Tu b’Shevat

In Mishnah Rosh HaShana 1:1, Tu b’Shevat is called “the New Year for the tree” — Rosh HaShana la’ilan. It occurs each year on the fifteenth of Shevat, and fruit that ripens before this day is considered harvest from the previous year for the purposes of tithing.

“The tree” referred to in the Mishnah is the Tree of Life — the conduit for divine blessing that emanates from Hashem to every level of His creation. “The tree” therefore is the Torah, as in “She is a tree of life for all who cling to her…” (Mishlei-Proverbs).

Tu b’Shevat is a day for directing our attention and speech to all the aspects of miraculous good found only the Land of Israel. We praise the Land through tasting its fruits in appreciation for Hashem’s kindness in renewing, each year on this day, the strength of the Land.

The entire month of Shevat is a time of renewal for us, as well… a season when our capacity for understanding the Torah is at its fullest and new insights abound. Moshe Rabeynu began his review of the entire Torah on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, revealing secrets not previously known to the People of Israel.

May Hashem bless us all with success in using every day wisely. For more about this special day: Seder for Tu b’Shevat. Enjoy!

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Nissan – Blessing on Fruit Trees

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Peach Blossom in Jerusalem

Nature is an allegory and springtime says it all: renewal! Right in the middle of Pesach cleaning, the Torah encourages us to take a break from the cabinets and crumbles, walk outdoors, find some blossoming fruit trees, and say the blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹּא חִסַּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כלום
וּבָרָא בוֹ בְּרִיוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבִים לְהַנּוֹת בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם

Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, shelo chisar baolamo klum, uvara vo beriyot tovot v’ilanot tovim lehanot bahem benei adam.

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Master of the universe, Whose world lacks nothing, and Who created within it beneficial creatures and beneficial trees to bring pleasure to human beings.”

Apple Blossom in Jerusalem

The Hebrew word for blossoms, nitzanim, is related to the name for the first month of spring: Nissan, and to netz (sunrise), since all three fulfill Hashem’s eternal promise that the natural cycles of life will continue, even after the coldest winter or the darkest night.

According to most authorities, this blessing is made during the month of Nissan (Sdei Chemed – Berachos 2:1 and Kaf ha-Chayim 126:1). It is best recited on two or more trees in blossom (Chida, Moreh b’Etzba 198) and the more trees the better (Teshuvos Halachos Ketanos 2:28). We do not recite the blessing on Shabbos or Yom Tov. We also do not say it on trees have been grafted or less than three years old.

Ever since Adam and Eve, fruit trees have been an integral part of our lives. We’re even compared to them, as in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 20: “Man is a tree of the field.” We are rooted, we have seasons of productivity, we need light, nurturing and, most of all, our purpose is to bear fruit!

The Chida taught that saying this blessing releases souls incarnated in the plant kingdom, making it possible for them to complete their soul’s journey. Some people donate 3 coins to charity immediately after making the blessing, corresponding to the nefesh, ruach, neshama levels of the soul. The Ben Ish Hai advises giving 4 coins if one’s parents are no longer in this world, the fourth coin being in honor of the departed souls.

Women also say this annual blessing. Similar to our obligation to bring first fruits — bikurim – to the Holy Temple, this commandment is not considered “time-bound”. It is a “season-bound” break from our daily routine, so that we can take a deep breath, open our senses to the natural processes around us, and draw strength from their renewal.

Sources: Berachos 43b, Rambam (Berachos 10:13); Rokei’ach pg. 235; Ohr Zarua 1:179; Avudraham (Berachos); Tur and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 226; Siddur Rav Yaakov Emden; Chayei Adam 63:2.

Below: Almond branches in early spring, nachalath Binyamin, north of Jerusalem.

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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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