A Kabbalist's Feast: Tu B’Shevat Seder
Supported by a grant from Whizin Center for the Jewish Future and The Alevy Family Foundation
2021 / 5781 Community Edition
Edited and Adapted By Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
2018 Kabbalist's Feast by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
...כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה...
"...A Person is a tree of the field..."
A tree is constantly growing and so must we. A tree produces fruit and so must we.
On Tu B'Shevat we must renew personal growth, just as the trees on Tu B'Shevat begin to draw moisture from the earth.

Origins of the Seder

The first Tu B’Shevat Seder was written by an anonymous student of the great Kabbalist of Safed, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (b.1534-d.1572). His fifty-page booklet presented fruits to eat and passages to read from holy sources such as the Torah, Prophets and Writings, and Zohar. The book was arranged like a seder and deeply Kabbalistic. Ever since, the Tu B’Shevat Seder has been handed down through generations, and observed by various communities. Our Seder is based on a selection of new and old seders, with our own original elements added to the mix. Its order is based both on the order of native species to Israel and the four Kabbalistic worlds.

Supplies for the Seder

Dark and light grape juice, red and white wine, beer (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), plenty of water, cake, olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, carob, apples, pears, and if you can, candied etrog rind. In addition, bring other fruits with inedible shells or peels, fruits with edible skins, but have seeds, fruits that are totally eaten, and fragrant fruits. Use as many different kinds of fruit as you can find, especially exotic fruit that you rarely eat.
Bring kippahs for those who may want to wear one during the ceremony. Also, have prayer books or benchers (booklets with the Grace after Meals) available for the After Blessing.

Guidelines for the Seder

  • Gather a group of friends, and ask each to bring something for the feast. Set the table with a fine tablecloth, candles, flowers etc. Make a large seder plate, or smaller seder plates, with the different fruits to place on the table. Remember to check dried fruit for infestations before setting them out for your seder by opening them up and looking inside.
  • Reprint enough copies of the Seder for one for every two people.
  • Have a good time – there is really no “wrong” way to do the Seder. Where it says “PARTICIPANT” we suggest letting each guest recite one part and then passing the reading around to the next. Use this Seder guide as a roadmap and feel free to improvise, make additions, sing and dance!
Sources:
  1. Fruit Trees and the Jews, by Yehoshua Metzinger
  2. Celebrating Tu B’Shvat: A Kabbalist’s Manual, by Ascent of Safed.
  3. Person is Like a Tree: A Sourcebook for Tu BeShvat, by Yitzhak Buxbaum
  4. The Trees Are Davening, A COEJL Haggadah
  5. Counting the Omer, by Simon Jacobson
  6. inner.org / ou.org / chabad.org
  7. Cover art “Tree of Life” by Terrence McKillip

