into “What can I get from Other.”

    Finally, after walking the entire planet, we ended up back where we had started from, and found ourselves at the foot of the very same fig tree again. Exhausted, we dropped at the foot of its trunk and rested. It was the full moon period of the month of Sh’vat. We were cold. We were naked. We were hungry.

    “Here,” said the tree. We looked up. A huge bundle of figs slowly fell onto our lap, still connected to its leaves, twigs and branches. “Enjoy. And if you are still uncomfortable around your nakedness, make for yourselves some covering from out of the leaves.” We hesitated. Could we? Should we? Was it okay? After all, this was the same tree that had gotten us into trouble in the first place!

    We took the leaves it gave us and made for ourselves loin-coverings of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). After all, God never mentioned anything about the leaves, just the fruit. We then took the figs into our hands, gazed at them longingly, and then were about to put them down when we heard a still small voice whispering in our ears. It was God: “Know that the tree has been forgiven by virtue of reaching out to you to satiate your hunger and address your discomfort with your nakedness, having supplanted its mischievous intention with one of compassion. And now that you have refrained from eating of the Forbidden Fruit even though your desire for it is overpowering, you too are forgiven. And this will be my sign that all is forgiven — I too shall make for you garments and dress you accordingly.” And so it was, as is written in the Torah: “And Adonai Elo’heem made for the man and his woman garments of skin, and dressed them” (Genesis 3:21).

    Feeling comfortable and satiated, we now turned our attention to the Tree of Life, the tree whose fruit would eternalize the good feelings we now had so that we would never lose it again. But God had assigned a couple of menacing Cherubim to guard the path to that sacred tree. It became clear to us that Life was something we had to work toward; that it was far more than merely being alive, and that it was not going to be gifted to us on a platter.

    Again we were sent out to wander the earth once more. But now, wherever we went, the trees gifted us their fruit abundantly and with joy. And we were able to restore our focus on one another’s hearts and minds, to see the beauty within as well as without, to enjoy each other in spirit, mind and body instead of one to the neglect of the other. But we had to keep working at it all the time, struggling with it, wrestling with it, suffering around it — which made us long for the Tree of Life even more.

    And so, every year, on the Fifteenth Day of the Moon of Sh’vat, we commemorate this momentous event by celebrating the trees, their turnabout and compassion; how they opened up to us again and forgave us our trespass, and how “The tree that afflicted us, was the very tree that healed us” (Talmud Bav’li, Sanhedrin 70b).

    And we lived happily ever after. And fruitfully so.

  24. Wendy

    From Rabbi Simon Jacobson

    Of Trees and Men

    “Man is a tree of the field,”[1] and the Jewish calendar reserves one day each year—the “New Year for Trees” on the 15th of Shevat[2]—for us to contemplate our affinity with our botanical analogue and what it can teach us about our own lives.

    The tree’s primary components are: the roots, which anchor it to the ground and supply it with water and other nutrients; the trunk, branches and leaves that comprise its body; and the fruit, which contain the seeds through which the tree reproduces itself.

    The spiritual life of man also includes roots, a body, and fruit. The roots represent faith, our source of nurture and perseverance. The trunk, branches and leaves are the “body” of our spiritual lives—our intellectual, emotional and practical achievements. The fruit is our power of spiritual procreation—the power to influence others, to plant a seed in a fellow human being and see it sprout, grow and bear fruit.

    The roots are the least “glamorous” of the tree’s parts—and the most crucial. Buried underground, virtually invisible, they possess neither the majesty of the tree’s body, the colorfulness of its leaves nor the tastiness of its fruit. But without roots, the tree cannot survive.

    Furthermore, the roots must keep pace with the body: if the trunk and leaves grow and spread without a proportional increase in its roots, the tree will collapse under its own weight. On the other hand, a profusion of roots makes for a healthier, stronger tree, even if it has a meager trunk and few branches, leaves and fruit. And if the roots are sound, the tree will rejuvenate itself if its body is damaged or its branched lopped off.

    Faith is the least glamorous of our spiritual faculties. Characterized by a “simple” conviction and commitment to one’s Source, it lacks the sophistication of the intellect, the vivid color of the emotions, or the sense of satisfaction that comes from deed. And faith is buried underground, its true extent concealed from others and even from ourselves.

