Four Seasons Have Passed A Time for Renewal and Growth: Tu B'Shevat Seder Haggadah

The Seven Species from the PJ Library

Welcome to our Tu B'Shevat seder for the year 5781, also known in this moment as, 2021! Much has changed since we last sat together to go on a journey of mystically eating fruit and celebrating the birthday of the trees. Both for us and our world, four seasons have passed, much has changed and our future is uncertain. What we do know, however, is that we have arrived to this moment. We have arrived here, together. Here is an opportunity to mark a year that has passed and a new year that has dawned.

Amongst the many reasons for this holiday, this birthday of the trees, is a desire amongst the rabbis to offer some order in a place that could easily fall into chaos. Let me explain: it is forbidden to eat the fruit of a tree before its third birthday. Not only is it forbidden, it is explicitly forbidden in the TORAH, so you know it is a serious, serious law. So, how does one make sure not to eat of a tree's fruit before its third birthday? We could wait until the fifth birthday, just to be sure... but we'd be missing out on two whole years of blessed fruit, fruit of which we should be offering the first and best at the Temple! Waiting just wouldn't do... Maybe one could imagine us creating a complex registry of each tree's birthday, and then on the appointed day, going to celebrate by harvesting some fruit. But... the rabbis knew, such a complicated system would be hard to follow and if one failed, one would have gone against a Torah law! A complex system also wouldn't do... so the rabbis decided that the natural world, all of the fruit bearing plants, would share a birthday: today, Tu B'Shevat, the 15th of Shevat.

Is it physically true that every tree's birthday is today?


But, that's the entire point!

Today, as we take a moment to purposefully eat and meditate, accessing the powers and secrets hidden deep inside the fruits, the blessings of the natural world, we use our most human power, that of metaphor, of projection and empathy, of shared imagination. Every tree's birthday is not today, but we as a society have the power to imagine a world in which such a thing is true, agree to it together, and then celebrate the new reality we have formed and the blessings it bestows upon us.

This is a tremendously powerful moment, and it is one which our seder offers us guardrails to make sure that what we create together through our shared imagination is for the good and not the bad. By agreeing to the holy myth of Tu B'Shevat, our ancestors created a shared reality that made the lives of those who grow, harvest, and eat food a little simpler. But, as we know all too well, a shared imagination can also spread lies that are harmful both to us and our nation. So, the traditions of Tu B'Shevat that invite us to share in the power of a collective imagination also ask us to think intensely about the foods we eat and to use them as a lens to think more clearly and deeply about our individual selves and our community.

Join with us tonight as we read, learn, sing, and imagine together. Allow our traditions and the voices of rabbis, both modern and ancient, that have been gathered here to support you and to push you to delve deeper into the power of our collective imagination. If we can take the chaos of the natural world and order it through the power of Tu B'Shevat, what other places of chaos and disorder can we calm and order through the power of our shared imagination? What blessings could be found in the new reality we create?

Let us imagine together!

Let us start with song, to set our energy in balance with the natural world we are celebrating. Join us in a niggun for Tu B'Shevat by Batya Levine.


The tree goes through cycles in its life. The heavy-laden tree of summer empties itself of fruit in the autumn, and then slowly loses its leaves, one by one. By winter time, the tree stands shorn of its previous glory. For all purposes, it appears to have died.

But then comes Tu B'Shevat! In the midst of the cold winter days, when all vegetation seems frozen or dead, the sap of the tree starts to flow beneath the surface bark. Rising slowly from roots buried in the hardened soil, the sap pushes its way up, pumping new life into outstretched branches that reach towards the heavens.

In life, we too often go through cycles of growth. Periods of renewal and growth may alternate with times of stagnation or dormancy. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe cites that this cycle is part of human nature. He adds that a person must not become disillusioned when spiritual growth seems halted; the "low" period will usually be followed by a "high" period that will yield new opportunities for growth.

That is the message of Tu B'Shevat: Even when we feel lethargic, in a rut, and seem to have lost the drive to achieve, we must not despair. Just as winter is an annual hiatus in the life cycle of trees, so bouts of lethargy and unproductivity are necessary phases in the human cycle. Just as with the coming of spring, life-giving sap moves imperceptibly through the trees to branches stretching to the sky, so we too will have renewed energy from deep within our spiritual reservoirs, so long as we set our goal heavenward.

- Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum

Take a moment now, close your eyes and center yourself.

