Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tu B'Shevat - Just Love That Land!

I woke up this morning with a surge of excitement - yay, Tu B'Shevat!!
Actually the electric feeling began last night at our Tu B'Shevat Seder. Every year, dear friends come for a Seder with our family in honor of The Birthday of the Trees. We talk about trees and man's relationship to them, but mostly we talk about a Jew's relationship to the Land. We pray that the Jewish people will be planted into the Land with deep and growing roots.

We use a different "hagadda" each year. Each has a different slant to the holiday and a different nusach (wording). I guess we haven't found the one we really love best.
The Tu B'Shevat Hagadda isn't like the Passover Hagadda, which has an exact wording that has been handed down from generation to generation. It's made from a combination of sections from the Bible that talk about the seven species of the Land of Israel - "A land of wheat, and barley, grape; fig trees and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives and date-honey." (Deuteronomy 8:8) - as well as stories from the Mishna, Gemara and rabbis throughout the ages.
We learn about each of the distinct species of the Land, and then we pass around the representative food. For wheat, we've got pizza or lasagna. Barley is always barley soup - yum! The others are the fruits themselves, plus we've got lots of nuts and dried fruits too.
We munch and chat about the holiday, but our very presence at a Seder together is what Tu B'Shevat is all about. We're together in the Land of Israel, the Promised Land, and we're talking about those seven species that are particular to this Land.
When we think "wheat", we remember that Isaac planted wheat and "reaped a hundredfold." We imagine Joseph's prophecy in which his brother's sheaves of wheat bowed down to his. "Barley" takes us back to the days of Ruth and Naomi. We can see Ruth modestly going out to the barley fields for the harvest.
"Grapes", the source of wine for the Holy Temple.
"Figs," an allusion to Torah study - the more you seek, the more you find.
"Pomegranate" represents the 613 commandments, a parallel to the 613 seeds in the fruit.
"Oil" from olives - the source of the oil to light the menorah in the Holy Temple. A reminder that the Jewish people are charged with being a light unto the nations.
"Date-honey" from the same palm trees the prophet Devora sat beneath.
Every year we try to be a little more creative with the fruits and nuts, and a little more detailed in their relationship to the holiday and to us. Every year, B"H, we complete the Seder really feeling that we have strengthened our relationship to the Land, and increased our appreciation to G-d for planting us in this blessed Land.

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