    Yet our faith, our supra-rational commitment to G-d, is the foundation of our entire “tree.” From it stems the trunk of our understanding, from which branch out our feelings, motivations and deeds. And while the body of the tree also provides some spiritual nurture (via its “leaves”), the bulk of our spiritual sustenance derives from its roots, from our faith in and commitment to our Creator.

    A soul might grow a majestic trunk, numerous and wide-spreading branches, beautiful leaves and lush fruit. But these must be equaled, indeed surpassed, by its “roots.” Above the surface, we might behold much wisdom, profundity of feeling, abundant experience, copious achievement and many disciples; but if these are not grounded and vitalized by an even greater depth of faith and commitment, it is a tree without foundation, a tree doomed to collapse under its own weight.

    On the other hand, a life might be blessed with only sparse knowledge, meager feeling and experience, scant achievement and little “fruit.” But if its “roots” are extensive and deep, it is a healthy tree: a tree fully in possession of what it does have; a tree with the capacity to recover from the setbacks of life; a tree with the potential to eventually grow and develop into a loftier, more beautiful and fruitful tree.

    The tree desires to reproduce, to spread its seeds far and wide so that they take root in diverse and distant places. But the tree’s reach is limited to the extent of its own branches. It must therefore seek out other, more mobile “couriers” to transport its seeds.

    So the tree produces fruit, in which its seeds are enveloped by tasty, colorful, sweet-smelling fibers and juices. The seeds themselves would not rouse the interest of animals and men; but with their attractive packaging, they have no shortage of customers who, after consuming the external fruit, deposit the seeds in those diverse and distant places where the tree wants to plant its seeds.

    When we communicate to others, we employ many devices to make our message attractive. We buttress it with intellectual sophistication, steep it in emotional sauce, dress it in colorful words and images. But we should bear in mind that this is only the packaging, the “fruit” that contains the seed. The seed itself is essentially tasteless—the only way that we can truly impact others is by conveying our own simple faith in what we are telling them, our own simple commitment to what we are espousing.

    If the seed is there, our message will take root in their minds and hearts, and our own vision will be grafted into theirs. But if there is no seed, there will be no progeny to our effort, however tasty our fruit might be.)[3]


    [1]. Deuteronomy 20:19.

    [2]. “Tu B’Shevat,” which this year falls on February 11.

    [3]. Igrot Kodesh, vol. I, pp. 247-250. There exist two versions of this letter: a draft in the Rebbe’s hand, and a copy of a letter as actually sent, which includes only some of the points contained in the first version.

    Based on a letter by the Rebbe dated Shevat 21, 5704 (February 15, 1944)

  25. Wendy

    From Torah.org

    Spring to Life

    By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
    When we speak of Tu B’Shvat (the 15th of Shvat), the New Year for trees, thoughts of joyous tunes, tree planting ceremonies and the consumption of fruit come to mind. Certainly it is a day that we all look forward to. But what exactly is Tu B’Shvat, in terms of its legal status? It isn’t a festival, as neither the Torah nor the Talmud make any mention of celebrating or observing this day. No commandments are recorded. Nor are any special prayers inserted within the liturgy. The only things that we find regarding Tu B’Shvat pertain to things that we should not do. These include not reciting special supplications in our prayers, not eulogizing a lost one, and not fasting – all three due to the joyous nature of the day. So if Tu B’Shvat isn’t a festival, what is it?

    Looking exclusively at the Torah it would seem that the significance of Tu B’Shvat is entirely limited to the realm of agriculture.

    When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be eaten. In the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to G-d. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit; [do this, in order] to increase its produce for you. I am G-d, your G-d. (Deuteronomy 19:23-25)

    These three verses form the basis of two commandments. The first is that of orlah literally “blocked” or “closed” fruit. We are commanded not to derive any benefit from fruit that grows in the land of Israel during the first three years of a tree’s growth (or for the first three years after a tree is replanted). The second commandment is that of neta revai. All fruit from the tree’s fourth year can be eaten, however it may only be consumed by its owner in Jerusalem (unless it is redeemed – see Leviticus 27:34). From the fifth year and beyond the fruit can be eaten completely at the owner’s discretion, whenever and wherever he wishes.