The Tu B’Shevat Seder

A PARTICIPANT ASKS: Why do Jews celebrate the New Year for fruit trees on Tu B'Shevat?
ALL RECITE TOGETHER: Tu B’Shevat marks the time when sap starts to flow upward, nourishing the trees, starting new growth.
PARTICIPANT: OK, so what’s that got to do with me? I am not a tree.
ALL: Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish people could no longer bring First Fruit offerings (Bikkurim) to Jerusalem. On Tu B'Shevat we offer instead the "fruit of our lips," praise for all the fruit trees in the world. (Magen Avraham 131:16: "It is the custom on Tu b'Shevat to eat many different kinds of fruit.").
PARTICIPANT: The Talmud says that Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for the TREE (singular) (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1). This reference to a single tree is an allusion to "The Tree" — the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
Meditation: “One should intend that they are eating at the celestial table before God, in the Garden of Eden before the Divine Presence.” (Reshit Chochmah Gates of Holiness 15:83)
PARTICIPANT: The flow of God's beneficence is called the Tree of Life—the roots, above in God’s will; the fruit, here below. By eating fruit on this day we correct and increase this flow (Pri Etz Hadar 2:1).
ALL: Adam and Eve erred by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. To correct this mistake, we eat our fruit today with pure intentions, as if from the Tree of Life.
PARTICIPANT: Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote: My teacher, the holy Arizal, used to say that one must intend while eating the fruits at the Tu B'Shevat Seder to repair the sin of Adam who erred by eating fruit from the tree (Berachot 40a)*.
PARTICIPANT: Originally we were nourished on fruit alone. Every tree produced fruit. After our exile from Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden), we had to work for our food, cultivate the earth, and many trees stopped giving forth fruit. In the Messianic Era, all trees will once again give forth their fruit.
PARTICIPANT: In the Talmud, Rabbi Abbun said: “In the next world, a person will be judged for all the fine fruit that he saw but did not eat.” Rabbi Elazar fulfilled this teaching. Although he was very poor, he saved up small coins, which he kept in a special pouch, to purchase new fruits as they came into season.
PARTICIPANT: According to the Torah the land of Israel is blessed with seven native species: Wheat, Barley, Grapes, Olives, Figs, Pomegranates, and Dates.
*The Talmud in tractate Brachot 40a records a discussion of what was the fruit in the Garden of Eden. “Rabbi Meir says: The fruit of (the Tree of Knowledge of Good-and-Evil) was a grape… Rabbi Nechemia says: It was a fig... Rabbi Yehuda says: It was wheat...” Isn’t it funny that none of the Rabbis say apple?!

- The Seven Species -

Wheat

*We pass around cake or another food or another food made from wheat.
ALL: God gave us, “A land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olives and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:8) Since the Torah begins with grains we begin by eating food made from grain—cake or bread.
ALL RECITE THE BLESSING: "Baruch Atah Ado-nai, Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam, boray minay mezonot." "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates species of nourishment."
Meditation: Savor each bite of the cake. Appreciate that God loves us and created every-thing for our good.
*When Tu B’Shevat falls on Friday night, we use a Seder guide which includes the prayers and order of blessings as on Shabbat.

Barley

*We pass around beer or another food or drink made from barley.
ALL: During the 49 days between the second night of Passover and Shavuot we count 49 days corresponding to the barley offerings given in the Holy Temple. As it is written “You shall count for yourselves…from the day when you bring the Omer…seven Shabbats…” (Leviticus 
PARTICPANT: The Kabbalists teach that the 49 days are also steps in personal growth, via seven attributes of the sephirot**: Loving-kindness, discipline, harmony, endurance, humility, bonding, and leadership. Each week between Passover and Shavuot we dedicate to examining and refining our character corresponding to one of these attributes.
ALL RECITE THE BLESSING: "Baruch Atah Ado-nai, Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam, shehakol nee-yeh bee-dvaro." "Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, through Whose word everything came to be."
Drink the Beer

*This part of the Seder has been added to reflect on the custom of counting the Omer. Inaddition, beer is one of the oldest known drinks to 8 humankind and is usually brewed from barley.
**During the counting of the Omer we refer to the lower seven sephirot which relate to seven conscious emotions. The ten sephirot in the Tree of Life are 1) Keter - Crown 2) Chachma - Wisdom 3) Binah/Daat - Understanding/Knowledge 4) Chesed - Lovingkindness 5) Gevurah - Strength 6) Tiferet - Beauty 7) Netzach - Victory 8) Hod - Splendor 9) Yesod - Foundation 10) Malchut – Kingship.

Fruit

*On Tu B'Shevat, we eat the fruit by which the Torah praises the Land of Israel.
PARTICIPANT: As the verse says: “The trees have borne their fruit, fig tree and vine have yielded their strength. Children of Zion be happy, rejoice in the Lord, your God” (Yoel 2:22-23).
If you have a preference, eat the fruits in the order you most enjoy. Otherwise the order of eating should be: olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates.
ALL RECITE THE BLESSING: Baruch Ata Adod-nai Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam boray pri ha-aitz. “Blessed are you God, Creator of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.”
The Shehechiyanu
If there is a seasonal fruit at the table, which you have not yet tasted this season, say the following additional blessing before eating the fruit:
ALL RECITE THE BLESSING: Baruch Ata Ado-noi, Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam, sheh-he-che-yanu vikee-yimanu vi-hee-gee-yanu laz-man ha-zeh. “Blessed are You God, Creator of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”

