Tu B'Shvat/ YAH B'Shvat: 4 Teachings, 4 Worlds, ONE Tree

 

     
 

This year the festival of Tu B'Shvat -- the ReBirthDay of earthly trees and of the supernal Tree of Life, falls on Friday evening Febuary 10/ Saturday February 11.  For a unique treasury of history, wisdom, and practtiuice of Tu B'Shvat that will help ylu celbrate Tu B'Shvat, see the book Trees, Earth, and Torah (publ by Indiana Univ Press for the Jewish Publication Society, ed. by Ari Elon, Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow). Available from Amazon.

These four teachings might be included in the passages read for the four courses of the Tu B’Shvat Seder, marking the Four Worlds of reality through which the Kabbalists of Tzfat 500 years ago shaped the mystical Seder of God’s ReBirthDay on the full Moon of Midwinter.  

1. Asiyah, Physical Actuality: The foods of the Tu B’Shvat Seder (this year, Sunday evening  January 24) are nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant's life-cycle. They are the only foods whose eating requires no death, not even the death of a plant (like the radish or the Bitter Herb in the Pesach Seder).  Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation. This is the sacred meal of Eden, the Garden of Delight. The sacred meal of Mashiach-zeit, the Messianic Age.  

2. Yetzirah, Relationship: The four cups of wine for the Tu B’Shvat Seder are white; white with a drop of red to become pink; red with a drop of white to become rose;  red. Red and white were in ancient tradition seen as the colors of  generativity. To mix them was to mix the blood and semen that to the ancients connoted procreation. The Seder celebrates rebirth in all its forms throughout the world.  

3. Briyyah, Creative Intellect: In two separate epiphanies, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Ari Elon pointed out that the conventional name for the festival of the Trees’ ReBirthDay names it in a constricted, fearful way. The festival comes on the 15th day (the Full Moon) of the midwinter lunar “moonth” of Shvat, and “Tu” is  made up of two Hebrew letters, Tet and Vav, that numerically are “9+6,” making 15. But this way of counting is an anomaly. Normally with numbers in the teens we say the letters for “10+x,” not “”9+y.”  That would mean “Yod-Aleph” for 11, “Yod-Bet” for 12, and so “Yod-Hei” for 15.  But “Yod-Hei” is “Yah,” one of the Names of God (as in Hallelu-YAH.).

So out of fear and reluctance to say God’s Name when we name the festival, we use “9+6,” “Tu,” instead.

But – “What might happen if we joyfully proclaim God’s full Presence on that day of God’s Rebirth, YAH B’Shvat, and on every Full Moon of each month?” said both Phyllis and Ari.  

4. Atzilut, Spirit.  At a Tu B’Shvat Seder held in a grove of ancient and majestic redwoods  to protest the logging of such redwoods for corporate profit, then rabbinical student Naomi Mara Hyman (now a rabbi) gestured at the tall-reaching trees around us  — the tallest living beings on the planet —  and said, “These are eytzim [“trees”], yes?  And the wooden poles that hold a Torah scroll, we also call them eytzim, yes? Imagine a Torah Scroll so majestic that these redwoods were its eytzim! In that Torah, each of us would be just large enough to be one letter in that Torah!” And that is what we are: each a letter making up together the words, the wisdom, of that Great Torah that is indeed the Tree of Life.

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