Take a deep breath and ground yourself.

Take a moment to feel your body.

Try to find the sap, the lifeforce.

Is it starting to flow?

Let it flow towards justice.

Towards a world of support and growth.

Let us join together in this request through song.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam (1967)

Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore. And I don't know about you, I ain't gonna study war no more.

(ד) וְשָׁפַט֙ בֵּ֣ין הַגּוֹיִ֔ם וְהוֹכִ֖יחַ לְעַמִּ֣ים רַבִּ֑ים וְכִתְּת֨וּ חַרְבוֹתָ֜ם לְאִתִּ֗ים וַחֲנִיתֽוֹתֵיהֶם֙ לְמַזְמֵר֔וֹת לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֤וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב וְלֹא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה׃ (פ)

(4) Thus God will judge among the nations And arbitrate for the many peoples, And they shall beat their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up Sword against nation; They shall never again know war.


Lo yisa goy el goy kherev v'lo yilm'du od milkhamah.

PLOWSHARES & PRUNING HOOKS! When we turn from war to a world of peace, we turn to one in which we join with nature, to cultivate, to grow together, and to reap blessings a plenty.

Tu b'Shevat is a time for us to remember our bond with the earth, and renew our covenant with God. Midrash teaches us that “There is no plant without an angel in Heaven tending it and telling it, 'Grow!'"(Genesis Rabbah 10:7). Tu b'Shevat is a time for us to live as angels, to recreate heaven here on earth. The Jewish name for heaven is Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden. Today, as we eat, sing, and pray together, let us envision a paradise that we are partners in, shaping, cultivating, and guarding.

-Marc Katz and Debra Eichenbaum (RAC Tu B'Shevat Seder)

Photo by qinghill on Unsplash

Having arrived at this moment, a moment of unique joy in our year, we offer words of blessing. Please join us in singing the Shecheyanu.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,
שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Praised be You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and permitted us to reach this season.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha'olam shehechiyanu v'kiymanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.


Now that we have made our first blessing and raised our voices together, we have to ask the question:

Just how important are trees?

The text below starts to give us an answer.

אם היתה נטיעה בתוך ידך ויאמרו לך הרי לך המשיח. בוא ונטע את הנטיעה (ואח”כ צא והקביל).

Midrash Avot Derabbi Natan, Version B, Chapter 31

If you had a sapling in your hand and were told that the Messiah had come, first plant the sapling [and then go out to greet the Messiah].


A tree is so important that you must support it, provide it the environment to grow in before you would even go to greet the messiah.

Take a moment to think, to discuss: Why are trees, those things that grow and provide us with nourishment and resources, why are they so important? Do we, in our day, uphold the intention of this text? Do we hold the natural world to be more important than our impending redemption?

Take a moment for discussion and enjoy another Tu B'Shevat niggun by Kahal Chassidim.

Here, during the seder of Tu b'Shevat, we are afforded an opportunity to eat, as is true of many of our sacred occasions. On other holidays we eat to mark a victory, our salvation, to live through great moments in our history and to rejoice in our triumph. Here, on the birthday of the trees, we eat not in order to celebrate, but rather in order to recenter ourselves in our holy work.

Much has been destroyed in this world from the time of the Tree of Knowledge to our own through mindless eating, consumption without intention. Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote that his teacher, the Ari z"l, explained that through the intentional eating of the fruits at the seder one could come to repair the world. By learning to eat and engage with our world while filled with holy intention, we can restore the Garden of Eden, Paradise.

As we move through our seder, let this be a time for you of resetting intentions. A tree does not appear to be growing this time of year, not in the diaspora and not in Israel. But, it does not lie fully dormant. At this time of year, the sap is starting to flow, the energy needed for growth is stirring inside the tree. This is true for us as well.

Now, in these moments of cold, our energy is stirring within us, waiting for the right moment to burst forth in growth. Let us set our intentions to create and consume carefully in our world. Let these intentions, plans, and eventual actions help the world to grow and peace to blossom.

We now raise our voices to join in song with the whole natural world which sings praises to our Creator!

(יב) יַעֲלֹ֣ז שָׂ֭דַי וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר־בּ֑וֹ אָ֥ז יְ֝רַנְּנ֗וּ כָּל־עֲצֵי־יָֽעַר׃

(12) The fields and everything in them exult; then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy

Ya'aloz Sadai, v'chol asher bo

Az yiraninu kol atsay ya'ar.

