Thoughts on T"U b'Shvat (15th of Sh'vat)
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I had promised a special edition on TU B'Sh'vat, so here it is.  
Khag Same'akh!  (TU is a Hebrew abbreviation for 15, tet and 
vav; 9+6 (10+5 would spell God's name, so we use 9+6))

To most Americans, this is 'Plant a Tree in Israel' day -- and that is a good activity, but it does not do justice to the depth of this holiday.

Originally this holiday served a legal function -- New Year of the Trees -- why legal?  Because tithing was a critical part of the system and the tithe was on NEW fruit, not on old stuff stored or jellied from previous years.  And so one needed a way to mark the year such that tallying could be done.  Also, the fruit from a tree that was less than three years old could not be used - in the fourth year it was holy and in the fifth year, one could eat the fruit -- so the trees needed a birthday.

Mishna records a difference of opinion between the two great schools of Hillel and Shammai -- the former preferring the 15th and the latter the first of Sh'vat, the eleventh month after Nisan, the first of the rulers' year.  And Hillel's view one out (as it usually did -- he was typically more in line with average to poor folks and more lenient in his views than Shammai).

And a full moon is a great time for a holiday -- bright nights.  The sap is just getting ready to rise -- it's still winter, but spring is definitely just around the corner (more so in Israel than here....)  In fact, it is probably this rebirth, this sense of rising from the depths that has kept this minor holiday alive and transitioned its meaning from strictly legal to much more.

It became, over time, a tradition to read Psalm 104 and the 15 Psalms of Ascent (Ps 120-134) on TU B'Sh'vat.  Psalm 104 is a very mystical Psalm -- I recommend reading it all -- and it would be appropriate tonight and tomorrow.  Below are just a few lines to give some of the flavor:

Psalm 104
1. Bless YHVH, O my soul. O YHVH my God, You are very great; You are clothed with glory and majesty,
2. Who covers Oneself with light as with a garment; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain;
3. Who lays the beams of One's chambers in the waters; who makes the clouds One's chariot; who walks upon the wings of the wind;
......16. The trees of YHVH have their fill; the cedars of Lebanon, which the One has planted,
17. Where the birds make their nests; as for the stork, the cypress trees are her house.
.....19. The One appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knows its setting time.
20. You make darkness, and it is night; when all the beasts of the forest creep forth.
21. The young lions roar for their prey, and seek their food from God.
22. The sun rises, they gather themselves together, and lie down in their dens.
.....27. These wait all upon You; that You may give them their food in due season.
28. When You give to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are filled with good.
29. When You hide your face, they are troubled; when You take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
30. When You send forth Your breath, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.
.....34. My meditation of the One will be sweet; I will rejoice in YHVH.

And over time, the holiday came to be more significant -- who can resist the image of a tree -- etz chayyim -- the tree of life?  Or the tree of the emanations, the S'phirot, the qualities of God as they come down to us through the worlds of the universes, the realms of the unfathomable, the unknowable.  Imagine, if you will, the flow of the renewal of life, flowing down to us to revive us, to invigorate us as spring does the vegetation of the world.  This is the wondrous side of TU B'Sh'vat. 

The Kabbalists see eating fruit as the acceptance of this flow, this Divine Energy.  And so we have a Seder for TU B'Sh'vat -- a fruit eating one -- involving 10 fruits for the S'phirot and 4 glasses of wine or juice for the worlds.  It goes something like this:
White wine/juice -- the winter, no vegetation:
Fruits that have a peel or shell that is not clean and a soft interior -- representing the lowest world, the world of doing, asiya -- needing lots of protection, garmented. Pomegranate, oranges.
White wine/juice with enough red to change it to a blush -- spring, the beginning of vegetation.
Fruits that have pits or seeds that are not eaten -- the next world, yetzira -- feeling.  Still needing some protection, some inedibility.  Cherries, Apples.
White and Red -- slightly more red -- blossoming of the vegetation -- summer.
Fruits that are edible both inside and out, such as the fig or grape.  For the world of knowing, b'riya.  A blending a transcending.
Red with a trace of white -- full bloom, lush vegetation.  Harvest
Fruits that are the seeds -- nuts.  The world of Aztilut, essence, nearness, being.  Edible seeds.

To have a seder, pick fruits and have each person say a b'racha on different pieces within each type -- all eat the type of fruit once everyone has said one of the b'rachot.  (Don't forget the b'racha over each glass of wine or juice) and think about the worlds and how to move oneself upward in them as the flow comes down to us from the Source of All.  Don't forget a shehechianu (for bringing us to this holiday) and a prayer for peace here and in Israel and in the whole world.  Sing and have fun with it -- this is a great holiday.  May the Source of all Blessings, bless us with joy in our hearts, a wonderful sense of renewal of body and spirit, and a rewarding year of seeking Her flow, His Energy.

And you might just end it with a tree planted perhaps in the name of those at the seder, perhaps for those who have passed away during the past year, or for anyone.  But planting the tree is a good start -- perhaps do 15 things over the next month to help the environment -- help those great trees.

Khag S'me'akh!


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