Tu Bishvat Seder by Noam Zion

Table of Contents

Four Cups and Four Historical periods in the Development of Tu BiShvat
  • First Cup: Biblical - Back to the Garden of Eden
  • Second Cup: Rabbinic - The Birthday of Trees and the End of the Tax Year of Fruits
  • Third Cup: Medieval - Semester Break and Mystical Repair of the World
  • Fourth Cup: Modern - Planting Trees in Israel and Raising Ecological Consciousness


“Tu” is a pronunciation of the Hebrew letters for the number 15, and it falls in the Hebrew month of “Shvat,” approximately parallel to February. This date was originally just a date for the end of the tax year for fruit trees. Whatever fruits blossomed before Tu BiShvat belonged to the previous tax season for purposes of tithing. However, by borrowing from the Pesach Seder model, the mystics of Safed created a ritualized ceremony for drinking wine and eating fruits. This custom has been adapted by twentieth century Zionist educators who made it a tree planting holiday to help redeem the land. Now Jewish ecologists have added their own layer, another ring on the trunk of this ancient date. With each Gilgiul, reincarnation, new creative energy and new world views are added. Everyone is invited to invent their own version of this holiday-in-flux. Here below is our version built on mystical and contemporary models.
Items for Table
  • Candles
  • Branches
  • Flowers
  • Fruits from Trees
  • Seven species typical of ancient Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, fig, pomegranate, olive and dates)
  • Spices from trees (cinnamon, etc)
  • Word games
  • Quizzes
  • Ecology Report
  • 4 cups
  • White and red wine
  • Tzedakah Box (preferably for the Jewish National Fund that reclaims land and plants trees in Israel)
  • The Symbols of the Four Cups of Wine

    Since the 17th century, Seder Tu BiShvat has imitated Seder Pesach integrating four cups of wine with readings. The first cup, however, at Seder Tu BiShvat, unlike Pesach, is white wine and then each subsequent cup is white with more and more red wine added. Each cup has been identified with various symbolic meanings, often mystical or natural.
    FOUR SEASONS: The Cosmic Changing of Guards between Warm and Cold
    • Fall - White Wine
    • Winter – White with a touch of Red /
    • Spring – Half and Half, White and Red
    • Summer – Red
    • Heavenly Atzilut, or emanation, when God's energy infused the creation process with initial life (no earthly fruits correspond to the highest, most abstract level) – no fruits
    • Worldly Production - Asiya - eating the insides of fruits with tough skins that must peeled
    • Angelic Artisans– Yetzira – eating fruits whose skins may be eaten but their inside pits removed
    • Divine Creation – Briyah – Fruits from the Garden of Eden which are eaten in toto needing no pits or rough protective skins and leaving no waste

    FIRST CUP: Back to the Biblical Garden of Eden

    Pour a first cup of wine –white only - symbolizing the coldest part of Fall shading into Winter when the days are growing shorter and the weather colder. White symbolizes the mystical realm of Atzilut, the first infusion of Divine energy when the Creation process began.
    We raise our cups in a toast to the Garden of Eden from which we were once expelled but recall with such nostalgia and to the land of Israel which was the Garden of Eden of our people, a land of milk and honey.
    The Cosmic Changing of Guards between Warm and Cold
    On Tu BiShvat eve people would gather into a common location like the home of the notables. The candles would be lit, the tables covered in white table clothes, bottles of fragrant rose water and bottles of wine both red and white lined the tables. White represents the slumber that has overtaken the organic world, the tiredness of the sun, while the red symbolizes the coming awakening of nature, to bloom and to grow as the sun warms the earth. Tu BiShvat is the turning point as it begins to warm up. The forces of nature – cold and warmth, winter and summer, are struggling with one another until the Red is triumphant and the sovereignty of Spring descends on the world. (based on Hemdat Yamim by Benjamin of Safed)
    For the Love of Trees
    God as Johnny Appleseed?
    וַיִּטַּ֞ע יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים גַּן־בְּעֵ֖דֶן מִקֶּ֑דֶם וַיָּ֣שֶׂם שָׁ֔ם אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָצָֽר׃
    וַיַּצְמַ֞ח יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כׇּל־עֵ֛ץ נֶחְמָ֥ד לְמַרְאֶ֖ה וְט֣וֹב לְמַאֲכָ֑ל וְעֵ֤ץ הַֽחַיִּים֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַגָּ֔ן וְעֵ֕ץ הַדַּ֖עַת ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע׃
    The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom He had formed.
    And from the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
    וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעׇבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָֽהּ׃
    וַיְצַו֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃
    וּמֵעֵ֗ץ הַדַּ֙עַת֙ ט֣וֹב וָרָ֔ע לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּ֗י בְּי֛וֹם אֲכׇלְךָ֥ מִמֶּ֖נּוּ מ֥וֹת תָּמֽוּת׃
    The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.
