Recognizing Godliness in Ourselves and in the World on Tu B’Shevat
The tradition of having a festive meal on the 15th of Shevat took form in the 1500’s with Kabbalist Rav Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, of Safed, where the celebration of the holy land of Eretz Yisrael and her fruits is a key aspect. The term “Tu B’shevat seder” was coined, echoing the Passover seder night, a time of our collective redemption. Indeed, this time conjures a sense of personal geula as well, as one ascends the four mystical dimensions which exist in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
In the world of Action, Olam Ha’Asiyah, one eats fruits with an inedible peel, such as pomegranate, almonds, or citrus fruits and thus symbolically begins to delve into the spiritual work of uncovering what personal “klippot” or outer shells are blocking us from enjoying the sweetness in our lives. What negative trait would you like to peel away and discard?
As one enters the next spiritual realm of Olam Ha’Yetzirah, Formation, one can transform raw material into something new and meaningful. This is symbolized by eating a fruit with a pit inside such as olives and dates, reflecting the vast potential for growth that we have inside us. What are we not accessing, which talents are we simply tossing away instead of nurturing and watering to encourage new growth to blossom?
The third more lofty Olam Ha’Briah, The World of Creation, is one where the entire fruit is eaten such as grapes or figs. One enjoys the entirety of the fruit, appreciating only good. The tikkun in this place is self-acceptance. Can we appreciate ourselves as we are, sense the inherent good in ourselves and others?
The highest of the four worlds is Olam Ha’Atzilut, The World of Emanation, where there is complete dvekut b’Hashem, clinging to God without physical form, and therefore does not include eating a physical fruit. The more elevated sense of smell can be used here with blessing on an etrog or besamim (spices).
Everything in the physical world is merely a manifestation of a deeper spiritual reality. God is hidden, so to speak, in the natural order of things. The name for God, Elohim, used exclusively in Bereishit 1 as the name for the Creator of the world, shares the gematria (86) with the word hateva, הטבע meaning, the (concealment of God through this entity known as) nature. We commonly mistake things as being only as they appear, as part of the natural logical world, without giving deeper thought to the divine existence that is inherent in all aspects of creation and daily events in our world. Tu B’Shevat is an opportunity to celebrate godliness in ourselves, in the holy fruit of Israel and all the food that we eat, as well as to appreciate the divine in all that happens around us.
This recognition of Hashem revealed in the world as being intimately involved in our lives is a stark change from Elohim of nature. This concept was introduced to us in Bereishit chapter 2 via the four Hebrew letters Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey (the Tetragrammaton) which in gematria is 10+5 (15) and 5+6 (11). The kabbalistic dimensions of Tu B’Shevat recognize the name of this holiday as an amalgam of Tu (15) and Shevat (the 11th month), symbolizing the cohesion of the four letters of Hashem and His revealed love for us in this world.
And Rabbi Abba says: You have no more explicit manifestation of the end of days than the phenomenon mentioned in Yechezkel (36:8) where it says, “But you, mountains of Israel, you shall give your branches and yield your fruit to My people of Israel, for they will soon be coming.” When the fruit of Eretz Yisrael grows in beautiful abundance, it is a sign of impending redemption, and there is no greater sign than this! (Rashi, Talmud Sanhedrin 98a).
כשתתן ארץ ישראל פריה בעין יפה אז יקרב הקץ ואין לך קץ מגולה יותר (רש”י סנהדרין צח ע”א)
Many of us in Israel have had the unique privilege of seeing the amazing abundance of beautiful fruit growing on the trees and in the ground. In the last few months many have volunteered to aid farmers left without workers and are awed by the staggering amount of produce, such as avocados, pomegranates and oranges, with dozens if not hundreds found even on one tree!
Just as we can ascend to great spiritual heights as individuals, focusing on holy fruits in the four dimensions of asiyah, yetzira, briah and atzilut (action, formation, creation, emanation) recognizing godliness in ourselves and others, we can also sense Hashem’s bountiful love for His people, Israel and for the holy land of Israel in the abundant and succulent fruit. As individuals and as a people, we can literally taste the redemption, may it come speedily and, in our days, with all of God’s revealed love for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.