Seder Tu B’Shevat

IMG_2466-Figs“Taste and see that Hashem is good…” advises King David (Tehillim-Psalms 34:9) but we might wonder: what does the sense of taste have to do with the ability to see? The experience of Tu B’Shevat is a perfect example of how spiritual insight can actually be enhanced and strengthened through developing our sense of taste.

Once a year, on Tu B’Shevat, we are invited back into the Garden of Eden to restore the integrity of humanity and repair all that was destroyed by Adam and Chava (Eve) when they ate the fruit of the primordial ILaN – “fruit bearing tree”.

IMG_2477Seder Tu b’Shevat

Many celebrate Rosh HaShanah L’ILaN(oTH) the “New Year of the Tree(s)” with a festive meal or “Seder” – that includes tasting at least 12 different kinds of fruits. Taking part in this meal, and saying the blessings on it, actually restores a glimmer of paradise to its rightful centrality in our lives.

Four Worlds

To appreciate the powerful significance of this holiday and gain more of what it has to offer, we need to know, first of all, that there are four worlds. Beginning with the one that is most hidden, these worlds are:

1) Olam HaAtziluth “Realm of Proximity” – “near” the Unknowable Creator, Source of all good/light
2) Olam HaBriyah – “Realm of Creation” – the “throne room” of Hashem Yisborach
3) Olam HaYetzirah – “Realm of Formation” – the spiritual realm and all that it contains
4) Olam HaAsiyah – “Realm of Action” – the physical universe and all that it contains

Whatever we think, say, or do affects all four worlds — profoundly and eternally. Depending on our moment-to-moment life choices, we allow more light to permeate the physical world from Olam HaAtziluth, or we block that light.

At certain times, we are given a chance to create unusually large conduits (“KayLIM“) for Hashem’s blessing/light, and Tu B’Shevat is a window to such an opportunity.

Simply through enjoying the taste of different fruits, and saying the appropriate blessings, we actually correct the devastating mistake made by Adam and Chava when they helped themselves — prematurely — to the Tree of Knowledge.

Tasting 12 Different Fruits helps restore mankind’s relationship with this “Tree of Knowledge”. In Olam HaBriyah, the most refined of the knowable worlds, we taste not less than four — preferably ten — fruits that are entirely edible and do not have any unusable KLiPaH – “shell” – inside or out. These include: grapes/raisins, figs, blueberries, apples, pears, raspberries, kiwis, quince, carob, and similar fruits.

pomegbranchsky4x4To regain access to the original “ILaN” (fruit bearing tree) from which all understanding streams, in Olam HaYetzirah, we taste not less than four — preferably ten — fruits that have an edible exterior but inedible  interior or pit. These include: olives, dates, apricots, loquats, persimmons, cherries, peaches, plums, and similar fruits.

To repair the damage done in Olam HaAsiyah, we taste not less than four – preferably ten — fruits that have an inedible exterior, but edible interior, such as: pomegranates, orange, pomello, grapefruit, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.

The Seder

The order of priority in blessings on food is:
1. Hamotzi – Bread
2. Mezonoth (goods made from grain)
3. wine or grape juice, both red and white
4. olive
5. date
6. grape/raisin
7. fig
8. pomegranate
9. all other fruits, including ETHRoG (citron), nuts, etc.
10. fruits on which the blessing HaADaMaH is said (fruits that do not grow on a perennial tree) , such as pineapple, banana, papaya, etc.
11. foods on which the blessing SHeHaKoL is said, such as popcorn, watermelon seeds, beer (it’s made from barley!), etc.
12. the various blessing on fragrances

Taste, see, and enjoy the day!

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14. VaEra–The Plague of Hail: Fire Within Ice

“And there was hail, and fire was flashing within the hail…” 1

The flax and barley have been destroyed...” 2

"Hail - The Seventh Plague" by Yoram Raanan. Image courtesy of

“Hail – The Seventh Plague” by Yoram Raanan. Image courtesy of

The first six plagues were not enough to make Pharaoh admit his mistakes. Hashem hardened his heart to allow him to dismiss every plague so far as a “natural disaster”. But the hail, with its terrifying and clearly unnatural fire contained within ice, frightens Pharaoh enough to make him cry out, for the first time, “…I am guilty! God is just! It is I and my people who are in the wrong! Pray to God! Enough of this supernatural thunder and hail…”3

Another lesson for life: the stalks of barley and flax were hardened and inflexible, so they were crushed by the hail. But the spelt and wheat were still young, sprouting and supple and therefore survived.4

Good Shabbos, Shabbath Shalom!