    And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat;
    but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”
    The Israeli journalist and peace activist, Amos Kenan, once wrote:
    “This land – Eretz Yisrael- does not belong to us! It is only a national trust, placed in our hands “to till it and to tend it” (Genesis 2:15). Only in that way and only at that time, will this land be truly our own.”
    Work before Play
    ר״ש בן אלעזר אומר אף אדם הראשון לא טעם כלום עד שעשה מלאכה שנא׳ (בראשית ב׳:ט״ו) ויניחהו בגן עדן לעבדה ולשמרה והדר מכל עץ הגן אכול תאכל. ר״ט אומר אף הקב״ה לא השרה שכינתו על ישראל עד שעשו מלאכה שנאמר (שמות כ״ה:ח׳) ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם רבי יהודה בן בתירא אומר מי שאין לו מלאכה לעשות מה יעשה אם יש לו חצר חרבה או שדה חרבה ילך ויתעסק בה שנאמר ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך ומה תלמוד לומר ועשית כל מלאכתך להביא את מי שיש לו חצרות או שדות חרבות ילך ויתעסק בהן ר׳ [טרפון] אומר (אין אדם מת) אלא מתוך הבטלה (שנאמר (בראשית מ״ט:ל״ג) ויגוע ויאסף אל עמיו
    Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar would say: Even Adam did not taste anything until he worked, as it says (Genesis 2:15–16), “And God placed him in the garden, to work it and guard it”; and then [it says (verse 17)], “From every tree of the garden you may certainly eat.”Rabbi Tarfon would say: Even the Holy Blessed One did not rest His presence upon Israel until they had done work, as it says (Exodus 25:5), “Make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell among them.”Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira would say: If someone who has no work to do, what should he do? If he has a dilapidated yard or field, he should go and work on them, as it says (Exodus 20:10), “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” What do we learn from the phrase, “do all your work”? That even someone who has dilapidated yards or fields should work on them.Rabbi Yosei HaGalili would say: A person dies only because of idleness, as it says (Genesis 49:33), “And he expired [or: exhausted himself], and so was gathered to his people.”
    Humanity's First Violation of the Laws of the God’s Nature Preserve
    Read aloud Genesis 3:1-7. Now what was the Tree of Knowledge that brought about our first Exile from nature?
    וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ הָיָ֣ה עָר֔וּם מִכֹּל֙ חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָ֣אִשָּׁ֔ה אַ֚ף כִּֽי־אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֔ים לֹ֣א תֹֽאכְל֔וּ מִכֹּ֖ל עֵ֥ץ הַגָּֽן׃
    וַתֹּ֥אמֶר הָֽאִשָּׁ֖ה אֶל־הַנָּחָ֑שׁ מִפְּרִ֥י עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן נֹאכֵֽל׃
    וּמִפְּרִ֣י הָעֵץ֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּתוֹךְ־הַגָּן֒ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים לֹ֤א תֹֽאכְלוּ֙ מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְלֹ֥א תִגְּע֖וּ בּ֑וֹ פֶּן־תְּמֻתֽוּן׃
    וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הַנָּחָ֖שׁ אֶל־הָֽאִשָּׁ֑ה לֹֽא־מ֖וֹת תְּמֻתֽוּן׃
    כִּ֚י יֹדֵ֣עַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כִּ֗י בְּיוֹם֙ אֲכׇלְכֶ֣ם מִמֶּ֔נּוּ וְנִפְקְח֖וּ עֵֽינֵיכֶ֑ם וִהְיִיתֶם֙ כֵּֽאלֹהִ֔ים יֹדְעֵ֖י ט֥וֹב וָרָֽע׃
    וַתֵּ֣רֶא הָֽאִשָּׁ֡ה כִּ֣י טוֹב֩ הָעֵ֨ץ לְמַאֲכָ֜ל וְכִ֧י תַֽאֲוָה־ה֣וּא לָעֵינַ֗יִם וְנֶחְמָ֤ד הָעֵץ֙ לְהַשְׂכִּ֔יל וַתִּקַּ֥ח מִפִּרְי֖וֹ וַתֹּאכַ֑ל וַתִּתֵּ֧ן גַּם־לְאִישָׁ֛הּ עִמָּ֖הּ וַיֹּאכַֽל׃
    וַתִּפָּקַ֙חְנָה֙ עֵינֵ֣י שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּ֣דְע֔וּ כִּ֥י עֵֽירֻמִּ֖ם הֵ֑ם וַֽיִּתְפְּרוּ֙ עֲלֵ֣ה תְאֵנָ֔ה וַיַּעֲשׂ֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם חֲגֹרֹֽת׃
    Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild beasts that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”
    The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden.
    It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.’”
    And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die,
    but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know-a good and bad.”
    When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
    Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.
    רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בַּר אִלְעָאי אָמַר, עֲנָבִים הָיוּ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים לב, לב לג): עֲנָבֵמוֹ עִנְבֵי רוֹשׁ אַשְׁכְּלֹת מְרֹרֹת לָמוֹ, אוֹתָן הָאֶשְׁכּוֹלוֹת הֵבִיאוּ מְרוֹרוֹת לָעוֹלָם. רַבִּי אַבָּא דְּעַכּוֹ אָמַר אֶתְרוֹג הָיָה, הֲדָא הוּא דִּכְתִיב (בראשית ג, ו): וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ וגו', אֲמַרְתְּ צֵא וּרְאֵה אֵיזֶהוּ אִילָן שֶׁעֵצוֹ נֶאֱכָל כְּפִרְיוֹ, וְאֵין אַתָּה מוֹצֵא אֶלָּא אֶתְרוֹג. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר תְּאֵנִים הָיוּ, דָּבָר לָמֵד מֵעִנְיָנוֹ, מָשָׁל לְבֶן שָׂרִים שֶׁקִּלְקֵל עִם אַחַת מִן הַשְּׁפָחוֹת, כֵּיוָן שֶׁשָּׁמַע הַשַֹּׂר טְרָדוֹ וְהוֹצִיאוֹ חוּץ לַפָּלָטִין, וְהָיָה מְחַזֵּר עַל פִּתְחֵיהֶן שֶׁל שְׁפָחוֹת וְלֹא הָיוּ מְקַבְּלוֹת אוֹתוֹ, אֲבָל אוֹתָהּ שֶׁקִּלְקְלָה עִמּוֹ פָּתְחָה דְלָתֶיהָ וְקִבִּלַתּוֹ. כָּךְ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁאָכַל אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן מֵאוֹתוֹ הָאִילָן, טְרָדוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וְהוֹצִיאוֹ חוּץ לְגַן עֵדֶן, וְהָיָה מְחַזֵּר עַל כָּל אִילָנוֹת וְלֹא הָיוּ מְקַבְּלִין אוֹתוֹ, וּמַה הָיוּ אוֹמְרִים לוֹ, אָמַר רַבִּי בֶּרֶכְיָה הָא גַּנָּב דְּגָנַב דַּעְתֵּיהּ דְּבָרְיֵהּ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (תהלים לו, יב): אַל תְּבוֹאֵנִי רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה, רֶגֶל שֶׁנִּתְגָּאֶה עַל בּוֹרְאוֹ, (תהלים לו, יב): וְיַד רְשָׁעִים אַל תְּנִדֵנִי, לָא תִיסַב מִמֶּנִּי עָלֶה. אֲבָל תְּאֵנָה שֶׁאָכַל מִפֵּרוֹתֶיהָ, פָּתְחָה דְּלָתֶיהָ וְקִבְּלַתּוֹ, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (בראשית ג, ז): וַיִּתְפְּרוּ עֲלֵה תְאֵנָה, מָה הָיְתָה אוֹתָהּ הַתְּאֵנָה, רַבִּי אָבִין אָמַר בְּרַת שֶׁבַע דְּאַמְטְיַת שִׁבְעַת יְמֵי אֶבְלָא לְעָלְמָא. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ דְּסִכְנִין בְּשֵׁם ר"א אָמַר בְּרַת אֱלִיתָא, דְּאַמְטְיַת אֱלִיתָא לְעָלְמָא. רַבִּי עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבִּי יְהוּדָה בַּר סִימוֹן בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי אָמַר, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם לֹא גִּלָּה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אוֹתוֹ אִילָן לְאָדָם, וְלֹא עָתִיד לְגַלּוֹתוֹ.
    One view holds it was grapes [for wine both brings a sense of greater knowledge and yet like the Tree of Knowledge it may be dangerous to life].
    Another view holds that it was figs. That can be learned logically from analyzing the verses and using an analogy.
    Once there was a prince who had an affair with a servant girl. When the Sovereign found out he chased him out of the palace. With no place to live he wandered from door to door among the servant girls for someone to take him in. No one would accept him until he reached the door of the one with whom he had the affair. She opened her door and took him in.
    Similarly, when Adam ate from the Tree of [Sexual] Knowledge, the Blessed Holy One chased him out of the Garden. Adam went to hide among the trees and none would have him until the fig tree – from which he must have eaten – took him in and from her leaves Adam and Eve sewed their clothes to cover their shame.
    No, said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, God forbid that the Holy One would reveal the tree from which humans sinned, for God protects the dignity of human beings and would not embarrass them by revealing the identity of the tree.