*Rabbi Chaim Vital (main disciple of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) explained that there are 30 fruits which parallel the Ten Sephirot ("Divine Attributes") as they are manifested in each of the three lower of the four spiritual worlds
Action and Meditation: Take each fruit one by one, as the appropriate paragraph below is recited. Enjoy the many unique flavors and textures. God wants us to learn from everything put into the world.
Read In Call and Response.
PARTICIPANT: Olives: The Sages taught: “Just as olive oil brings light into the world, so do the Jewish People bring light into the world."(Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:3:2).
ALL: Olives yield the best of its oil only when the fruit is crushed.
PARTICIPANT: Dates: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree" (Psalms 92:13). The righteous are fruitful and sweet, just like a date palm.
ALL: Dates are often a metaphor for the righteous, as the date tree is both lofty and fruitbearing. Further, as the date tree is impervious to the changing winds, so too are the Jewish people.
PARTICIPANT: Grapes: “Just as a vine has large and small clusters and the large ones hang lower, so too the Jewish people: Whoever labors in Torah and is greater in Torah, seems lower than his fellow [due to his humility]" (Vayikra Rabbah 36:2).
ALL: Grapes can be turned into very different sorts of food (raisins) and drink (wine); so too, each Jew has the potential to be successful in some aspect of Torah and mitzvot observance and to be special in his or her own way.
PARTICIPANT: Figs: Rabbi Yochanan said: “What is the meaning of 'He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit' (Proverbs 27:18)? Why is the Torah compared to a fruit tree? Figs on a tree do not ripen all at once, but a little each day. Therefore, the longer one searches in the tree, the more figs he finds. So too with Torah: The more one studies, the more knowledge and wisdom one finds” (Eruvin 54a-54b).
ALL: Figs must be picked as soon as they ripen, for they quickly go bad. Similarly, we must be quick to do good deeds at hand before the opportunity spoils (See Song of Songs 2:10).
PARTICIPANT: Pomegranates: “Even the most unidentified of Jews are as full of merit as a pomegranate is pips.” (See Song of Songs 4:4, and Song of Songs 6:7).
ALL: “Let us see… if the pomegranates are in bloom,” the Rabbis comment, “These are children who are busy learning Torah; they sit in rows like pomegranate seeds."

Wine / Grape Juice

Now pour the first cup using white wine/grape juice.
ALL: “Wine gladdens a person’s heart.” This refers to the wine of Torah. 20
PARTICIPANT: We drink four cups of wine or grape juice, which relate to four different categories of fruit. Each of these fruits also corresponds to four spiritual realms, spiritual worlds. Each level becomes more spiritually refined and connected to the Creator. As we eat, we elevate the fruits —and ourselves— through the various levels, rising higher and higher.
PARTICIPANT: The Arba’ah Olamot “The Four Worlds”* correspond to four levels of the soul from lowest to highest:
ALL: Olam Ha’ Asiah — The WORLD of action — Nefesh —
Olam Ha’ Yetzirah The WORLD of formation — Ruach
Olam Ha’ Beriah — The WORLD of creation — Neshama
Olam Ha’ Atzilut —The WORLD of emanation and pure Godliness — Chaya
*“The four worlds, Atzilut ("the world of emanation"), Beriah ("the world of creation"), Yetzirah ("the world of formation"), and Asiyah ("the world of action") all emerge out of God's infinite light (which, subsequent to the initial tzimtzum, shines through the partzuf of Adam Kadmon, as described above) and culminate in our finite physical universe.” —Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