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Shemoth (Exodus) 9:24.
  2. Shemoth (Exodus) 9:31.
  3. Shemoth (Exodus) 9:27-28.
  4. Likutey Halakhoth, Orakh Chaim, Tzitzith 3:25.
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13. Shemoth 5776

13. Shemoth 5776 ~ The Treasure and the Bridge

Shemos 5776_City_Park_Bayou_Bridge_WikimediaOnce upon a time a man dreamed that a treasure was buried under a bridge in Vienna so he traveled there to find it. But when he arrived, a guard confronted him. Hoping to bribe the official into joining his quest, the traveler told the story of his dream, but the guard only laughed.

“I also dreamed about a treasure, but do I go chasing after it? Of course not!” He then told how, in his own dream, a treasure was hidden in a certain city at a certain address. Realizing that the guard had described his own home, the traveler rushed back and found the treasure!

In his parable Rebbe Nachman alludes to many secrets. One of them is that the treasure is our voice – a unique symphony of colors and resonances that has never been heard before, and will never be heard again.

We’ve used our voice all our lives but to discover that it is actually a treasure, we need to travel to the “bridge” spanning all worlds, the teachings of the Tzadik.1

“These are the names of the Children of Israel who arrived…”

ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים

Burning Bush by permission of YoramRaanan.com_Thumbnail

Parshath Shemoth — “Burning Bush” by Yoram Raanan. Courtesy of

In this week’s parsha, Shemoth, rearranging the final letters of the opening words spells תהלים–Tehillim (Psalms). Hashem always sends the cure before He sends the illness, and so before the exile in Egypt began, the antidote was already prepared: Sefer Tehillim. 2

Through vocalization, even a whisper, the power locked inside the letters, words, and phrases of Sefer Tehillim is activated. This is the antidote to the exiles that began so long ago in Egypt. May we soon be free!

Good Shabbos — Shabbath Shalom!


Show 2 footnotes

  1. Rav Yehiel Michel Dorfman ז”ל, oral tradition
  2. Lekutey Moharan Tanina 73
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44. Devarim 5775

“Don’t Be Afraid…”

Shofar of Rebbe NachmanTo prepare them for entering the Land of Israel without him, Moshe Rabeynu’s simple, clarion advice was: “Don’t be afraid.”[1] After all, the last time he left us on our own, fear he might not return gave rise to the disastrous creation of the Golden Calf.

We’re approaching the final days of mourning for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash — an event rooted in the destruction of the first tablets of the Torah, and therefore a direct result of the Golden Calf.

How could Israel have substituted an idol for the Creator of the Universe, given all the miracles we had seen? The simplest maidservant saw what no prophet ever had[2] and even the youngest child was able to point heavenward and say, “This is my God…”[3]

The golden calf reminded us of something powerful, but fear made us forget what we were supposed to do with those visions, because fear saps a person’s strength and blocks the discerning powers of the heart.[4]

The sound of the shofar dispels the kind of fear that causes us to forget Hashem.[5] So, during Elul, we begin sounding the shofar — the instrument that awakens the soul, to get ready for our year’s ultimate  “Day of Memory”: Rosh HaShanah.[6]

“Today You Are As the Stars of Heaven…”

Moshe Rabeynu also reminds the People of Israel that they will exist permanently, like the stars.[7] Just as a star is constantly giving its light without fear of being diminished, our Sages advise us to do the same: “Don’t be ungrateful for Hashem’s goodness by appearing as though you are poor, but present yourselves as wealthy.[8]

Remembering who we are clears the pathways of courage in our heart so we can radiate the unique light with which each of us is blessed.

Good ShabbosShabbath Shalom!

[1] Deuteronomy 1:21; 1:29: 3:22

[2] Rashi on Exodus 15:2

[3] Rashi and Medrash on Exodus 15:2

[4] Sefer HaMidoth: Pachad A8; A31

[5] Lekutey Halachoth Orach Chayim, Hilchoth Brachoth Har’Iyah 5:17

[6] Lekutey Halachoth Orach Chayim, Hilchoth Brachoth Har’Iyah 5:18

[7] Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:10

[8] Rashi on Deuteronomy 2:7

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42. Mattos-Masei

The Maze

800px-Longleat-mazeIn a chassidic parable called  The Exchanged Children, a prince (our spirituality) and a slave’s son (our physicality) are lost in a forest. After much wandering, the prince merits to receive a powerful gift: the ability “to distinguish one thing from another (BINaH)”.1

When the comrades finally return to civilization, the prince is challenged to solve the mystery of a strange garden where anyone who enters runs out screaming in terror.