    The Seven Species: Land of Milk and Honey
    Select as many of the seven species with which Eretz Yisrael was praised and you may eat from them first after reading the following:
    כִּ֚י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ מְבִֽיאֲךָ֖ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ טוֹבָ֑ה אֶ֚רֶץ נַ֣חֲלֵי מָ֔יִם עֲיָנֹת֙ וּתְהֹמֹ֔ת יֹצְאִ֥ים בַּבִּקְעָ֖ה וּבָהָֽר׃
    אֶ֤רֶץ חִטָּה֙ וּשְׂעֹרָ֔ה וְגֶ֥פֶן וּתְאֵנָ֖ה וְרִמּ֑וֹן אֶֽרֶץ־זֵ֥ית שֶׁ֖מֶן וּדְבָֽשׁ׃
    אֶ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹ֤א בְמִסְכֵּנֻת֙ תֹּֽאכַל־בָּ֣הּ לֶ֔חֶם לֹֽא־תֶחְסַ֥ר כֹּ֖ל בָּ֑הּ אֶ֚רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲבָנֶ֣יהָ בַרְזֶ֔ל וּמֵהֲרָרֶ֖יהָ תַּחְצֹ֥ב נְחֹֽשֶׁת׃
    וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָ֑עְתָּ וּבֵֽרַכְתָּ֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ עַל־הָאָ֥רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָֽתַן־לָֽךְ׃
    For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill;
    a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey;
    a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper.
    When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.
    *What is translated as honey is thought to be a sweet, fruit-derived syrup from dates.

    SECOND CUP: Rabbinic - The Birthday of Trees and the End of the Tax Year of Fruits

    Pour a second cup of wine – white with only a drop of red to give it color - symbolizing the turning of Winter which in Eretz Yisrael is just beginning to recede as the air warms and white blossoms of the almond tree appear.
    We raise our cups in a toast to the Birthday of the Trees established by the Rabbis 2,000 years ago.
    Select fruits covered by a rough skin that must be peeled before they are eaten like an almond. These represent what the mystics called the earthly world of production – Asiya.
    You may also wish to pass around spices derived from trees and smell them, such as cinnamon, cloves and so on. The blessing for a good smell is Borei Minei B’smamim.
    New Years and New Taxes
    In Eretz Yisrael 2,000 years ago the society was wholly agricultural. The Torah established that the land was a gift from God or perhaps better, we are tenants on God’s land. So every year we showed our gratitude by paying “taxes” – tithes, first fruits and so on to God’s representatives on earth – the priests and Levim who serve the community like rabbis and teachers today – and the poor who are God’s special wards. The natural resources we have are a kind of loan and its interest is paid to those in need.
    For different seasonal products there were different dates established as the fiscal year. The Rabbis called all these dates “Rosh HaShanah” / New Year’s and there were four of them. The one we still celebrate in Tishrei (September/October) was for tithing agricultural products like vegetables. The one in the winter, on the full moon, Tu =15th of the month of Shvat (February) is for the fruits of the tree. Fruit that appeared before that date was taxed for the previous year; fruit that appeared later, for the following year (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 2a). The Talmud called this legal date the "New Year for Trees" though there were no rituals associated with it at all. But trees and their fruits were very important and symbolic to the Rabbis, as the following stories make clear.
    A Symbol of Longterm Hope
    Planting a tree--a concrete, practical act- represents hope for those willing to invest in the future and take a long-term view on life. In Eretz Yisrael trees were planted when a child was born: for a boy, a cedar, for a girl, a cypress. Later, their branches would be used at their wedding for the huppah (canopy).
    Tree planting teaches delayed gratification and human effort to bring redemption, not waiting for the sudden appearance of a messiah. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, who lived in Jerusalem when the Romans were sacking it, said:
    "If you have a sapling in your hand and are told, 'Look, the Messiah is here,' you should first plant the sapling and then go out to welcome the Messiah."
    The psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote:
    A young woman who knew that she was dying, nevertheless, kept herself in good spirits. She explained, “in my former life [before the concentration camp] I was spoiled and I did not treat spiritual achievements seriously.”
    Then she motioned with her finger toward the window of the barrack: “That tree there is my only friend in my loneliness.” Through the window she could only see one branch of an almond tree with two buds. “I often speak to that tree.”