A prayer from the original Tu Bish’vat haggadah, Pri Etz Hadar:

O God, who makes, forms, creates, and emanates the highest worlds! You made the trees and grasses grow from the ground in the shape and pattern of these highest worlds. And this full moon is the beginning of Your work to renew and ripen the fruit trees, to bring forth the fruit of ‘the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden.’ May it be Your will that our eating and blessing and meditating on these fruits will strengthen the flow of love and blessing over the trees, to make them grow and bloom, for good life, for blessing and for peace. May all Creation return to its original strength and may we see the rainbow rejoicing in its colors. And may all the sparks of divine energy, whether scattered by our hands, or by the hands of our ancestors, or by the sin of the first human against the fruit of the tree, be returned and included in the majestic might of the Tree of Life.

Photo by amin imanifar from Pexels

We now turn from our texts to the physical world and begin our task of mindfully and spiritually eating. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is an amazing modern composer of liturgy and we turn to her offerings to guide us through our spiritual and physical consumption of our seder fruits.

עולם העשייה Olam Ha’Asiyah — The World of Action

We live in the world of assiyah, action and physicality. This is the tangible world of flesh, stone, wood. Here the spark of the Divine is hidden by the shell of appearance. We live in the world of assiyah. This is the world of tangible physicality. Each of the Four Worlds is associated with a season and an element; this world is associated with Winter and with earth. In winter the ground is frozen, but we know it contains the life of the spirit below. The white wine or juice we drink symbolizes winter’s pale light and white snow.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri hagafen.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the vine.

In winter we layer ourselves in clothing, blanketing ourselves from the cold just as the earth is insulated by snow. The fruit we eat for the world of assiyah likewise has a protective outside and soft interior. Removing the hard shells of pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, coconuts, or pecans exposes a vulnerable inside.

The shell which conceals these fruits also protects. We know what that feels like. In the world of school, work, and everyday activity, our spiritual selves require protection and nurturing. Sometimes we wrap ourselves in a tough outer shell, to protect our feelings and our hearts. As we eat these fruits representing assiyah, may we find healing in our physical lives: in our relationships with our bodies, in our strength, in all matters physical and practical, in our environment.

We recite together the blessing for the fruits of assiyah:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri ha’etz.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the tree.

Text by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

As we take a moment to eat and drink, having pulled away the tough shells, we think about our own tough shells. Our society's tough shells. Let us join together in song and set our intentions to work together to reveal what is concealed. Let us see the seed of the Divine in each of us and work to support and love each other.

We Shall Overcome

Lyrics derived from Charles Tindley's gospel "I'll Overcome Some Day" (1900)

We shall overcome, we shall overcome

We shall overcome someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We shall overcome someday.

We'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk hand in hand,

We'll walk hand in hand someday:

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We'll walk hand in hand someday.

We are not afraid, we are not afraid,

We are not afraid today;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We are not afraid today.

The truth shall make us free, the truth shall make us free,

The truth shall make us free someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

The truth shall make us free someday.

We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace,

We shall live in peace someday;

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,

We shall live in peace someday.

ויקרא רבה פרשה כה:ג

ר”י ב”ר סימון פתח (דברים יג) אחרי ה’ א-להיכם תלכו, וכי אפשר לבשר ודם להלוך אחר הקב”ה… אלא מתחלת ברייתו של עולם לא נתעסק הקב”ה אלא במטע תחלה הדא הוא דכתיב (בראשית ב) ויטע ה’ א-להים גן בעדן, אף אתם כשנכנסין לארץ לא תתעסקו אלא במטע תחלה הדא הוא דכתיב כי תבאו אל הארץ.

Vayikra Rabbah 25:3

Rabbi Yehudah ben Shimon began his discourse with the text, “After Adonai your God shall you walk” (Deuteronomy 12:5). But can a person of flesh and blood walk after the Holy One of Blessing?… But in truth the Holy One, blessed be God, from the very beginning of the creation of the world, was before all else occupied with planting, as is proved by the text, “And the Adonai God planted a garden in Eden” (Genesis 2:8), and so do you also, when you enter into the land, occupy yourselves first with nothing else but planting; hence it is written, “And when you shall come into the land, you shall plant (Lev. 19:23).”

Before anything else! Not only must we complete the task of planting trees before we greet the messiah, we must set to planting them as the first part of accepting our redemption!