    What is the reasoning behind the commandment of neta revai? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that when a person sits in Jerusalem eating the fruit of his labor, he comes to appreciate the true synthesis between the spiritual realm, as illustrated by Jerusalem and its Bais HaMikdash, and his physical reality, symbolized by the fruit.

    G-d instructs us to take something that is otherwise mundane (chulin) and infuse it with a spiritual dimension (kedusha). The word chulin is closely related to the word challal, meaning empty or dead. It lacks any spiritual vitality. Kedusha, on the other hand, means a complete surrender to a higher purpose (see Hirsch to Deuteronomy 23:18). We surrender our actions, our possessions, even the very food that we eat, to G-d. Until now it was a piece of fruit; now it’s an item through which we can serve Him. Through His word, the physical becomes a manifestation of the spiritual.

    Once Tu B’Shvat arrives in the fourth year, the fruits of this tree are infused with the status of neta revai. Why is it that we look specifically to Tu B’Shvat as the cut off date? Our question becomes stronger when we realize that the month of Shvat actually marks winter’s mid-point. How is it that we can identify a date in the heart of the winter in connection to commandments that are so intimately associated with harvesting?

    The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 14a) offers the following explanation as to why Bais Shammai (who argue with Bais Hillel by stating that the new year for trees is actually the first of Shvat) maintain their particular view. Although (once the first of Shvat arrives) the greater part of the winter cycle is still to come, yet since the greater part of the year’s rain has fallen (and the trees now begin to blossom), therefore we celebrate the new year for trees on the first of Shvat.

    When we look to identify a date as the cut off point between one agricultural year and the next, we have to focus on the date by which the tree normally begins to blossom. Once it blossoms, its fruit belong to the new year. It marks a new process of growth. Though there is still much time left in the winter season, the beginnings of a spring can already be perceived today. Such beginnings are enough to call this day the New Year for trees.

    There is a deeper message here as well. As we analyze the yearly cycle, we notice that the seasons in many ways parallel our own lives. Concepts of growth and development, and, eventually, stagnation and decay, appear in both the vegetative and human realms. The Torah itself alludes to this when it compares us to trees (Deuteronomy 20:19).

    Of all of the yearly seasons, there is perhaps no greater disparity than the one that exists between the seasons of winter and spring. Winter represents stagnation and unrealized potential, when all signs of growth lie hidden inside of the trees. There are no external signs of development, no expressions of vitality. All we see is an empty tree trunk; the fruit and leaves of last season have long since fallen away.

    Spring, on the other hand, symbolizes burgeoning vitality. Everything is new and exciting. Trees that have remained dormant for the past few months start to show new signs of life. Buds begin to sprout, flowers start to open. Nature once again reveals its true beauty.

    For, behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing bird has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. (Song of Songs 2:11-12)

    This contrast is true in human life as well. Circumstances sometimes force us into our own personal “winter,” when struggles and challenges strip us of our innate vitality. There are other times in which we seemingly experience only joy and excitement in our lives. Everything points towards growth and accomplishment.

    We must realize, however, that there are two distinct ways for a person to approach the winter-like situations in his own life. The aforementioned contrast between winter and spring is only true if one views winter as the death-knell of summer. The beauty of the seasonal cycle, however, is that one can alternatively view winter as ushering in the upcoming spring. No matter what challenges a person faces, there are always better days awaiting him. Such a person knows no limitations, no dormancy. Life is a continuous cycle pointed in the direction of growth.

    This is the message of Tu B’Shvat. In the middle of the winter, when everything around us seems so cold and bleak, think of spring. Eat fruit. Sing joyous tunes. Plant new trees. Always look for the good.

    But the message goes one step further. Not only are we charged to maintain a continuously upbeat attitude regardless of our personal circumstances, we must also realize that those very circumstances are the ones that form the basis of our eventual success. Though we might not have noticed it, most of the “rain” necessary for growth has already fallen. The basis for our success, namely the trials and challenges that we have had to overcome, is already in place. The only difference is that this foundation still lives in the realm of potential, hidden from the outside world. It takes the warmth of spring, literally and in our own lives, to allow that potential to blossom into its eventual reality (see Ramban’s commentary to Genesis 22:1).