    With trepidation I asked her whether the tree answers her. She answered: “Yes, it says to me, ‘I am here, I am here, I am Life, I am Eternal Life.” (adapted from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl)
    To Be As Blessed as a Tree
    כִּי הֲווֹ מִיפַּטְרִי מֵהֲדָדֵי, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: לִיבָרְכַן מָר! אֲמַר לֵיהּ: אֶמְשׁוֹל לְךָ מָשָׁל, לְמָה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה? לְאָדָם שֶׁהָיָה הוֹלֵךְ בַּמִּדְבָּר וְהָיָה רָעֵב וְעָיֵף וְצָמֵא, וּמָצָא אִילָן שֶׁפֵּירוֹתָיו מְתוּקִין וְצִלּוֹ נָאֶה וְאַמַּת הַמַּיִם עוֹבֶרֶת תַּחְתָּיו. אָכַל מִפֵּירוֹתָיו, וְשָׁתָה מִמֵּימָיו, וְיָשַׁב בְּצִילּוֹ. וּכְשֶׁבִּיקֵּשׁ לֵילֵךְ, אָמַר: אִילָן אִילָן, בַּמָּה אֲבָרֶכְךָ? אִם אוֹמַר לְךָ שֶׁיְּהוּ פֵּירוֹתֶיךָ מְתוּקִין — הֲרֵי פֵּירוֹתֶיךָ מְתוּקִין, שֶׁיְּהֵא צִילְּךָ נָאֶה — הֲרֵי צִילְּךָ נָאֶה, שֶׁתְּהֵא אַמַּת הַמַּיִם עוֹבֶרֶת תַּחְתֶּיךָ — הֲרֵי אַמַּת הַמַּיִם עוֹבֶרֶת תַּחְתֶּיךָ, אֶלָּא: יְהִי רָצוֹן שֶׁכׇּל נְטִיעוֹת שֶׁנּוֹטְעִין מִמְּךָ יִהְיוּ כְּמוֹתְךָ. אַף אַתָּה, בַּמָּה אֲבָרֶכְךָ? אִם בְּתוֹרָה — הֲרֵי תּוֹרָה, אִם בְּעוֹשֶׁר — הֲרֵי עוֹשֶׁר, אִם בְּבָנִים — הֲרֵי בָּנִים, אֶלָּא: יְהִי רָצוֹן שֶׁיִּהְיוּ צֶאֱצָאֵי מֵעֶיךָ כְּמוֹתְךָ.
    The Gemara relates: When they were taking leave of one another, Rav Naḥman said to Rabbi Yitzḥak: Master, give me a blessing. Rabbi Yitzḥak said to him: I will tell you a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to one who was walking through a desert and who was hungry, tired, and thirsty. And he found a tree whose fruits were sweet and whose shade was pleasant, and a stream of water flowed beneath it. He ate from the fruits of the tree, drank from the water in the stream, and sat in the shade of the tree. And when he wished to leave, he said: Tree, tree, with what shall I bless you? If I say to you that your fruits should be sweet, your fruits are already sweet; if I say that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant; if I say that a stream of water should flow beneath you, a stream of water already flows beneath you. Rather, I will bless you as follows: May it be God’s will that all saplings which they plant from you be like you. So it is with you. With what shall I bless you? If I bless you with Torah, you already have Torah; if I bless you with wealth, you already have wealth; if I bless you with children, you already have children. Rather, may it be God’s will that your offspring shall be like you.
    You Must Try Everything in God’s World at Least Once
    רִבִּי חִזְקִיָּה רִבִּי כֹהֵן בְּשֵׁם רַב. אָסוּר לָדוּר בְּעִיר שֶׁאֵין בָּהּ לֹא רוֹפֵא וְלֹא מֶרְחָץ וְלֹא בֵית דִּין מַכִּין וְחוֹבְשִׁין. אָמַר רִבִּי יוֹסֵי בֵּירִבִּי בּוּן. אַף אָסוּר לָדוּר בְּעִיר שֶׁאֵין בָּהּ גִּינּוֹנִיתָא שֶׁל יָרָק. רִבִּי חִזְקִיָּה רִבִּי כֹהֵן בְּשֵׁם רַב. עָתִיד אָדָם לִיתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן עַל כָּל־מַה שֶׁרָאָת עֵינוֹ וְלֹא אָכַל. רִבִּי לָֽעְזָר חֲשַׁשׁ לְהָדָא שְׁמוּעָתָא וּמַצְמִית לֵיהּ פְּרִיטִין וַאֲכִיל בְּהוֹן מִכָּל־מִילָּה חָדָא בְשַׁתָּא.
    Rebbi Ḥizqiah, Rebbi Cohen in the name of Rav. It is forbidden to dwell in a city which has neither a medical man, nor a public bath, nor a court lashing and jailing. Rebbi Yose ben Rebbi Abun said, also it is forbidden to dwell in a city which has no vegetable garden. Rebbi Ḥizqiah, Rebbi Cohen in the name of Rav: Every person will have to justify himself for everything his eye saw and which he did not eat. Rebbi Eleazar took note of this statement and saved coins from which he ate every kind once a year.

    THIRD CUP: Semester Break and Mystical Repair of the World

    Pour a third cup of wine – half red and half white - symbolizing the mixture of warm and cold typical of Spring. We raise our cups in a toast to the spirituality intimated in nature and the Jewish mystical mission to bring Tikkun – repair to a broken world.
    Select several fruits or nuts from trees whose skin and insides are consumed but their pits are inedible. For example, seedless oranges. These represent the mystical world of the angels -– Yetzira,
    Before eating the fruits this time, let us follow the Jerusalem custom of Mishloakh Manot (sending gifts of food to friends) which is borrowed from Purim. Take two fruits, place them on a lovely plate and send them as a gift to a friend at the table via a messenger.
