Mishegoss – Tu B’Shvat
Happy New Year!
The Mishnah explains there are four heads of the year. The first of Nissan is the new year for kings and for festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for the cattle tithe. The first of Tishrei is Rosh Hashanah. And the first day of Shevat is the new year for trees (According to Shammai the date is the first of the month, but Hillel says it’s on the 15th). Tu B’Shvat was chosen to be the new year for trees as Rabbis concluded that the day falls after mid-winter when a majority of the annual rainfall has already fallen, and the soil was best for planting.
Tu B’Shvat originally was the date that established when farmers should bring their offerings to the Temple. When the Second Temple was destroyed, there was no longer a system to make the offerings. To honor the day, in the 17th century, Jewish Kabbalists in Tzfat created a ritual called the Feast of Fruits based on the Passover Seder, celebrating God’s presence in the natural world. As the rituals and readings developed they were recorded in the book, Pri Eitz Hadar (The Fruit of the Goodly Tree) published in 1753 and includes the prayer: “May it be God’s will that by the power vested in the blessing and eating of these fruits, and by contemplating the secrets of their roots, by which we will receive God’s blessing, charity, and abundance; may God make them grow and prosper throughout the year for goodness and blessings, for a good life and for peace.”
The seder also includes drinking four cups of wine using both white and red wines to mark the year as follows: The first cup was filled with white wine, representing the snow on Mount Hermon and the cold winter season. The second cup was filled with 1/3 red wine and 2/3 white wine to mark the beginning of spring. The third cup was equally mixed with red and white wine to represent the half-rainy and sunny days. The fourth cup was filled with all red wine symbolizing the hot days of summer and the end of the agricultural season.
Seven Species of Fruit
One of the customs of Tu B’Shvat is to eat the first fruits that are mentioned in the Torah; wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. These seven species are connected to Israel and provide the necessary ingredients to survive. The Kabbalists attached seven sefirot (emotive attributes) to the fruit. Wheat corresponds with kindness as wheat is our main staple and nourishment. Barley corresponds with restraint as each barley seed is bound by its hull. Grapes correspond to beauty or harmony as they balance contrary components. Figs correspond to endurance as the fig tree has one of the longest ripening periods. Pomegranates correspond to majesty and glory as the fruit has a small crown. Olives correspond to the foundation as olive oil is the starting point for most Mediterranean foods. The date corresponds to royalty as dates are connecting pieces of all the other attributes and the Palm trees are used without waste.