To plant a tree, especially a fruit tree, is to give a gift of blessings and sustenance to ourselves. But, more importantly, it is an opportunity to give these gifts to the next generation.

Want to walk in the ways of the Divine? From the beginning of creation and to our last moment of toil: plant seeds that will sprout fruit for you and all of humankind!

A teaching from another tradition:

Have a look at these great blessed trees, who live only for the welfare of others, themselves facing the severity of stormy winds, heavy showers, heat and snow, all the while protecting us from them. The birth of trees is the most blessed in the world, as they contribute unreservedly to the well-being of all creatures. Just as no needy person ever returns disappointed from the house of a benevolent individual, similarly do these trees do for those who approach them for shelter. All of their many parts - leaves, flowers, fruits, shadow, roots, bark, wood and fragrance, are useful to others… A tree does not withdraw its cooling shade even from the one who has come to cut it.

—Bhagavata Purana 10.22.32-35

Take a moment to think, to discuss, to write:

What are all the physical things, all the blessings, that are provided to us by trees and the natural world? Create a list, whether simply thought, spoken, or written down, and focus for a moment on each gift and offer thanks and praise for these blessings offered to us by the trees.

עולם היצירה Olam HaYetzirah — The World of Formation

We live in the world of yetzirah: change, emotion, transformation. In this world we turn clay into bricks, iron into plows, words into poetry. In this sphere we celebrate creative power: both ours, and God's. The world of yetzirah is the world of emotions and heart. In this realm we celebrate change and creativity, flux and flow. This world is associated with the season of Spring and the element of water. To symbolize this world, we drink white wine or juice with a dash of red. This gradual deepening of color parallels the reawakening of colors in nature as the sun brings the earth back to life. In spring the sun’s rays begin to thaw the frozen earth and the first flowers appear on the hillsides. As we drink the second cup of wine or juice, white with a dash of red, may we, like the flowers, blossom into our full potential.

We add a bit of red wine or juice to the white and recite together:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri hagafen.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the vine.

The world of yetzirah is connected with springtime. We eat fruits without protective shells — olives, dates, apricots, peaches and plums — to symbolize how, in spring, we will forget our protective attire and expose our soft bodies to the sun. Still, these fruits contain pits, reminding us that we may still have hardness around our hearts. Despite the wondrous expressions of our spirit, each of us is still tied to the hard stone of ego. We still feel the need to protect what makes us vulnerable.

As we eat the fruit of yetzirah, may our hearts be open to the feelings and needs of ourselves and others, allowing the warmth of our care to extend to the whole the world. May we find healing in the realm of emotions; may we find healing in our hearts.

We recite together the blessing for the fruits of yetzirah:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri ha’etz.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the tree.

Text by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

As we contemplate the fruits we have just blessed and drink our wine or juice, let us join together again in song and raise our voices together, all over the world, offering the call, "L'Chaim! To Life!"

Lift Every Voice and Sing
James Weldon Johnson, 1871 - 1928

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

"A person should work forever, doing full and honest labor in order to rise step by step in the service of HaShem. But do not look back every few minutes to see if you are progressing. For a person is like a tree. And do you look at a tree continually to see how it is growing? If you did, you would see nothing and become tired of looking, unless you prune it and protect it, trim and fertilize and water it to protect it from damage and danger and strong winds. Then the tree will grow and prosper and become beautiful. So must a person rid themselves of all those things which spoil them, and tend all the qualities which aid them in the service of HaShem so that they will grow and prosper. It is, however, not a virtue to measure from hour to hour how much one has grown."

-Rabbi Uri of Strelisk (1757–1826)

Think not of how you have changed this year, but how have you changed over a lifetime?

What drives this change?

What can you learn from the journey from your beginning to here, to now?

עולם הבריאה Olam HaBriyah — The World of Creation

We live in the world of Briyah: air, thought, contemplation. We recall the words of Genesis: “Adonai formed a human from the dust of the Earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being…placed in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and protect it.” The world of briyah is the ethereal realm of thought; it is associated with the season of Summer and the element of air. One name for God is “The Breath of Life.” We breathe out what the trees breathe in; God breathes in us and through us. Briyah is the world of the holy breath of creation. In the world of briyah, we drink red wine or juice with a dash of white, reminding us that as the land becomes warmer and the colors of the fruits deepen as they ripen, we too become warmer and more open.