Olam Ha-Assiyah – The World Of Action

PARTICIPANT: The World of Action, a realm where evil exerts a powerful attraction, is represented by those fruits, which are enclosed in a totally inedible protective shell.
Meditation: As you toss away the peels and shells, you are peeling away the effects of evil in our lives. Peel away the materialism that prevents our spiritual growth.
We now eat fruits with inedible shells or peels such as walnuts, almonds and other fruit.
ALL RECITE THE BLESSING: Baruch Ata Adon-ai Elohai-nu Melech HaOlam boray pri ha-gafen. Blessed are you God, Master of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine.
Drink the first cup.
Meditation: Wine has the potential to carry curses and blessings. When we drink wine or other intoxicating beverages we do so with the purest of intentions. We say l'chaim, to life, echoing our hope that our drinking will bring only good.

Olam Ha-Yetzirah – The World Of Formation

Prepare the second cup by filling the glass with white wine/grape juice, then add a small amount of red wine or dark grape juice to make it light pink in color
PARTICIPANT: The World of Formation is a lower level of purity, and is represented by those fruits which all is eaten except for a pit on the inside
We now eat fruits with inedible pits and drink the second cup.

Olam Ha-Beriah – The World Of Creation

Prepare the third cup by filling the glass with half red wine or dark juice and half white wine or juice.
PARTICIPANT: The World of Creation is far removed from the realm of impurity and is represented by those fruits that are wholly edible. This is the highest level in the created world.*
Now we eat fruits that are completely edible: apple, pear, carob and drink the third cup.
Meditation: Sowing seeds are also like the fulfillment of good deeds. Once a seed is planted, it breaks apart and releases growth potential. In other words, it ceases to be what it was and becomes something greater. When a Jew fulfills a mitzvah, it is because God has commanded him to do so. He lets go of his ego and his inclinations and becomes something greater than he was before.
*The three lower worlds -- asiyah, yetzirah, and briah -- are referred to as ma'aseh bereishit, “the act of creation.”

Olam Ha-Atzilut – The World Of Emanation/Godliness

Prepare the fourth cup by filling the glass with red wine or dark juice.
PARTICIPANT: The World of Emanation is too purely divine to have physical representation; instead we rely on fragrance. We pray on Tu B'Shevat, when all the trees are judged, that God should make available for us a kosher and especially beautiful etrog in time for Sukkot. (Bnei Yissaschar Shevat 2:2:1)
Meditation: Think about being alone among the trees and grass, among all growing things, and praying, talking, to God. Imagine expressing everything in your heart in prayer. Imagine pouring out the words of your heart before God like water.
Now we eat the most fragrant fruits, for example etrog, and drink the fourth cup.

Blessing

We recite the Three-fold Blessing after the Seder and can be found in all prayer books and benchers.

Conclusion

PARTICIPANT: Eating 12 different fruits is significant, since this corresponds to the 12 different arrangements of the four-letter ineffable Name of God.*
ALL: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit each person under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (See Micah 4:3-4).
PARTICIPANT: “Rabbi Abba taught: There is no more revealed redemption -- no greater indication of the impending redemption -- than that which the verse (Ezekiel 36:8) states: And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches and you shall bear your fruit for my people Israel, for they shall soon come” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi explains: When the Land of Israel will give fruit bountifully, this is an indication of the impending redemption, and there is no greater indication than this (Rashi on Sanhedrin 98a:3).
PARTICIPANT: Eating fruit reminds us that we should learn Torah with joy and pleasure, since we are giving pleasure to God. It is also an important day to learn and spread the inner dimension of Torah, wherein is found the greatest sweetness and pleasure of Torah. The fact that the full moon occurs tonight reflects the fullness and joy of Tu B’Shevat and to remind us that all Jews are sons and daughters of kings and queens until the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.
ALL SING: Shana Ha’ba B’Yerushalayim! Next year In Jerusalem!
*Eating 15 different fruits is also significant, since this is the numerical value of Yud-Heh, the Name of God which connects the physical to the spiritual, between this world and the next world. In the Holy Temple, the Levites would sing each of the 15 "Shir HaMa'alot" Psalms as they ascended each of the 15 steps.