    Semester Break: When Teachers Supply Whiskey for their Students
    While universal public education was first established in the West less than two hundred years ago, Jewish schools have been functioning for male children for at least 2,000 years. Public schools in the West gave their students a long summer vacation because they were needed to work on their parents farms during the summer and harvest season. In the Middle Ages Jewish schools had two big semester breaks - one from Tu B’Av in late summer until after Rosh HaShanah and Sukkot – and one from Tu BiShvat until after Pesach. On the day that the spring semester break began on Tu BiShvat the teachers were required by communal legislation and custom to provide their students with an unusual farewell snack:
    Joseph, from Worms, Germany Jewish community, 17th century
    The students do not come to school this day. Their teachers are obligated to purchase from their own pockets – not at the expense of the students – “burning wine” (fire water, that is, whiskey) and Lekakh Tov (sweet honey cake whose nickname means “Torah is a good lesson”).
    The Invention of the Mystical Seder* Tu BiShvat in Safed
    * The text of the seder, which has come to be known as Peri Eitz Hadar, is essentially the same as the section on Tu Bishvat which appears in the Sabbatean-influenced anthology of kabbalistic customs, Hemdat Yamim (Izmir, 1731-1732).
    In Safed in Eretz Yisrael the emigrees from the expulsion from Spain in 1492 found a new home and there they wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law. However beyond their Talmudic learning they also delved into Kabbalah and studied the mystical work of the Zohar which had been written in Spain. They were moved to create new mystical rituals that soon spread throughout the Jewish world – like Kabbalat Shabbat and the song L’kah Dodi. Rabbi Benjamin Halevi invented the Tu BiShvat Seder with its four cups representing four levels of the mystical map of reality.
    The Kabbalists felt the hidden presence of God in nature and saw in trees a symbolic representation of the structure of the human, the divine and the cosmos. Trees that are mentioned in two Biblical passages were considered the keys to understanding reality. They found symbolic uses of trees in the Tanakh. First, there is the Garden of Eden (literally, of “delight”) with the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The second is in Proverbs where the "Tree of Life" is equated with wisdom -understood as both the Torah and wisdom aspect of Divinity. Indeed, the kabbalists came to imagine the emanations of God (called the Sefirot) connected in an organic pattern that they called a tree.
    The precise order of eating was a mystical act designed to release the Divine sparks within each fruit and to bring about a Tikkun – a repairing of the broken world of exile in which we live:
    Leslie Koppelman Ross Celebrate: The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook, Jason Aronson Publishers
    “According to Lurianic Kabbalah (a form of mysticism studied by the students of Isaac Luria), all physical forms--including human beings--hide within them a spark of the Divine Presence. This is similar to some kinds of fruits or nuts, which hide within them seeds of new life and potential growth. In Jewish mysticism, human actions can release these sparks and help increase God's presence in the world. Every piece of fruit -which can be considered the parent generation--holds the seed of the next generation, in other words, the potential for new life. If, when we eat the fruit, which releases the seed, we do so in a holy way--with proper blessing and gratitude--then we are helping God to renew nature, and the flow of life continues.”
    Rabbi Nachman’s Song of the Grasses
    כִּי דַּע, כִּי כָל רוֹעֶה וְרוֹעֶה יֵשׁ לוֹ נִגּוּן מְיֻחָד לְפִי הָעֲשָׂבִים וּלְפִי הַמָּקוֹם שֶׁהוּא רוֹעֶה שָׁם, כִּי כָל בְּהֵמָה וּבְהֵמָה יֵשׁ לָהּ עֵשֶׂב מְיֻחָד, שֶׁהִיא צְרִיכָה לְאָכְלוֹ. גַּם אֵינוֹ רוֹעֶה תָּמִיד בְּמָקוֹם אֶחָד. וּלְפִי הָעֲשָׂבִים וְהַמָּקוֹם שֶׁרוֹעֶה שָׁם, כֵּן יֵשׁ לוֹ נִגּוּן. כִּי כָל עֵשֶׂב וָעֵשֶׂב יֵשׁ לוֹ שִׁירָה שֶׁאוֹמֵר, שֶׁזֶּה בְּחִינַת פֶּרֶק שִׁירָה, וּמִשִּׁירַת הָעֲשָׂבִים נַעֲשֶׂה נִגּוּן שֶׁל הָרוֹעֶה.
    For know! each and every shepherd has his own special melody, according to the grasses and specific location where he is grazing. This is because each and every animal has a specific grass which it needs to eat. He also does not always pasture in the same place. Thus, his melody is dictated by the grasses and place he pastures. For each and every grass has a song which it sings. This is the concept of Perek Shirah. And from the grass’s song, the shepherd’s melody is created.
    Rabbi Nachman, Likutei Sichot
    I wish I could hear the praises sung by all the grasses, how each and everyone sings to the Divine – unencumbered by doubts and digressive thoughts, without expecting any reward.
    How beautiful it must be to listen to their songs and how very good to pray among them in awe of God.

    FOURTH CUP: Planting Trees in Israel and Raising Ecological Consciousness

    Pour a final cup of red wine symbolizing the coming warmth and fertility of Summer and raise it in a toast to renewing the land of milk and honey and learning to protect our global environment.