We add a bit of white wine or juice to the red and recite together:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri hagafen.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the vine.

We eat soft fruits to remind ourselves to relinquish both our shells and the stones we carry inside us. In our deepest relationships, may we be like the fruit of briyah, with no inner shell and no outer façade.

As we eat the fruits representing briyah, may we find healing in our intellectual lives: in our minds, in our thoughts, in the heat of passionate argument and the light of brilliant insight.

We recite together the blessing for the fruits of briyah:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri ha’etz.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the tree.

Text by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

As we progress through the seder, we see, there is a time for everything. Our tradition teaches us that each thing in nature also has its opposite. As we eat, drink, think, and move through the four worlds of our seder, we contemplate what is to be found in this moment, and for what the moment has passed or has yet to dawn.

Turn Turn Turn

The Byrds from Kohelet

** To everything; turn, turn, turn,
There is a season; turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose

A time to be born, a time to die,
A time to plant, a time to reap,
A time to kill, a time to heal,
A time to laugh...... a time to weep, **

A time to build up, a time to break down,
A time to dance, a time to mourn,
A time to cast away stones,
A time to gather stones together **

A time of war, a time of peace,
A time of love, a time of hate,
A time you may embrace,
A time to refrain from embracing **

A time to gain, a time to lose,
A time to rend, a time to sew,
A time of love, a time of hate,
A time of peace, I swear it's not too late. **

Not only is there a time to every purpose under heaven, there is also a proper place. In our Torah, we find many moments where our ancestors experience miracles and mark the holy locations in which these miracles happened. From the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, to the crossing of the sea at Peh Heirut, to Jacob's dream at the bottom of the ladder. Holy space is important to us. Part of our celebration of the trees is not just each individual tree and the fruit it provides, but the beauty of the space created when trees join together. We celebrate and mark the blessings of the forest and the field, of the expanses of sky and shade from the hot sun. We take a moment to bring our spirituality out of our minds and find it instead in our bodies and the natural, physical world we are blessed to inhabit.

Adamah v'shamayim (Earth and Heavens)

Adama Ve'shamayim,

Chom Ha'esh, Tzlil ha'mayim

Ani margish zot be'gufi, be'ruchi, be'nishmati.

Heya, heya, heya, heya heya, heya, heya, ho (2x)

Heya heya, heya heya, heya, heya, heya, ho.

Love the earth, love the sky

Heat of fire, Drop of water

I can feel it in my body

In my spirit, and in my soul

Heya, heya, heya, heya heya, heya, heya, ho (2x)

I can feel it in my body

In my spirit, and in my soul

(Original chant by Tony Wrench; adapted at the Rainbow Gathering; translated into Hebrew by Shimon Lev Tahor.)

Not only are places holy, we are made out of those places. The dust of the earth is what we are made of and to what we shall return. This connection between our physical bodies and the physical world around us is one that both serves to unify us not just with each other, but with everything. As we have gone through the seder, we have taken the opportunity to eat, drink, and look in. But, let us not forget that we are here to celebrate the natural world. Not here to celebrate our role of caretakers, but rather to celebrate that abundant blessings that are found in it. In looking towards these blessings, we come to better understand the blessed substance out of which our Creator made us and the strength and power that exist deep within us and within our world.

“Banishment from Eden”. In the Beginning.

God sent Adam forth from the Garden to till the soil from which he had been taken, work that requires sorting out, sowing, plowing, and harvesting. In order to be able to live from the earth, a person has to keep digging, weeding and drawing forth from the ground. The point is that the work of weeding out the harmful and proliferating the good can be done only in and with the earth itself. The war of humanity against thorns and thistles, insects and rodents, is an incessant struggle, and it is part of our work of Tikkun, correcting the world.

-Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz.

Take a moment to think, discuss, or write:

What have you been able to harvest, through the hard work of planting, weeding, and drawing forth from our physical world?

What in your life is only possible because of the blessing of the place, the environment you live and work in?

עולם האצילות Olam Ha’atzilut — The World of Essence

We live in the world of atzilut, essence, divine emanation. Physics tells us that what seems solid is actually filled with impossibly small spaces. Atzilut affirms this knowing: what seems like creation is actually just God. The world of atzilut is the world of essence and spirit. This world is associated with the season of Fall and the element of fire. This is the world of that which is intangible. To represent atzilut, we drink deep red wine or juice. The pure red liquid represents the full bloom of nature before the cold winter. As nature expends its last bit of energy in an explosion of colorful leaves, a full cycle is completed. As we drink the fourth cup of pure red wine or juice, may we become strong, like healthy trees, with solid roots in the ground and with our arms open to the love that surrounds us.

