What does a mystical, Zionist, humanist, ecological Tu Bishvat Seder look like? Before you check it out, here is a brief background on this new tradition with deep roots.
Tu Bishvat, literally the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the new year of the trees. In the introduction of the Tu Bishvat anthology, Trees, Earth And Torah, the development of Tu Bishvat is creatively compared to a tree. The roots of the holiday date back to the time of the Temple during the first millennium before the common era, when the day likely served as a sort of tax-day that demarcated the new year to begin tithing produce to be donated to the Temple.
After the destruction of the Temple this day became irrelevant. It remained dormant for the next millennium and a half until a group of mystical rabbis who fled the oppression in Spain in the 15th century developed a small mystical community in the northern part of Israel in Tzfat. Their desire to connect spiritually with the land guided these mystical rabbis to develop a seder modeled on the Passover seder with four cups of wine in which they spent the night of Tu Bishvat meditating on the different aspects of each fruit. They transformed Tu Bishvat into a Jewish celebration, sprouting the trunk of the tree.
In the last century, with the establishment of the state of Israel, Tu Bishvat became the day for planting trees to cultivate the land, popularized by the Jewish National Fund's blue tzedakah boxes. Enabling the holiday to branch out. In our day, Tu Bishvat has become a kind of Green day in which we reflect on our relationship with the natural environment and its sustainability. The tree of Tu Bishvat is now in full bloom, having survived and adapted well through the generations. It possesses all of these rich rings in its history for us to celebrate today.
While the Passover Seder transmits our people's experience of going out of slavery throughout the generations, the Tu Bishvat Seder, according to mystic Yitzchak Buxbaum, explores our relationship to the natural world, the land of Israel, and our spiritual selves. To achieve these goals, each of the four stages of the Seder is framed by Rav Kook's profound poem, "Four Fold Song." Rav Kook was the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, before Israel was established as a country, and was a great mystic and leader who nurtured the spiritual renaissance of Judaism in the land of Israel. His bio and poem serve as a perfect frame for the Seder.
While reconnecting with our people's land is vital, Tu Bishvat focuses us on our larger mission as a nation in relation to the world. Given the widespread violence in our world and our communities we must take seriously our role as Jews in repairing the larger world. We must not retreat into ourselves. This is the mission God charges Abram and Sarai with when inviting them to embark on a journey to a new land and become a nation in chapter 12:3 of Genesis, "All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves through you." We must ask ourselves how we can be a blessing. To do so, we must be grounded in our-selves. Yet, in order to be grounded in our-selves, we must be able to wrestle with and celebrate our multiple ways of being in the world: what does it mean to be Jewish? what is our responsibility to our community? to our people? our country? our planet? This is how the Tu Bishvat Seder builds a rooted Jewish identity.
Tu Bishvat begins this year on the secular calendar on Tuesday night February 3 and continues through Wednesday February 4. For more information about the Tu Bishvat Seder check out here Hazon's awesome Tu Bishvat source guide and seder -- Rav Kook's poem can be found there on page 18. I hope you can find or lead a Tu Bishvat Seder in your area. If you can't swing the communal seder, simply go out into nature with Rav Kook's poem, some fruit, and a bottle of wine and celebrate about your place in the world! Let me know how it goes.