Tu B’Shevat Seder

The Four Cups of Wine – At the Tu B’Shevat Seder it is customary that each cup of wine be blended from red and white wines. White wine represents nature in potential; red wine represents nature in full bloom. On this day, we begin to leave the winter behind and move into a period of reawakening and renewal of life.

Pure White — Symbolically, the pure white represents the winter and the void of life therein.

Pale Pink (white with a drop of red) — Symbolically, the pale pink mixture represents the approach of spring, and the splash of red signifies the emergence of color.
Dark Pink (a mixture of white and red) — Symbolically, the dark pink mixture represents the progression of spring. The ground has warmed to allow the seeds to take root, and the plants have started to grow.
Almost Red ( red with a drop of white) — Symbolically, the red mixture represents the arrival of summer. The trees are in full bloom and filled with fruit.


The First Cup and Second Cup -

The Seder begins with the pouring of the first cup of wine, pure white.

SUGGESTED DISCUSSION:
Introduction to Tu B’Shevat: Why Do we have a New Years for trees?


Discussion point: What does a tree represent in Judaism?
In Proverbs, King Solomon refers to the Torah as the Tree of Life. Why did he choose this metaphor for the Torah?
 

A midrash (legendary source) from the Talmud may add to the discussion: One day, Honi (a Talmudic sage) was walking along, and saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi knew that the old man would not live to see the fruits of his labor. He asked the man: “Why do you bother to plant a tree if you will never see its fruits?” The man answered: “I will not see this tree full grown, but my children will and their children will. I plant this tree for them.”

Discuss how this midrash reflects on how our actions effect the future, and the importance of the commandment to teach the Torah to the children.

Compare the midrash’s future-view of trees with Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree.

Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai once said: “If you have a sapling in your hand, ready to plant, and the Messiah comes, plant the tree first and then go to greet him. What does this tell us about the importance of trees?


Discussion point: Jewish views on the environment -

 

What is the Jewish attitude towards the environment? Keep in mind that Jewish law

  • forbids the destruction of the fruit trees during the time of battle,
  • forbids the eating of the fruit of a tree for the first three years after it is planted, and
  • demands that the land lie fallow every seventh year.


Discussion point: The Halachic (Jewish legal) importance of Tu B’Shevat -
 

The Zohar, the Jewish book of mysticism, says :”When a person is privileged to eat in the presence of God, (s)he must show his/her appreciation by giving charity to the poor and feeding them, just as God in His bounty feeds him/her.” Therefore Tu B’Shevat is an opportune time to make an extra effort to give charity to the hungry. Discuss the many ways people can give charity, such as giving money, donating time, helping a neighbor, and the popular Tu B’Shevat charity – planting a tree in Israel.

Beginning the Seder of Foods: At the Tu B’Shevat Seder one partakes in many fruits, but in particular, one eats the 7 species for which the Land of Israel is praised in Deuteronomy 8:8: “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives and honey.”


GRAINS

But G-d would feed him with the finest wheat. (Psalm 8:17)

The Tu’ B’Shevat Seder begins with the grain products of wheat and barley.

At this point those involved, partake of either cakes or bread, after reciting the appropriate blessings to show appreciation to G-d for the food they are eating.

For those eating cakes:

 
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, bo’ray mee’nay m’zo’not.
“Blessed are You God, King of the Universe, who creates varied grains of nourishment.”

For those who are eating bread:

a) Before eating bread, one must ritually wash one’s hands. Using a cup of at least 4 ounces, follow these instructions from this NJOP washing poster and recite the following blessing:

Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha’olam asher kidi’shanu b’ mitzvotav v’tzi’vanu al n’tilat yadayim.
Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, who sanctifies us in His commandments and commanded us to wash our hands.

b) Without speaking from the time of the washing, we then recite the blessing on the bread:

 
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam ha’motzie lechem min ha’aretz.
“Blessed are you G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the Earth

The significance of wheat (chitah)

Wheat is the basic ingredient of the most common form of sustenance in the world – bread.

The Sages noted the importance of wheat in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 3:21): “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.”

The significance of barley (seh’o'rah) i) Barley plays an important role in the cycle of the Jewish year because it marks the start of the spring harvest. The beginning of the barley harvest occurs at Passover time, when the offering of the omer (a measure of barley) was brought to the Temple. The 50 days between Passover and Shavuot are referred to as Sefirat Ha’Omer (the Counting of the Omer).


FRUIT OF THE LAND

The trees have borne their fruit, THE fig tree and vine have yielded their strength. Children of zion be happy, rejoice in the l-rd your G-d. Joel 2:22-23

The Seder participants now begin to eat the fruit of the land of Israel. Taking the first fruit in hand, recite the following:

 
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, boray p’ri ha’etz.
Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.

If one is eating a fruit which one has not eaten in the last year, the sheh’heh’cheh’yanu blessing is recited before it is eaten:

 
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, sheh’heh’cheh’yanu v’kee’manu v’hee’gee’anu la’zman ha’zeh.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Prior to eating each of the different fruits, participants should reflect on, and discuss, the fact that these fruits are mentioned in the Torah. While eating the fruit, one should enjoy the rich flavors and textures and the great variations:

Olives (zayit)

The olive tree is a tree of strength. Olive trees can live more than a thousand years and still bear fruit. Olive oil played an important role in the Holy Temple, where pure olive oil was used to keep the menorah in the Temple constantly kindled and to annoint priests and kings.