We take up a cup of red wine or juice and recite together:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei pri hagafen.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of all being, creator of the fruit of the vine.

In the world of atzilut we eat no fruit, for this world cannot be represented by any fruit. In this spiritual world, we become aware of God’s love, mercy, and wisdom perceived with our hearts, not our senses. Our hearts are full and we praise the Source that renews all creation. The Four Worlds (Action, Emotion, Thought, and Spirit) are each nested inside each of the others. We live in all four realms at once. Sometimes we have hard shells, like the nuts of assiyah. Sometimes we have a rock inside us, like the stone fruits of yetzirah. Sometimes we are soft all the way through, like the fruits of briyah. And sometimes we are so connected with the Holy One of Blessing that we melt beyond our bodies altogether, living in atzilut. May we find blessing in each of these four ways of being, each of these four seasons, each of these four worlds.

Text by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Photo by willsantt from Pexels

Every part of the vegetable world is singing a song and bringing forth a secret of the divine mystery of the creation.

- Rav Kook

Taking Rav Kook's words to heart, let us sing together and join the who of creation and offering praise to our Creator, the Creator of all.

(א) הַ֥לְלוּ יָ֨הּ ׀ הַֽלְל֣וּ אֶת־יְ֭הוָה מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֑יִם הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בַּמְּרוֹמִֽים׃ (ב) הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ כָל־מַלְאָכָ֑יו הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ כָּל־צבאו [צְבָאָֽיו׃] (ג) הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ שֶׁ֣מֶשׁ וְיָרֵ֑חַ הַ֝לְל֗וּהוּ כָּל־כּ֥וֹכְבֵי אֽוֹר׃ (ד) הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ שְׁמֵ֣י הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְ֝הַמַּ֗יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ מֵעַ֬ל הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (ה) יְֽ֭הַֽלְלוּ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֤י ה֭וּא צִוָּ֣ה וְנִבְרָֽאוּ׃ (ו) וַיַּעֲמִידֵ֣ם לָעַ֣ד לְעוֹלָ֑ם חָק־נָ֝תַ֗ן וְלֹ֣א יַעֲבֽוֹר׃ (ז) הַֽלְל֣וּ אֶת־יְ֭הוָה מִן־הָאָ֑רֶץ תַּ֝נִּינִ֗ים וְכָל־תְּהֹמֽוֹת׃ (ח) אֵ֣שׁ וּ֭בָרָד שֶׁ֣לֶג וְקִיט֑וֹר ר֥וּחַ סְ֝עָרָ֗ה עֹשָׂ֥ה דְבָרֽוֹ׃ (ט) הֶהָרִ֥ים וְכָל־גְּבָע֑וֹת עֵ֥ץ פְּ֝רִ֗י וְכָל־אֲרָזִֽים׃ (י) הַֽחַיָּ֥ה וְכָל־בְּהֵמָ֑ה רֶ֝֗מֶשׂ וְצִפּ֥וֹר כָּנָֽף׃ (יא) מַלְכֵי־אֶ֭רֶץ וְכָל־לְאֻמִּ֑ים שָׂ֝רִ֗ים וְכָל־שֹׁ֥פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ׃ (יב) בַּחוּרִ֥ים וְגַם־בְּתוּל֑וֹת זְ֝קֵנִ֗ים עִם־נְעָרִֽים׃ (יג) יְהַלְל֤וּ ׀ אֶת־שֵׁ֬ם יְהוָ֗ה כִּֽי־נִשְׂגָּ֣ב שְׁמ֣וֹ לְבַדּ֑וֹ ה֝וֹד֗וֹ עַל־אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם׃ (יד) וַיָּ֤רֶם קֶ֨רֶן ׀ לְעַמּ֡וֹ תְּהִלָּ֤ה לְֽכָל־חֲסִידָ֗יו לִבְנֵ֣י יִ֭שְׂרָאֵל עַֽם־קְרֹב֗וֹ הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃

(1) Hallelujah. Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise God on high. (2) Praise God, all God's angels, praise God, all God's hosts. (3) Praise God, sun and moon, praise God, all bright stars. (4) Praise God, highest heavens, and you waters that are above the heavens. (5) Let them praise the name of the LORD, for it was God who commanded that they be created. (6) God made them endure forever, establishing an order that shall never change. (7) Praise the LORD, O you who are on earth, all sea monsters and ocean depths, (8) fire and hail, snow and smoke, storm wind that executes God's command, (9) all mountains and hills, all fruit trees and cedars, (10) all wild and tamed beasts, creeping things and winged birds, (11) all kings and peoples of the earth, all princes of the earth and its judges, (12) youths and maidens alike, old and young together. (13) Let them praise the name of the LORD, for God's name, God's alone, is sublime; God's splendor covers heaven and earth. (14) God has exalted the horn of God's people for the glory of all God's faithful ones, Israel, the people close to the One. Hallelujah.

רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר וְרִבִּי אַבָּא וְרִבִּי יוֹסִי, הֲווֹ יַתְבֵי יוֹמָא חַד, תְּחוֹת אִילָנֵי, בְּבִקְעָתָא גַּבֵּי יַמָּא דְּגִנּוֹסָר. אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן, כַּמָּה יָאֶה צִלָּא דָּא, דְּחַפְיָא עֲלָן מִגּוֹ אִילָנֵי, וַאֲנָן צְרִיכִין לְאַעְטְּרָא הַאי אֲתָר בְּמִלֵּי דְּאוֹרַיְיתָא.

Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Elazar, Rabbi Abba, and Rabbi Yossi were sitting under the trees in the valley of the Kinneret. Rabbi Shimon said, "How beautiful is the shade with which these trees protect us; Let us crown them with words of Torah."

בשעה שברא הקבה את אדם הראשון, נטלוֹ והחזירוֹ על כל אילני גן עדן ואמר לו: ראה מעשי כמה נאים ומשובחין הן וכל מה

שבראתי בשבילך בראתי; תן דעתך שלא תקלקל ותחריב את עולמי, שאם קלקלת, אין מי שיתקן אחריך.

Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13.

When God created the first human, God led the human around all the trees in the Garden of Eden. God said to the human, “See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. Everything I have created has been created for your sake. Think of this, and do not corrupt or destroy My world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you.”

.אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק למה נמשלו דברי תורה כעץ שנאמר (משלי ג, יח) עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה לומר לך מה עץ קטן מדליק את הגדול אף תלמידי חכמים קטנים מחדדים את הגדולים והיינו דאמר ר' חנינא הרבה למדתי מרבותי ומחבירי יותר מרבותי ומתלמידי יותר מכולן

Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: Why was the Torah compared to a tree, as it says "for it is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it" (Proverbs 3:18)? To teach you that just as a small tree may set a larger tree on fire, so too is it with scholars, where the small sharpen the large. After all, Rabbi Chanania said "I have learnt much from my teachers, and more from my friends, but from my students more than anyone"

We are almost all the way through our seder. Having moved with intention through each of its steps, we now stand ready to join together in shared imagination. Imagining the Good, the growth, the change, the blessings that are possible in this new year as the sap begins to flow, though we cannot see it clearly yet. Having connected with the natural world, having tasted of its blessings, and having thought hard about yourself: What do you wish we could all imagine? What vision of reality, once agreed upon by all, would lift us up, would bless us, would help our world to be a better and kinder place? Take your answer, your dream, the gift of vision you've been blessed with, and go share it with another. The work of this holy seder is only as powerful as your willingness to share it. Our rabbis created a new reality by offering the trees this one day as their birthday. Dream big, share that dream with others, and let the power of our collective imagination help us plant, nurture, and tend to a beautiful world blossoming with blessings.

Our time is precious, so join us in song.

What a Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

Songwriters: George Weiss / Robert Thiele

What a Wonderful World lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Concord Music Publishing LLC, Carlin America Inc

On this day of celebration, we must also acknowledge the pain our natural world is in as our climate becomes unstable and our weather becomes extreme. We turn to a reading of Malachi to help us turn some of our energy in this moment not to the celebration of blessings received, but to the promise to do the work to sustain those blessings for generations to come.

