Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy New Year - to the trees at least

Tonight starts the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shevat. The name of the holiday refers to the date on the Hebrew calendar, but really it boils down to Jewish Arbor Day. When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite holidays. Our rabbi would read Dr. Seuss's environmentalist classic, The Lorax, during her Kabbalat Shabbat sermon time and at Hebrew school we'd plant a tree because we lived in Arizona and could do that sort of thing in January. Then we would get to eat a ton of fruit, which I suspect is the real reason I liked the holiday.

Now in a world adrift in "green living," I've had some time to think more deeply about Tu B'Shevat and why I like(d) it so much. First, I think it's fantastic to have a Jewish holiday that doesn't involve guilt or the classic adage - "They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat." Second, you finally get a Jewish holiday rich in antioxidants and not laden with ultra-rich food. Third, in our modern practice - Tu B'Shevat is a great way to dabble in spirituality without having to go whole hog, so to speak.

The seder (or service) for this holiday began with the 16th Century Kabbalists in the Israeli city of Tzfat (not with Madonna in Los Angeles). I highly recommend the link above for a thorough overview of the symbols and practices of Tu B'Shevat - but very briefly - the Kabbalists understood our universe as comprised of four worlds simultaneously inhabited and constantly interacting. Assirah (Action), represents the physical world around us while Yetzirah (Formation) entails emotions and feelings. B'riyah (Creation) is embodied by knowing and the mind and finally Atzilut (Emanation) is the world of spirituality.

Pretty heavy - huh? I'm not even going to attempt to break all of this down or wax rhapsodic about my own personal theories of the universe. Mainly because I haven't really figured that out yet. But, what I will mention is this passage from a seder I attended last week about why it's important to bless one's food. Again, remembering to thank the appropriate Divine powers for my nourishment is a challenge - but hopefully this will serve as a good nudge.

"The Kabbalists believed that reciting a blessing before eating draws down the flow of Divine energy through the fruit or other food to restore the soul. A blessing over fruit also draws down the divine "angel" of that fruit to cause renewed growth to replace the fruit that was consumed. But a person must eat the fruit and make the blessing in order to keep the Divine energy going."

Amen indeed!

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