“Your children shall be like olive plants around your table” (Psalms 123:3). iii) “God called your name a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit.” (Jeremiah 11:16).

Rabbi Yehoshuah Ben Levi said: “Why is Israel compared to an olive tree? Because just as the leaves of an olive tree do not fall off either in summer or winter. So too, the Jewish people shall not be cast off – neither in this world nor in the World to Come” (Talmud – Menachot 53b).

Dates (tamar)

While the Torah uses the word d’vash, honey, it is understood as referring to date-honey because the fruit of the date palm is frequently boiled to make a type of honey.

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree” (Psalms 92:13).

“No part of the palm tree is wasted. The dates are for eating; the Lulav branches are for waving in praise on Sukkot; the dried thatch is for roofing; the fibers are for ropes; the leaves are for sieves; and the trunk is for house beams. So too, is every one of the Jewish people needed. Some are knowledgeable in Bible, others in Mishna, others in Aggada (homiletic understanding of the Torah). Still others perform many mitzvot, and others give much charity” (Midrash – Bamidbar Raba 3:1).


Grapes (gefen – literally grape-vines)

The fruit of the vine has always played an important role in Jewish life. Special significance is given to the grape, as it has the unique ability to be transformed into wine. Wine reflects the human condition in that humans can choose to uplift themselves or debase themselves depending upon how they use alcohol. Thus wine is used in almost every Jewish ceremony, representing our ability to create holiness out of something which could be profane.

Just as a vine has large and small clusters, and the large ones hang lower, so too are the Jewish people: Whoever labors in Torah and is greater in Torah, seems lower than his fellow [due to his humility]” (Midrash – Vayikra Raba 36:2).

Drinking the first cup of wine – Since grapes have just been discussed, the first cup of wine is drunk. Before drinking the wine, the following blessing should be recited:

 
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, boreh pri ha’gafen.
Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.

The Second Cup of wine, white with a drop of red, is filled and the Tu B’Shevat Seder proceeds to the remaining two Fruits of the Land of Israel.

Figs (te’aynah)

Rabbi Yochanan said: “What is the meaning of ‘He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit’ (Proverbs 27:18)? Why is the Torah compared to a fruit tree? Figs on a tree do not ripen all at once, but a little each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs (s)he finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds” (Talmud – Eruvin 54a).

Pomegranates (rimon)

According to the midrash, the pomegranate has 613 seeds, the equivalent of the number of commandments in the Torah. b) “Let us get up early to the vineyards. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if the grape blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates have budded. There I will give you my love.” (The Song of Songs 6:11).

“If the pomegranates have budded”–these are the little children who study Torah and sit in rows in their class like the seeds of a pomegranate (Midrash – Shir HaShirim Rabba 6:11).


Having now tasted and discussed the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, this is an excellent place to talk about Israel and the Jewish relationship to the land. Suggested Discussions:

Personal experiences in Israel

The Torah calls Israel a “land flowing with milk and honey,” why are these items used to describe the land. (* Perhaps discuss the sources of milk and honey, the tastes, etc.)

The Torah promises that the Land of Israel will flourish in Jewish hands. Discuss the historical fact that under the foreign rulers (such as the Turks who governed for four hundred years) the land of Israel was considered a veritable wasteland. With the beginning of the Jewish settlement in the late 1800′s, and with a lot of hard work, the Land of Israel has been transformed into a land flourishing agriculturally and economically.

The second cup of wine is drunk, which ends the section of the Seder dealing with Fruits of the Land of Israel.


Third Cup and Fourth Cup

The third cup of wine, dark pink, is drunk.

This section of the Tu B’Shevat Seder is focused on fruit in general and the coming of spring. It is customary to connect the physical nature of the fruits to level of spiritual growth.

Fruits with inedible shells or peels

Commonly eaten at this point are: nuts, oranges, avocados, pomegranates etc.

Fruits that have inedible shells or peels represent a world that is enclosed in materialism. To get to the part of the fruit that is desirable, the outer core must be broken. So too, spiritual growth can be impeded by a hard shell of materialism or cynicism.

Fruits with inedible pits

Commonly eaten at this point are: peaches, plums, cherries, dates, olives, etc.

While the edible part of the fruit represents that which is spiritually good, the pit symbolizes the need to remove impurities within. Often times, one puts on an outer act of holiness. Spiritual growth demands work on one’s inner nature as well as one’s actions.

The “inedible pit,” however, is a step up from the “inedible shell or peel” in that the seed is an element of potential growth.

Drink the third cup of wine and pour the fourth cup, red with a dash of white.

This section of the Tu B’Shevat Seder focuses on reaching completion.

Fruits that are completely edible

One now eats fruits such as blueberries, of which both the outside and the inside can be eaten.

Fruits which are completely edible represent reaching one’s spiritual potential by bringing holiness both the one’s outside (actions) and one’s insides (thoughts and motives).

Drink the fourth cup of wine

Conclusion

The Tu B’Shevat Seder concludes with a final-blessing. The coordinator of the Seder should have benchters on hand. If one ate bread, the full Bentching/Grace After Meals should be recited. Bentching can be found in any Jewish prayerbook.

If one did not eat bread, one should recite: