Tu B’Shevat was way ahead of its time. It is the first Earth Day. The birthday of the trees. Although the rituals most closely identified with Tu B’Shevat originated in the 16th century, it is even more relevant today as we try to embrace our role as stewards of the planet.
Over the past century, Tu B’Shevat has been closely associated with the environmental movement. Many celebrate by planting trees in Israel in honor of loved ones and eat foods from the Seven Species of Israel that are mentioned in the Torah: Wheat, Barley, Grapes, Figs, Pomegranates, Olives and Dates. Dried carob is also popular.
We celebrate Tu B’Shevat in the middle of winter because, in Israel, the heavy winter rains begin to cease and although there is still two more months of winter, the buds begin to form on the trees as a symbol of the promise of renewed life.
In 16th century Safed, Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) jazzed up the holiday of Tu B’Shevat by creating a special seder, reminiscent of the Pesach seder with its order and rituals, but with a different focus. The purpose of the Tu B’Shevat seder is to express appreciation for nature and recognize the miracle of Hashem’s role in creation. Just like at Passover, there are four cups of wine at a Tu B’Shevat seder. But the color of the wine changes throughout the seder, going from white to rosé to red, symbolizing the changing seasons. There is much room for variation in a Tu Bishvat seder, but this article is a good starting place on How To Run A Tu Bishvat Seder.
There should be many different kinds of fruit at the seder, beginning with one that is hard on the outside and soft on the inside, such as walnuts, coconuts or almonds. The hard shell symbolizes the protection that the earth gives us and reminds us to nourish the strength and healing power of our own bodies.
The second fruit is soft with a pit in the center, for example, olives or dates, and symbolizes the life-sustaining power that emanates from the earth. It reminds us of the spiritual and emotional strength that is in each of us.
The third fruit is soft throughout and is completely edible, such as figs, grapes and raisins, there are no barriers or limits to these simple gifts. By saying blessings and partaking in many kinds of fruits, we thank Hashem for renewed life. We honor the land of Israel by enjoying her fruits.
Since there is no set ritual or liturgy, many creative and modern interpretations can be found on and offline. For inspiration, click to see a sample Tu B’Shevat Menu to accompany your seder. B’Tayavon!