Ecology, spirituality, and appreciation of nature come together in Tu BiSh’vat, our Jewish Earth Day. Occurring on February 8 this year, it’s a time for planting trees in Israel and our communities. It’s an occasion to focus on the environment’s well-being and our stewardship of the earth. The Talmud calls Tu BiSh’vat the “New Year for Trees.” And, like much of Judaism, there are deeper, spiritual layers of meaning to this mid-winter holiday.
The Jewish mystics of our tradition see Tu BiSh’vat as part of a cosmic and divine drama. Judaism teaches that God’s blessings continually flow to all beings. In kabbalah—the Jewish mystical tradition—the divine flow of God’s energy in the universe is imagined as an Eitz Chayim—a Tree of Life—with roots above, branching down toward Creation, offering us its beneficent fruit.
So on Tu BiSh’vat we not only celebrate a new year for trees, we celebrate a new year for the divine Tree of Life, as well. Kabbalah teaches that when we eat specific fruits and nuts at a Tu BiSh’vat seder, we stimulate and renew the produce of the divine Tree of Life—that is, we help increase the divine flow of blessings and abundance into the universe. As Rabbi Arthur Waskow expresses it in Seasons of Our Joy, “It is as if [Tu BiSh’vat] were God’s own Rosh Hashanah. Just as we need God’s presence on our Rosh Hashanah to help us renew our days, so God, as it were, needs our presence on this one.”
The sixteenth-century kabbalists of Safed, Israel, instituted the Tu BiSh’vat seder. It is modeled on the Passover seder, replete with special foods, four cups of wine or grape juice, and a unique haggadah that speaks of nature and these cosmic and divine themes. A fine Tu BiSh’vat haggadah is Seder Tu Bishevat: The Festival of Trees by Adam Fisher (CCAR Press, 1989). A wonderful Jewish organization that focuses on environmental issues is The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). To learn more about kabbalah, please see this introductory overview from myjewishlearning.com: kabbalah.
If you’ve celebrated Tu BiSh’vat, what are some of your favorite practices and experiences?