    Select several fruits which are wholly consumable and nothing need be discarded – even their skin and seeds, such as figs, for they represent a world where harmony has returned, a new Garden of Eden, where rough protective external armor is unnecessary and where we consume the whole of our food without waste. This is the highest mystical realm – Briyah, Divine Creation.
    Tikkun of the Land, its People and its Government
    Redeeming the Land of Israel: Land Reclamation and Reconnecting the Wandering Jew with the Homeland
    Back in the 1880s when the Jews first began to return to the Eretz Yisrael to rebuild a political homeland, they sought to transform themselves from shopkeepers into farmers. They found a land once described as “a land of milk and honey” depopulated and severely ecologically damaged. They needed to buy the land from absentee landlords, to drain malaria-filled swamps and begin to plant forests to restrain erosion. On Tu Bishvat the pioneers of the agricultural settlement, Yesud HaMaalah in the Galilee, initiated the planting of trees in 1884 with 1,500 trees – including 700 etrog trees. In 1908 the city dwellers joined this custom. Zeev Yaavetz and the new Hebrew Teachers Union, innovative Jewish educators involved in reviving the Hebrew language and making the Jewish people more self-reliant, decided to educate the schoolchildren by creating an activist Tu BiShvat. They transformed it from the medieval Tu BiShvat, which was a semester break celebrated by eating dried fruits, into an annual tree planting festival. Zeev Yaavetz was perhaps a great educator but a poor agronomist who did not know that fruit trees should not be planted in February but in September at the beginning of the rainy season. (Similarly, the early settlers also did not know that date palms come in male and female pairs and pollinate only when planted together. The first magnificent row of palms planted by the Jewish settlers never produced fruit because only one gender was planted).
    To this day on Tu BiShvat Israeli children by the thousands receive their semester report cards and then go out to plant trees – usually evergreens, which unlike fruit trees need less rain to take root. Since the establishment of the blue box of the Jewish National Fund, Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (which means literally the “permanent legacy of the people of Israel”), Jewish children all over the world have been collecting money and sending it for land reclamation and tree planting at this season. Quoted on the blue box is the verse Geulah titnu laaretz - “You shall redeem the land” and that is how the Zionist movement gave that commandment practical significance. That is how they sought both to heal or repair (Tikkun) both the character of the Jew cut off from the land and the land ruined by human neglect, abuse and war.
    The Birthday of the Knesset
    In 1898 when Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Congress, visited Israel, it was natural that he would plant a tree, even it was not Tu BiShvat, to mark his faith in the rebirth of the Jewish people on its land. However he was less interested in the revival of agriculture than in the revival of Jewish political autonomy. At the opening of the Zionist Congress in 1897 he had predicted that a Jewish state would arise within fifty years. Almost exactly “on-time” in 1949, the Knesset, the first Jewish demoracy in history, was officially opened onTu BiShvat in Jerusalem. The master of the dedication ceremony quoted the messianic hope a return to the days of King Solomon when “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, everyone under their own grapevine and fig tree” (I Kings 5:5).
    Tikkun Olam and Ecology*
    * Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society)
    רְאֵה אֶת מַעֲשֵׂה הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי מִי יוּכַל לְתַקֵּן אֵת אֲשֶׁר עִוְּתוֹ, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן, נְטָלוֹ וְהֶחֱזִירוֹ עַל כָּל אִילָנֵי גַּן עֵדֶן, וְאָמַר לוֹ, רְאֵה מַעֲשַׂי כַּמָּה נָאִים וּמְשֻׁבָּחִין הֵן, וְכָל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָאתִי בִּשְׁבִילְךָ בָּרָאתִי, תֵּן דַּעְתְּךָ שֶׁלֹא תְקַלְקֵל וְתַחֲרִיב אֶת עוֹלָמִי, שֶׁאִם קִלְקַלְתָּ אֵין מִי שֶׁיְתַקֵּן אַחֲרֶיךָ
    Look at God's work - for who can straighten what He has twisted? (Ecclesiastes 7:13). When the Blessed Holy One created the first human, He took him and led him round all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him: “Look at My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And all that I have created, it was for you that I created it. Pay attention that you do not corrupt and destroy My world: if you corrupt it, there is no one to repair it after you.
    Legislating for the Environment: Then and Now
    Read the following Biblical source from which Jewish laws of ecology first emerged more than 3000 years ago. It associates destruction of nature with general human destructiveness in war:
    כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְֽהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתׇפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן כִּ֚י מִמֶּ֣נּוּ תֹאכֵ֔ל וְאֹת֖וֹ לֹ֣א תִכְרֹ֑ת כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר׃
    רַ֞ק עֵ֣ץ אֲשֶׁר־תֵּדַ֗ע כִּֽי־לֹא־עֵ֤ץ מַאֲכָל֙ ה֔וּא אֹת֥וֹ תַשְׁחִ֖ית וְכָרָ֑תָּ וּבָנִ֣יתָ מָצ֗וֹר עַל־הָעִיר֙ אֲשֶׁר־הִ֨וא עֹשָׂ֧ה עִמְּךָ֛ מִלְחָמָ֖ה עַ֥ד רִדְתָּֽהּ׃ {פ}
    When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?
    Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.
    From a minor restriction placed on the height of human destructiveness – the conduct of war – the Rabbis saw a deep analogy between life-giving nature and the value of human life:
    Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi (16th century), Yiddish Bible interpretation Tze'enah u-Re'enah
    [The Torah compares humans to trees] because, like humans, trees have the power to grow. And as humans have children, so trees bear fruit. And when a human is hurt, cries of pain are heard throughout the world, so when a tree is chopped down, its cries are heard throughout the world.
    The Rabbis extended the prohibition of the meaningless destruction of the trees from wartime to a daily generalized prohibition against waste, known as b’al tashchit, "Do not destroy":
    וְלֹא הָאִילָנוֹת בִּלְבַד. אֶלָּא כָּל הַמְשַׁבֵּר כֵּלִים. וְקוֹרֵעַ בְּגָדִים. וְהוֹרֵס בִּנְיָן. וְסוֹתֵם מַעְיָן. וּמְאַבֵּד מַאֲכָלוֹת דֶּרֶךְ הַשְׁחָתָה. עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַשְׁחִית. וְאֵינוֹ לוֹקֶה אֶלָּא מַכַּת מַרְדּוּת מִדִּבְרֵיהֶם:
    And not only regarding trees, but even one who destructively breaks vessels or rips up clothing or tears down a building or seals up a spring or wastes food violates the Negative Commandment of “Do not destroy”. However, he only receives stripes for disobedience, in accordance with the Rabbis.
    Give an example of an ecological problem today and what you think its deep causes are (Check the newspaper for update examples). What steps are being made today to improve the situation? What efforts have you made? What are the ecological aspects of this meal – use of packaging, disposal of waste, recycling etc.
    Repairing Ourselves and then the World*
    *based on an article by Natan Zahavi, an Israeli newspaper columnist
    A scientist was once very preoccupied with all the problems of the world and determined to find a solution. Day and night he spent in his laboratory. Once his seven year old son invaded his privacy and offered to help. But his anxious father, wanting to get back to work, sought a diversion that would take long time. He tore out a large map of the world from a book and cut it into many pieces and gave his son glue and said: “You like puzzles, right? So here is the world to repair. It is broken up into many pieces; let’s see if you can fix it.”
    To his surprise the boy returned after a few hours and said: “Daddy, I have succeeded.” Initially the scientist was skeptical. After all how can a seven year old do a complex puzzle of a world he has never seen. But the map was perfect.
    “How did you manage?”
    “Dad,”said the little boy, “it is true that I did not have any idea how to put the world back together. But I remembered that on the back of the picture of the world in the book there was a picture of a human being. When I turned over the puzzle pieces, I repaired the picture of the human being. When I had finished the human puzzle, I flipped it over and the map was complete, the world was fixed.”
    Confessing our Sins – Guilt and Tu BiShvat??
    Some people believe that no Jewish celebration is complete without guilt. Given the ever increasing damage we as human beings and as Jews are inflicting on the environment, a contemporary Israeli Tu BiShvat Seder written in 2000 for Israeli schools invented a confession based on the Yom Kippur confession called Al Heit. Using an idea typical of medieval Jewish poetry, the authors composed a list of ecological sins to be recited according to the alphabet. We include our own version of five such sins to be recited while beating our breasts and reflecting on how to repent. You may wish to add more by completing the alphabet:
    For the sin of Air pollution, we promise to restrict our use of pollutants.
    For the sin of B….
    For the sin of Consuming more natural resources than we need, we promise to …
    For the sin of Damaging the forests of the world , we promise to recycle paper.
    For the sin of E
    Tzedakah: Greening our Land and Protecting our Environment
    While often Tzedakah is given to the poor as a form of charity to the helpless, the highest form of Tzedakah is giving someone the means to support themselves – a job or job training or a loan to open a business. However, when making a contribution to the Jewish National Fund, one is contributing to oneself, to one’s own people to pull itself up by the bootstraps and support itself on a newly productive natural resource – the land. That is the key to our national independence as much as our ability to fight for ourselves against our enemies. If you have old certificates from trees planted in the past, take them out and put them on the table.
    Ask everyone to make two contributions this year – one to the Jewish National Fund for land reclamation and reforrestation in Eretz Yisrael and one for an ecological activist group. You may discuss the best recipient at the table right now.

    Final Prayer of the Seder

    May it be your will, Creator of the Universe, that by virtue of conducting this Tu BiShvat Seder and eating these fruits that the trees this year will be rejuvenated and filled with abundance from the beginning of the year to the end, for goodness and blessing, for long life and peace.
    May we behold your world and bless it in words and actions as You did when at the end of the six days of Creation, “God saw all that had been made and pronounced it very good” (Genesis 1:31).