Because through his traveling he gained the power of discernment, the prince calmly reasons out how to exit the maze in peace. By rearranging the garden just a bit here and there, order is restored within the maze and all the invisible terrors dissipate.

Through the divine gift of BINaH, the wandering of the prince ends and he assumes his true regal status.

Finding A Way

When Hashem commanded Israel to build the MiSHKaN, he filled Betzalel with Divine Inspiration “BeCHoKHMaH – through knowlege, UViTHVuNaH – through understanding and UVeDAaTH – through knowledge”.2

CHoKHMaH — knowledge — is received from others. BINaH – Understanding — is the ability to extract new information from previous knowledge, similar but superior to deduction.3 . It is “rearranging conceptual furniture” to facilitate DAaTH – true wisdom. 4

CHoKHMaH is received from the past. BINaH projects what we know into its application the future. Through the gift of BINaH, the prince was able to place the mysterious elements of the maze in their proper order. By rearranging the MiTaH, SHuLCHaN, KiSAy, NeR he creates a MiSHKaN – a place from which peace and harmony emanate into the world.

The story of the prince and the maze describes finding a way back to Hashem and thereby to our most essential self. At first we are terrified by invisible “demons” that chase us from the “garden” of our own potential.5

Only by empowering CHoKHMaH (Torah study) through BINaH (facilitated by tefilah – prayer) can we merit the ability to rearrange our priorities – the “furniture” of our lives – to create a MiSHKaN – a dwelling place for Hashem’s Presence.

“Not a Man was Missing…”

The tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to settle on the far side of the Jordan, outside the border of Israel. They proposed building “pens for our cattle and cities for our children.”6

Moshe Rabeynu agrees to this, but notices through the wording of their request that concern for their wealth took subconscious precedence over the establishment of their children. He corrects their priorities gently, with compassion, simply by reversing their word order in his response: “Build cities for your children and pens for your cattle.”7

May Hashem provide us with leaders who have the wisdom and compassion of Moshe Rabeynu to help us navigate the “media maze” so not one of us falls “missing” in the war to establish priorities in Torah education, as in this week’s parasha:

 וְלֹא נִפְקַד מִמֶּנּוּ אִישׁ 

…not a man was missing from among us.”8

The Midianites numbered “as many as there are grains of sand” but only 12,000 Jewish soldiers were sent to fight against them.

Through Hashem’s miraculous protection, Israel was victorious even though greatly outnumbered and there was not a single Jewish casualty. So may it be His will now, in these confusing, maze-like times, omen v’omen.

Show 8 footnotes

  1. Chagigah 14a, Sanhedrin 93b, Rashi on Exodus 31:3
  2. Exodus 31:3
  3. Rashi on Exodus 31:3
  4. Sanhedrin 93b
  5. Rav Michel Dorfman,  12 Tammuz, 5763
  6. Rashi quoting Tanhuma on Numbers 32:16
  7. Numbers 32:24
  8. Numbers 31:49
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34. BeMidbar

The order of Israel’s tribal encampment while traveling in the wilderness is described in this week’s parsha: “Camping to the east shall be the divisions under the banner of Yehuda…1

With the tribe of Yehuda corresponding to the month of Nissan, the camps parallel each of the twelve lunar months and were ordered, by Hashem, in a counter-clockwise fashion around the tabernacle.2

Nissan=Yehuda, Iyar=Yissachar, Sivan=Zevulun

Tammuz=Reuven, Av=Shimeon, Elul=Gad

Tishrei=Ephraim, Cheshvan=Menashe, Kislev=Benyamin

Teves=Dan, Shevat=Asher, Adar=Naftali

Each family camped within the boundaries indicated by the colored banners signifying their tribe. The colors of these banners were deeply significant and corresponded to the colors of the gemstones worn by Aaron during service in the tabernacle. 3



The four sections of the encampment parallel the four letters of Hashem’s ineffable Name, the four aspects of Hashem’s throne, the four worlds (Atzilus, Briya, Yetzira, Asiya), and the four elements of creation: earth, air, fire, and water. 4

Show 4 footnotes

  1. BeMidbar (Numbers) 2:3
  2. Bnei Yissachar
  3. Midrash Rabba
  4. Lekutey Halachoth Choshen Mishpat 2, Hilchos Ganeyva, Halacha 5, Paragraph 19.
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