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About Tu Bi Shvat and the Tree of Life
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Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish New Year for the trees. It takes place on the 15th of Shvat, which is a Hebrew month that usually falls between mid-January and mid-February.
Tu B’Shvat is an ancient holiday. Its original purpose was to calculate the age of the trees.
Leviticus 19:23-25 states that no fruit may be taken from a tree during its first three years of life. Fruit from the fourth year was given to God as a burnt offering, and in the fifth year the fruit could be eaten. Trees aged one year on Tu B’Shvat, so in many ways Tu B’Shvat is the birthday of the trees.
Tzadik ka tamar ifrah - an Israeli dance for Tu bi Shvat.
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree.
The righteous man will flourish
He will thrive like a cedar in Lebanon.
He will thrive like a cedar in Lebanon.
He will thrive, thrive like a cedar in Lebanon.
The festival of the fifteenth of Shvat is not mentioned in the Tanach. The Mishna discusses the issue: when should the New Year for Trees be observed? From this, we understand that the assignment is not the establishment of the festival but the determination of the correct agricultural calendar for fruit trees.
There was a disagreement between the schools of Shamai and Hillel [two major judicial schools of thought in the time of the Mishna] as to the correct date for the New Year for Trees. The school of Shamai maintained that the first day of the month of Shvat was suitable, whereas the disciples of Hillel calculated that the fifteenth of Shvat was more suitable. Custom follows the school of Hillel.
Obviously, the disagreement was not based on any inability to decide upon the festival or select a date on which to plant trees. The New Year for Trees was necessary in order to be able to implement the precept of tithing fruit. The Torah commands every Jew to take yearly tithes from the fruit of his trees and give it to the priests and Levites dedicated to the Temple services, as well as to the poor.
It is forbidden to calculate the tithe from one year using produce of another year. Therefore, it became imperative to determine the date of the New Year for Trees.
Our sages, who were well versed in agriculture, reached the conclusion that the fifteenth of the month of Shvat is the marginal date when the rains from the previous year cease to irrigate the trees and they are benefitting from the new rains.
The Essence of the Festival
Tu B'Shvat is the festival which most visibly demonstrates the Jewish people's link to Eretz Israel. It is the festival when everyone experiences their love to the land and for the commandments which relate to the land. It is the festival of agriculture and nature's renewal; the festival of love for trees which reaches back to our distant roots as a people in the land of Israel.
This festival was born in the country of Israel, where its main customs and traditions developed. When the country was conquered and the Jewish people went into exile, they took with them their customs, inclduing the festival of Tu B'Shvat. Taking it with them, they symbolically carried with them throughout their wanderings Eretz Israel itself and the memory of its fruits and trees.
Every year, as this date arrived, Jewish houses set their festive table with the fruits for which the land of Israel was legendary - raisins [grapes] and nuts, figs and dates, olives, pomegranates, and the grains constituting the "seven species" of the land. Together with these fruits which illuminated the dark corners of exile, light from the skies of Israel would enter each home.
The very sweetness of the fruits alleviated the bitterness of life in exile and reminded Jewish people everywhere that the land of Israel awaited its children.
In these days of renewal, when the people has returned to its own land, this festival, too, has found a new expression. No longer only the date when fruits of the Land of Israel are tasted, it has been transformed into the day for tree-planting, as it says in the Torah: "And when you shall enter this land, you shall plant fruit-bearing trees..." [Vayikra 19.23].
Songs for Tu bi Shvat:
Al Haderech Etz Omed
Ha'etz Hu Gavoha
Betzel Atsei Ha'oren
Hazorim Bedim'a (2)
Eretz Zavat Chalav
Kach Holchim Hashotlim
Etz Chaim Hi (Tree of Life)
Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boim
Shir Al Etz
Tzel Etz Tamar
Zum Gali Gali
Major Customs of the Tu bi Shvat:
1. Eating fruits:
One of the most important customs of this festival is to eat those fruits for which ancient Israel was famed, as in the verse:
"For the Lord G-d will lead you into the good land, a land flowing with waters... A land of wheat and barley and vine, of fig and pomegranate, the land of the olive and honey".
Dvarim 8; 7-8.
The first fruits of these species were once brought as an offering to the priests in the Temple.
Below are the seven species which became the symbol of the land of Israel:
wheat, barley, a cluster of grapes, figs, the pomegranate, the olive tree and date palm.
For this reason, an effort is made to acquire the fruits of these seven trees for the table, but other fruits are also eaten associated with the land and its produce, particularly: almonds, citrus fruits, apples - whether fresh or dry.
2. Special ceremonies:
The town of Tsfat [Safed] in the Upper Galilee played an especial role in the determination of the traditions associated with Tu B'Shvat. In the 16th century, after the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain , Tsfat became the recognized center of the Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism].
The Kabbalists of Tsfat, the most well-known of whom was Rabbi Yitzhak Luria Ashkenazi [also known as Ari zal], interpreted the Torah and its commandments through secret methods of study. They accorded the festival with new meanings and inaugurated new rituals for the observance of "night ceremonies of rejoicing for trees", resembling, in some degree, the traditions of the Pesach seder. Family members would gather around the table, set with a white cloth and an abundance of flowers and fruit, as well as flasks of white and red wine. The ceremony for Tu B'shvat includes readings from the Torah, Talmud and Zohar [one of the major writings of Kabbalah], relating to fruit.
Special blessings would be recited over flowering and fruit-bearing trees.
Following this, four cups of wine would be imbibed:
* The first cup - white wine, symbolic of slumbering nature;
* The second cup - white wine, mixed with a small quantity of red wine for the awakening of nature;
* The third cup - red wine, mixed with a small quantity of white wine, for the conflict betwen the rains and the sun, and the victory of heat over cold. Red is also used to symbolize the explosion of color in the flowering fields;
* The fourth cup - red wine alone, for the splendor of the sun and summer.
After the four cups are imbibed, the ceremony proceeds with the eating of fruit.
3. Planting trees:
A. From the sources -
"And when you enter this land, you shall plant fruit-bearing trees..."
"The Holy One, blessed be He, occupied Himself with planting immediately after Creation of the world. For it is specifically written: "And the Lord G-d planted a garden in Eden". So shall you also, when you enter the land of Israel, first of all occupy yourself in planting."
Vayikra Rabba 25
The planting of trees is a labor which has a symbolic meaning over and beyond its literal interpretation.
The Kabbalah Tree of Life is a representation of the thirty-two paths comprised of the ten sefirot and the twenty-two paths through which they run.
The Tree of Life describes the descent of the divine into the manifest world, and methods by which the divine union may be attained in this life. It can be viewed as a map of the human psyche, and of the workings of creation, both manifest and not. It is important to realize that the pure nature of divinity is unity, and that the seemingly separate aspects or emanations exist only in view of the emanated, living in a state of illusory separation.
The names and numbers of the ten sefirot are given in order below.
1 - Kether (Crown) or Kether Elyon (Supreme Crown)
2 - Chokmah (Wisdom)
3 - Binah (Understanding or Intelligence)
4 - Chesed (Mercy or Grace) or Gedullah (Greatness)
5 - Geburah (Severity or Power), Din (Judgement) or Pahad (Fear)
6 - Tifereth (Beauty) or Rahamim (Mercy)
7 - Netsach (Victory or Constancy)
8 - Hod (Glory or Majesty)
9 - Yesod (Foundation) or Tsedek (Justice)
10 - Malkuth (Kingdom) or Shekhinah (Divine Immanence)
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