    Interestingly, the Hebrew word for winter itself, choref, illustrates this exact point. Rav Hirsch notes that choref is related to the word charfi, a word which means dormant vigor. As I was in the days of my winter (I.e. dormant vigor) (Job 29:4). Winter here alludes to the days of a persons youth, a time in which his vast talents are waiting to emerge. It is a persons “spring” that helps to bring those latent talents to the forefront.

    Our discussion began with an attempt to understand the true function of Tu B’Shvat. We noted how Tu B’Shvat played a significant role in determining the legal status of produce, by identifying the year to which it “belonged.” We also showed that Tu BShvat provides us with many essential, real-life lessons. We celebrate Tu B’Shvat knowing that we will continue to weather the storm of life, no matter what that particular “season” has in store. This is because G-d, the Source of all blessing, is behind us, providing us with the means to succeed

  26. Wendy

    From Rabbi Miles Krassen

    For a more integral T”u Bi-Shevat (New Year for Trees) experience, associate the 4 Cups with the earth-centric Gaian perspective of four directions and seasons and the types of fruit with the vertical/meta-cosmic increasingly spiritual levels of the 4 Worlds of Emanation.

    “Here’s one way to view the tequfot(seasons): Hesed/Water South/Spring;
    Gevurah/Fire North/Summer;
    Tiferet/Wind East/Fall;
    Malkhut/Earth West/Winter”

  27. Wendy

    From Rabbi Arthur Waskow

    Dear chevra,

    In the four cups of wine and four courses of fruit of the Seder of the Tree’s Rebirthday, we affirm Four Worlds of reality. Here are teachings that can be brought to each of the worlds. We invite you to use these at appropriate places in your own Seder, with a footnote reference to The Shalom Center’s websection on Tu B’Shvat:

    1. Assiyah: Physicality, Actuality (Earth)

    The Tu B’Shvat seder, unlike any other Jewish sacred meal, requires eating only nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant’s life-cycle, the only foods that require no death, not even the death of a radish or a carrot. Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation.

    The Seder’s four cups of wine are red, red with a drop of white, white with a drop of red, white. Thus they echoed generation and regeneration among animals, including the human race. For red and white were in ancient tradition seen as blood and semen, the colors of fertility and procreation . To mix them was to create new life .

    Why then did the Kabbalists of Safed connect these primal urgings toward abundance with the date of tithing fruit? Because they saw that God’s shefa, abundance, would keep flowing only if a portion of it were returned as rent to God, the Owner of all land and all abundance.

    And who were God’s rent collectors? Tithes – actual frtuit or the money to buy sustenance – was paid to the poor and the landless, including those priestly celebrants and teachers who owned no piece of earth and whose earthly task was to teach and celebrate.

    These mystics saw a deep significance in giving. They said that to eat without blessing the Tree was robbery; to eat without feeding others was robbery. Worse! — because without blessing and sharing, the flow of abundance would choke and stop.

    2. Yetzirah: Relationship (Water)

    In January 1997, more than two hundred Jews gathered in far northern California, to create and eat together the sacred meal of fruits and nuts and wines that celebrates Tu B”Shvat — the New Year of the Trees. They had gathered in a grove of ancient redwood trees. The redwoods stood above them, silent in their majesty — 250 feet tall and more. They were, they are, the tallest living beings on the planet.

    The celebrants planned to complete the Seder by walking illegally onto the land of a corporation that was planning to log some of the last remaining stand of ancient redwoods that are in private hands. There they would plant redwood seedlings and risk arrest for trespass.

    At this Redwoods Seder, (then rabbinical student, now Rabbi) Naomi Mara Hyman looked up at those great trees and said: “What would a Torah Scroll be like that had these eytzim [“trees”] for its eytzim [the wooden poles that hold the spiraling Torah scroll]? How grand, how tall would such a Torah be!” Then, looking at the crowd who had come to celebrate the Seder, she said: “Each of us would be just the right size to be one letter in such a Torah Scroll!”

    And that is what we are, of course: each one of us a letter in God’s great Torah Scroll of all life on the planet. Yet being a letter is not enough. Nowhere in the Torah does a single letter stand alone to bear some meaning. In English, the word “I” is but a single letter, standing alone; but in Hebrew, even the word for “I” has several letters. No one, not even “I,” can stand alone.

    When one person, one corporation, thinks it is a single letter that can stand alone, that single letter turns to flame and the great Torah Scroll, the earth and the society in which we live, begins to burn. It is a community of lives that make up words, verses, books of wisdom in the living Torah made of earth and air, wood and water.

    3. Briyyah: Creative Intellect, Imagination (Air)

    Kabbalists spoke of God as manifesting the Divine Self through the emanations called “S’phirot,” and they called the pattern of the S’phirot the “Tree of Life.” So God’s own Self was seen as The Tree, which is also traditionally mapped onto the head, arms, heart, legs, and genitals of a human being.

    The “Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei” can be seen as a human form: the Yod as the head, the Hei as two flowing arms, the Vav as the spine and trunk, the Hei as two legs. So God’s Self was mapped through the “Tree of Life” onto the human being who is created in God’s Image.

    And the “Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei” can also be seen as the diagram of a Tree: the Yod as seed deep in the earth, the Hei as roots curving forth underground from the seed, the Vav as the trunk of the tree, the Hei as curving, flowing foliage, and another Yod as the fruit hanging from the branches, ready to begin the next generation of life.

    4. Atzilut: Spirit (Fire)

    Rabbi Phyllis Berman teaches: We say “Tu B’Shvat” only to mask the deeper truth that if we count the days with Aleph as One, Bet as Two, Gimel as three, and so on, then the 15th day is YH – Yod Hei. One of the Names of God, the One we celebrate when we say “Hallelu-YAH.” Let us drop the mask and joyfully recognize that on the full moon of every lunar moonth, “Yah” is fully present.

    “Yah B’Shvat sameakh!”

    —- Arthur

  28. Wendy

    From Chabad.org

    Tu B’Shevat: A Weekday Rosh Hashanah
    From the Book of Our Heritage

    By Eliyahu Kitov

    Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, is one of the four days which are characterized as Rosh Hashanah — the beginning of the year, for each one of these days begins the year in respect to a specific subject. The others are the first of Nissan, the first of Elul and the first of Tishrei.

    The first of Nissan is considered to be Rosh Hashanah for calculating the years of the reign of the Kings of Israel. Thus, if a king was anointed in the month of Adar, the following month of Nissan would be considered to be the beginning of the second year of his reign.

    The first of Nissan is also regarded as Rosh Hashanah for counting the pilgrimage festivals.

    The first of Elul is considered to be Rosh Hashanah for the tithing of animals.

    The first of Tishrei is considered to be Rosh Hashanah for the judgment of mankind, for the calculation of the sabbatical and jubilee years, and for the calculation of orlah (the first three years of a fruit tree when its produce may not be eaten), and for the tithes separated from grains and vegetables.

    Tu b’Shevat, the fifteenth of Shevat, is considered to be Rosh Hashanah for trees, regarding the requirement of tithing their produce.

    Tu b’Shevat is also considered to be Rosh Hashanah regarding the end of the calculation of orlah, the laws of neta revai.

    Our sages designated the fifteenth of Shevat as the boundary between one year and another regarding fruit-bearing trees, for by this date, most of the annual rain has fallen. Fruits that grow after this date are therefore considered to be produce of a new year.

    A Weekday Rosh Hashanah

    Although the fifteenth day of Shevat is considered to be a Rosh Hashanah, the designation applies only to the calculations that begin on that date, separating ma’asrot (tithes) from fruit. The day is not marked, however, by a prohibition of work, by an obligation to eat a festive meal and rejoice, or with special prayers.

    Nevertheless, Tu b’Shevat is invested with a festive sense and has some vestiges of a holiday. Tachanun is omitted in Shacharit and in Minchah on the preceding day, eulogies are not made for the dead, and if the date falls on Shabbat, Av ha-Rachamim is not recited.

    It is customary to eat fruit which is grown in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) and to eat fruit which one has not yet eaten that season so that the Shehecheyanu blessing can be recited.

    The reason for the festive mood of this Rosh Hashanah of trees is that Tu b’Shevat bespeaks the praise of the Land of Israel, for on this day the strength of the soil of Eretz Yisrael is renewed and it begins to yield its produce and demonstrate its inherent goodness. And it is with reference to the fruits of the trees and the produce of the soil that the Torah praises the Land of Israel, as the verse (Devarim 8:8) states: A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives and honey. The verse speaks of two types of grain and five types of fruit when describing the richness of Eretz Yisrael. The honey that the verse mentions refers to honey derived from dates. Thus, the day on which the soil of Eretz Yisrael receives renewed strength to give forth its bounty is a day of rejoicing for the people of Israel, who till the land, who love it and who yearn for it.

    Addenum from Wendy: We have The Book of Our Heritage and find it a helpful resource on the holidays.

  29. Wendy

    From Rabbi Dr Arthur Segal 2009

    The Four Faces of Tu B’ Shevat

    Tu B’ Shevat has taken four different meanings over many millennia. At first it was a tax day for fruit from trees. In those days, the holiday was celebrated on the first of the month, not the 15th.

    The Torah tells us not to eat fruit from a tree for its first three years, and to give the fruit to the Temple in the in the fourth and fifth years. Today, that would mean that we should give the fruit to those in need. To this day, many farmers in Israel obey this mitzvah.

    Rabbi Hillel changed the holiday to the 15th of the month circa 100 B.C.E.

    In the 16th Century, the Kabbalists of Safed, Israel changed the meaning of Tu B’ Shevat again. They celebrated the holiday with a seder and a Hagaddah to bring themselves closer to nature, and hence, closer to G!d.
    “All trees converse with one another
    and with all living creatures.”
    (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 13:2).

    The Kabbalists used fruits and nuts grown in the soil of Israel, and, similarly to a Passover Seder, there are four cups of wine.

    But unlike the Passover Seder for which all four cups are red, the Kabbalistic Tu B’ Shevat Seder has one white cup, one red cup, one mixture of mostly red with some white, and one mixture of mostly white with some red.

    These four color patterns remind us of the four seasons and how God is continually with us throughout the year.

    The third change for Tu B’ Shevat came during the Zionist movement in Israel.

    According to the Talmud, when one acquires land, the land does not change hands – regardless of what is written in the deed – until the land has been improved in some way.
    One way to improve the land and establish ownership is to plant trees. Thus, planting trees became a Tu B’ Shevat custom, especially for children. Unfortunately, years later in the 1960s, the Israelis discovered that trees planted in the middle winter did not survive.

    So the custom of planting trees on Tu B’ Shevat no longer exists among Jews or Israelis who understand environmental issues.

    The present celebration of Tu B’ Shevat makes it a Jewish Earth Day, a time for Jews to remind themselves that the Torah and the Talmud teach us to be stewards and caretakers of the Earth.

    We are to leave the earth a better place than we found it. We have an ethical obligation to make sure that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren have a planet on which they can live with live fruit trees, as an ecological example.

    The Spiritual Lesson of Tu B’ Shevat
    Tu B’ Shevat also contains a spiritual lesson:

    What does this Torah verse mean?

    “A person is like a tree of the field.”
    (Deut. 20:19)

    Rabbi Yisrale of Chortkov explains:
    “When fortune has turned for someone, and they have lost all hope and are despairing, then they should ponder a tree in winter. Its leaves have fallen, its moisture has dried up, it is almost a dead stump in the ground. Then suddenly, it begins to revive and to draw moisture from the earth. Slowly it blossoms, then brings forth fruits. People should learn from this not to despair, but to take hope and have courage, for they, too, are like a tree”

    As already mentioned, Tu B’ Shevat is the New Year for Trees, and is one of four Jewish new years. It is a celebration of trees’ rebirth in the midst of winter. This is the Kabbalistic reawakening of divine energy with G!d as the tree of life.

    Tu B’ Shevat is the first Earth Day. The Talmud declares:
    “If you have a sapling, and someone says that
    the Messiah has come, complete the planting,
    and then go welcome the Messiah.”
    (Avot d’Rabbi Natan)

  30. Wendy

    From Rabbi Jill Hammer The Jewish Book of Days

    The Holy Apple Orchard

    The Zohar depicts the Shekhinah, the immanent Divine dwelling in all things, in many ways: as a bride, as a mother bird, as the Torah. One way the Zohar imagines the Shekhinah is as an apple orchard: not a single tree but a gathering of trees. Each soul, the Zohar imagines, is a tree in the flowering orchard of the Shekhinah. At night, when we dream, we return to the orchard and renew our spirits. Even in winter, the inner orchard is in blossom.

    This orchard is a radical concept, because it implies each of us is a cell in the Divine being. In fact, one mystical word for the Shekhinah is ” the community of Israel” — the Shekhinah is a gathering for all of us. Shevat, the season of sap, reminds us we are not alone — we may be individuals, but we are also part of the apple orchard. We can act as a part of a larger web of life.

    Souces cited: Deuteronomy 20:19
    Zohar 11:60B

  31. Wendy

    Also from Rabbi David Seidenberg Neohasid.org

    Longer meditations on Pri Etz Hadar
    According to Kabbalah, the telos or goal of creation is to become unified throughout all its realms in wholeness, according to the pattern of the Sefirot. This powerful idea is expressed in many Kabbalistic texts. One of the most beautiful expressions we can find is in the blessing prayer for the first Tu Bishvat seder, which was published in the 17th century as part of the book Chemdat Yamim, in a section known as Pri Etz Hadar, “Fruit of the Majestic Tree”.

    Poetically, this prayer is unparalleled in its expression of the nature of blessing: “May it be your will that you will make the flow of desire and blessing and free, overflowing energy flow over the fruits of the trees…’then the trees of the forest will sing out’ “. The Pri Etz Hadar gives an interpretation of the Psalms’ picture of an exultant singing nature that is simultaneously mystical, physical and morally potent.

    The very direct spiritual connection between human fertility and the fertility of trees and plants described in this blessing suggests a kind of spiritual ecosystem which includes both God and the entire cosmos. This ecosystem is described not just from the perspective of food growing in order to support human life (as we find in many other traditional texts). Pri Etz Hadar teaches that both trees’ fruit and human offspring are expressions of the fertility of the earth, and manifestations of divine blessing.

    According to the Pri Etz Hadar, the earth is a model of the upper worlds. Since the term “upper worlds” can also mean the Sefirot of Kabbalah, which are the same as God’s tselem or image, this means that the earth is patterned in God’s image. The purpose of this twofold image above and below is also twofold: it enables people to understand the upper realms by studying the living forms below, and it enables the upper and lower realms “to join together to become one” – to become unified despite their disparateness.

    The rhythm and sequence of the prayer suggests that the universe was destined to be unified from the moment the upper and lower realms received their common pattern, even before the creation of humanity.

    This process of unification is both a part of Nature and a part of our work as human beings. What it means for us to be in God’s image is that we can unify the ‘lower world’ where we live with the upper worlds from which we acquire the divine image. In Kabbalah, fruit trees, birds, rainbows, and other natural phenomena are also seen as connectors between upper and lower, manifesting the image of the upper worlds here in the physical earthly realm. Thus the image of the Tree of Life, which is an image of God, is found in the trees which give us fruit.

    Pri Etz Hadar uses some technical terms from Kabbalah to indicate the connection between the trees and God’s tselem. The pattern of the trees and plants is b’qomah uv’tsivyon shel ma`lah, “in the stature and pattern of what is above”. Here qomah refers not to the height of the tree itself, but to the spiritual pattern and variegation of the upper worlds, beyond what is physical or earthly. These patterns enable human beings to know wisdom. This is the element in the lower ones that represents God’s image.

    We pray at the end of the blessing, “May the whole return to his original strength,” hoping to restore through our small acts of unification the cosmic image of God that embraces and comprises all creation. Most importantly, Pri Etz Hadar’s prayer emphasizes that this unification and raising of the sparks occurs not only through consuming the fruits, but also through “our meditating over the secret of their roots above”.

    This emphasis on contemplative appreciation is something that makes the Pri Etz Hadar unique. The vision of human participation in bringing blessing to creation is stronger in Pri Etz Hadar than in many other Kabbalistic works (as one might expect from the first Tu Bishvat seder).

    We read in the Zohar, “all who wound God’s works wound God’s image …” As we find in Pri Etz Hadar, the image of God in creation can not only be compromised by human action, its restoration depends directly upon conscious human endeavor. By engaging with the image of God in the created world, our consciousness becomes a vessel which receives blessing for all.

    Imagine a Jewish practice which has the purpose of restoring all the species and creatures, and all the sparks they contain, to the fullness of blessing. Using the model of the Pri Etz Hadar, we could explore how our actions and intentions sustain each part of the cosmic body of creation, so that each creature will reflect and manifest God’s image. This image is both the Tree of Life and Adam Kadmon, the primordial human that embodied the cosmos itself. This image was diminished by human sin at the beginning of creation, and it can be repaired through our right actions.

    As we pray in Pri Etz Hadar: “May all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life.”

  32. Wendy

    From Rabbi David Seidenberg http://www.neohasid.org

    From P’ri Ets Hadar – “The Fruit of the Majestic Tree”, the first published Tu Bish’vat seder, c. 17th century

    Please God, who makes (ha’oseh), and forms (hayotser), and creates (haborei), and emanates (hama’atsil) the higher worlds, and in whose form and pattern you created their model on the earth below—

    You made all of them with wisdom, higher above and lower below, “to join [together] the tent to become one” (l’chaber et ha’ohel lihyot echad),

    And You made trees and grasses bloom from the ground in the shape and pattern of what is above, to make known to the children of Adam the wisdom and discernment in them, to reach what is hidden;

    And You drop upon them the flow and power of Your highest qualities (midotekha, i.e., the Sefirot) [as it says]: “And he made the harvest fruit” and “the fruit tree making fruit by its kind”; “and from the fruit of your works you will satisfy the land”, “to eat from her fruits and to satisfy from her goodness”; “to give life through them to the soul of all life” (l’hachayot bahem nefesh kol chai)– [meaning] from the spiritual strength which is in them;

    And from Your fruit will come the reward of the fruit of the belly [womb], to bring life and nourish the body, “and his fruit will be for eating and his leaves for healing”;

    And this moon [of Sh’vat] is the beginning of Your works [from now until Shavuot], to ripen [the fruit] and make her new [so that] “a person will bring his fruit” “making fruit by their kinds”; for thus the days of ripening for the higher tree will be fulfilled, “the tree of life in the midst of the garden,” and he will make fruit above.

    May it be willed from You, our God and God of our ancestors, that by the power of the merit of eating the fruit which we now eat and bless, and our meditating upon the secret of their roots above upon which they hang (depend), that You will make the flow of desire and blessing and free energy, shefa, flow over them, to return again to make them grow and bloom, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year, for good and for blessing, for good life and for peace.

    And may You sustain the word which you promised us by the hands of Malachi your seer: “And for you I will cast out the one who eats away, and the fruit of the earth will not be destroyed for you, and no vine in the field will be barren for you, said YHVH of hosts.”

    “Look out from Your holy habitation (ma’on), from the heavens” and bless for us this year for good and for blessing, “let them drink blessings forever, let them celebrate in joy Your presence,” “and [so] the earth will give her produce and the tree of the field his fruit”– may you bring upon them a blessing of goodness;

    May the might and majesty of the blessings for eating the fruits become lights in the wellspring of blessings, the Righteous One [the Cosmic Tree], life of the worlds, and may the whole [Tree] return now to his original strength, and may the strength of his bow return, “for You are the one who will bless the Righteous One, YHVH, desire will crown him like a rampart”; and may we see the bow, joyful and beautified with his colors; and from there may the flow of desire and mercy flow over us, for pardoning and forgiving our sins and errors;

    And may all the sparks scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned [to be] included in the majestic might of the tree of life.

    “Then the trees of the forest will sing out” and the tree of the field will raise a branch and make fruit, day by day; “And [then] you will take from the first of all the fruits of the ground [on Shavuot] to bring the first-fruit offering (bikurim) before the altar of YHVH” with praise and thanks.

    How to use this blessing

    Meditations on Pri Etz Hadar

    This prayer, and the seder, are based on the Kabbalah of the four worlds and the ancient idea that everything physical is an image of the spiritual. Traditionally this prayer was recited at the beginning of the seder, but it can also be recited at the end. A complete translation is found in Trees, Earth, and Torah. See also “The Trees Are Davening,” on the COEJL and Shalom Center websites.

    Note: Material in brackets is added to make the prayer easier to read. Material in parentheses represents alternative readings or Hebrew transliteration.

    Abridged and translated by Rabbi David Seidenberg (c) 2006.

    This is the link to Rabbi David’s page of Tu B’Shevat teachings:http://www.neohasid.org/resources/tu_bishvat/


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