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EACH YEAR, my husband makes an elaborate Tu B’Shvat seder (this year, the holiday begins Wednesday, January 16th at sundown).
My job? Run around and buy the fruit and make sure they all ripen in time for the seder.
This means buying the papaya and mango a week ahead of time, the pears a few days ahead of time, and so on. The day of, I wash and arrange them on platters.
While today Tu B’Shvat has been co-opted by a plethora of political and ecological platoons, it is an ancient and deeply mystical celebration, one with relevance for everyone, including those who find the dark of winter bleak and struggle with confusion in heart, mind, or soul.
Tu B’Shvat is also the New Year of the Trees—it takes place at the time of year where the sap of the fruit trees starts to stir (in the Land of Israel). It’s the time of year where we recognize that we, too, can bloom again. Traditionally, it’s a time when we recognize a new season of tithing, a time of gentle reckoning.
Many Jews participate in a Tu B’Shvat seder which somewhat resembles the Passover seder. There are myriad fruits, grains, and nuts to eat, and brachas (blessings) to make.
Whatever your custom, some people use 10 fruits, some 36, some 50 and so on, most people are sure to eat the seven fruits of Israel mentioned in the Torah (Bible). Each of these fruits offers a powerful spiritual lesson based in Kabbalistic teachings. According to the famous mystic master, the Arizal, each one is associated with a different spiritual aspect, as explained by Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg. The order in which they are listed, below, is the order of the Kabbalistic sefiros, the Divine attributes or qualities, but alone or as part of a seder, many people use a slightly different order.
(Read my other post on Tu B’Shvat and get some pertinent links, here.)
Wheat represents unlimited giving and loving-kindness. In many of the world’s cultures, wheat represents the most ubiquitous form of nourishment—think: bread, pasta—which hints to us that the Creator’s loving-kindness sustains us, as does our own reaching-out to others. We must also show loving-kindness to ourselves, especially when we are taking the first step towards overcoming obstacles to spiritual growth.
(Wheat can also represent the actions of humankind, who must sow, grow, harvest, thresh and knead wheat into dough. To reap the benefits of loving-kindness it takes hard work, discipline even!)
Most people with gluten sensitivity (but not gluten allergy or severe intolerance) can digest slow-leavened breads and baked goods, such as those made with a sourdough starter. Also, sprouted grains may be ground shaped (and dehydrated or baked) into bread, cakes, or crackers.
Barley was the Biblical animal fodder. It is considered a less-refined, coarser food than wheat. It represents the setting of boundaries and limits and the importance of restraint. Some restraint is necessary when giving of ourselves…and giving into ourselves. Limits and boundaries are important parts of spiritual growth..
Barley also is said to represent strength. Recovery take strength.
Sprouted barley (and sprouted wheat), make nutritious, strength-giving drinks.
Grapes represent compassion which is the healing mixture of loving-kindness and generosity balanced by healthy boundaries. Compassion is said to be true beauty. True beauty is said to be harmony. And, harmony, whether of color or sound, inspires us with it’s blend of dark and light, revealed and hidden. A harmonious blend of kindness and restraint are necessary to spiritual, and physical health.
Figs represent endurance. Figs on the same tree ripen at different times. If you want a ripe fig, you must watch your fig tree daily. Day after day, we must endure, paying attention to each fig. If we want our lives to be fruitful, we must pay attention to and make a commitment to our own personal growth, day after day, step by step. Then we achieve victory, which is the other Kabbalistic association with the fig.
This Biblical fruit reminds us of majesty and splendor—it even has a ruby-colored crown. It is also related to gratitude, and with the abundance of the garnet seeds of the pomegranate, it’s easy to feel thankful for this gorgeous fruit. Without gratitude and true appreciation, we tend to fall into either arrogance or bitterness, both extreme blocks to spiritual growth.
The olive is historically a very important fruit, held in especially high regard for its oil.
The olive represents foundation, as it is such an important food and concept. (Usually, people eat the olive first.) The olive itself tastes bitter, especially when uncured, and the bitter taste acts as a catalyst for healing.
The sages tell us eating the fruit of the olive causes forgetfulness. Forgetting, says Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, is a very great gift. Our memories can paralyze us. By forgetting the bitter, painful times in our life, we can make room for light and healing.
Olive oil heals, aids in memory, and is used for holy purposes: to light the menorah of the Holy Temple and the Chanukah menorah, and also as anointing oil. Olive oil was used to anoint the Jewish Kings, Kohanim (priests) of the Torah, and it will be the oil that will be used to anoint Moshiach (the Messiah in English.) The word Moshiach means “anointed.”
When the Ark of the Covenant was hidden, hidden with it were a jar of mon (manna), Aaron’s staff, and anointing oil to be used when Moshaich is revealed. When we use olive oil with intent and for spiritually elevated purposes, we tap into that energy, if only a little.
The date palm, which reaches up to the Heavens, represents Kingdom. Kingdom represents Godliness manifested here on earth. (It has other meanings.)
Can we take part in this manifestation? Sure, by recognizing the incredibly powerful source of soul, and treating ourselves with the kind of self-love that this knowledge engenders. By living up to our potential, by recognizing how precious all life, including our own is, by remembering who we really are and the source of our being, we use our lives to their fullest. We make every moment count.
Dates are also sweet and nutritious—when we grow spiritually, our sustenance, no matter what it is, tastes sweet because we are aware of the source.
Pomegranate photo by Augustus Binu.