[A midrashic reading of Malachi for our generation:]
“Your planet is heating like a furnace. Already droughts scorch your continents, already your waters boil into typhoons and hurricanes, already the ice melts and your sea-coasts flood. Yet even now you can turn away from the fires of coal and oil, turn to the solar energy and the winged wind that rise from a sun of justice and tranquility to heal your planet. For God’s sake, you must all take on the mantle of Elijah! Turn your own hearts to the lives of your children and the children of your children, turn their hearts to learning from the deepest teachings of the Wisdom you inherited – that together you can yet avert the utter destruction of My earth.”

-Rabbi Arthur Waskow, “A Sun of Justice with Healing in its Wings

A Prayer of Reb Nachman of Bratzlav:

Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone; may it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass — among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong. May I express there everything in my heart, and may all the foliage of the field — all grasses, trees, and plants — awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things, which are made as one by their transcendent Source. May I then pour out the words of my heart before your Presence like water, O Lord, and lift up my hands to You in worship, on my behalf, and that of my children! May it be Your will, O God of our ancestors, that through our eating of the fruits You have created, the trees be filled with the glory of their ability to renew themselves for new blossoming, from the start of the year to its end, so that our lives too will be renewed and filled with goodness, blessings, and peace.

Photo by Sean Musil on Unsplash

In closing, we again offer music and some words of meditation. In this year 5781, which is both parts 2020 and 2021, may we find our roots to be deep enough to draw upon the waters of Torah and community. May we find blessing in the nourishment we receive from others, and, like the trees, may we offer these gifts back in the flowering and ripening of our redeemed world.

Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one hold’s summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
Charles G. Stater

Celebrating the New Year of the Trees in New England in January always seemed very odd to me. I attended the seder for the sake of being with my community rather than for any religious feelings about the holiday. But this year we will not be “in person”, “in community”. Rather we will be in our home/zoom squares. And so I had to think about what the holiday meant – What does a tree mean to me? My first thought was the Torah which is called a tree, a tree of life.

Eitz Chayyim He (Proverbs 3:18) – It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it, and happy are those who support it.

A tree is something we plant with hope whose fruits we may never see, but our children and our grandchildren will in the future after we are gone.

It is a family tree whose photos we carefully place in an album or online – a digital tree – so that future generations will know from whence they came. And if there is no album? No tangible record in the future?

Then trees teach us about survival and resilience. Even if a powerful storm fells a tree, if one twig remains, it can be planted or grafted and put forth life again. The cutting can flourish, or the grafting can enrich the tree to which it is attached. New roots will grow grounding the tree in stability. Branches and leaves will extend outward to shelter the birds and squirrels and insects. The tree will shade us once
again in the summer and turn glorious colors come autumn. And rest in the winter. The cycle goes on.
There are branches, children, born of the tree that will live on. There are graftings onto other trees, students we have taught, children we have coached, young people we have mentored, community members we have served.

So take heart in winter, this pandemic winter, when we feel isolated, frightened, and alone. The Torah is our tree of life and the roots of our faith will ground us and remind us that our community is ever resilient.

- Sandra Mondykowski Temple, "Tu B’shvat Meditation 2021"

No matter who we are, no matter where we stand, let us see this as a moment to join together in redemption. Let us all work to spread joy and blessing like the natural world: to all, no matter what.

The tragedy of Pharaoh was the failure to realize that the exodus from slavery could have spelled redemption for both Israel and Egypt. Would that Pharaoh and the Egyptians had joined the Israelites in the desert and together stood at the foot of Sinai!

-Rabbi Abraham Joushua Heschel, “The White Man on Trial” (1964)

Thank you for joining with us. We turn now, one last time, to song. As we fix our world, may we turn from the tools of war to the tools of growth and blessing. May we beat swords into plowshares and, with deep intention, plant and grow, and not practice war any more.

(ד) וְשָׁפַט֙ בֵּ֣ין הַגּוֹיִ֔ם וְהוֹכִ֖יחַ לְעַמִּ֣ים רַבִּ֑ים וְכִתְּת֨וּ חַרְבוֹתָ֜ם לְאִתִּ֗ים וַחֲנִיתֽוֹתֵיהֶם֙ לְמַזְמֵר֔וֹת לֹא־יִשָּׂ֨א ג֤וֹי אֶל־גּוֹי֙ חֶ֔רֶב וְלֹא־יִלְמְד֥וּ ע֖וֹד מִלְחָמָֽה׃ (פ)

(4) Thus God will judge among the nations And arbitrate for the many peoples, And they shall beat their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up Sword against nation; They shall never again know war.

Lo yisa goy el goy kherev v'lo yilm'du od milkhamah.