Some call it Israeli Arbor Day. Others think of it as Jewish Environmentalism Day. Mystics make a symbolic holy meal called a seder at night. Others plant a tree in Israel.
Its true name is Tu Bishvat, Hebrew for the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat which always comes at this time in the winter, and is known as the New Year for Trees. (This year the holiday is Saturday, January 26th) Years ago it was practically an unknown or un-celebrated holiday on the Hebrew calendar but over the last ten years it has grown in popularity for different groups, from different angles.
Older traditional kabbalists started the original “seder” in Tsfat, Israel in the 16th Century. That century saw a flourishing of mysticism in this northern city that still has a spiritual flavor. The seder consists of symbolic eating of fruits combined with recitation of verses from holy books. And with the popularity of Kabbalah these past years… this holiday has also taken on new meaning for some mysticism enthusiasts.
On the other hand young people who are into environmentalism are also taking part in a seder, but for different reasons. This holiday seems an opportunity to remind ourselves that caring for the environment is a mitzvah.
Is your eating holy?
In general the holiday is focused on the theme of appreciation to the Creator for the benefits and pleasure of food. Because of its sweetness, fruit is most iconic for this focus. Fruit is nature’s dessert. When you eat in a way that expresses your appreciation to the Creator, then your eating is holy.
And in some ways this holiday is not that unsimilar to Thanksgiving, but with kabbalistic pilgrims.
You can do your own version of a Tu Bishvat seder by merely having a variety of fruits and expressing your appreciation to the Creator for the blessings you have.
On a deeper note, Shvat is the month of Aquarius, the water carrier, and water is used analogously for wisdom in the Bible, therefore, the mystics say to make yourself open to wisdom at this time. What is wisdom? The type of knowledge that allows you to become one with the Infinite. There’s a three step process that the sages teaching us:
Step One: Take a bite of a sweet juicy grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, date, apple, pear, etc.
Step Two: Silently thank the Creator for making the fruit, the tastebuds to enjoy the fruit, and your ability to have access to the fruit.
Step Three: Feel the closeness of Creator.
We celebrate the fruit in the winter when things look bleakest. Outside its pretty barren, but deep down the sap is starting to rise in the trees. This marks the beginning of the blessings to come.
Sometimes when things look bleakest, the blessings are in the making.