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Mystical tradition reminds us to go green

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Many Jewish festivals are organized around the cycle of seasons, highlighting the ancient connection of humans to the natural world. This year on 28 January, Jews will celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, also known as the Jewish New Year for Trees or Jewish Arbor Day. On this day, Jews around the world plant trees to honour the annual budding of the flowers and fruits of Israel’s trees. Tu B’Shvat also comes with a little jolt to remind us how crucial it is to care for our environment and is a big day for ecological awareness programmes in Jewish communities everywhere.

Aside from tree-planting there are other creative ways to mark the occasion. One idea is to hold a seder for trees. A seder is a meal served in a specific order, usually associated with the festival of Pesach or Passover. The medieval kabbalists (mystics) saw immense spiritual meaning in trees and found many ways to incorporate them into rituals. Around the 16th century in the tiny town of Sefad (Tzfat) in Israel, a tradition arose of holding a special seder for Tu B’Shvat. Centred around eating fruits and nuts, each with a symbolic meaning, as well as drinking red and white wine, the seder was a celebration of natural rebirth and spiritual awakening. This lost kabbalistic tradition was revived centuries later by Sephardic and Hasidic communities and, most recently, both religious and secular Jews who are committed to raising environmental awareness.

The seven most important fruits connected to the ancient land of Israel each correspond to a human condition or value, many of which are cornerstones of any awareness-raising endeavour. To bring these values to the environmental table, include recipes with these ingredients or munch them fresh or dried:

Wheat: Kindness (Chesed)

Barley: Severity (Gevurah)

Grapes: Harmony (Tiferet)

Figs: Perseverance (Netzach)

Pomegranates: Humility (Hod)

Olives: Foundation (Yesod)

Dates: Royalty (Malchut)

In addition, for your seder, try to include nuts with shells such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts; fruits with peels such as oranges, bananas and avocado; fruits with edible seeds such as strawberries and blueberries; and fruits with inedible stones such as apricots, peaches and plums.

To find out the order of the seder, the blessings, songs and fascinating yet accessible explanations, have a look at Tu B’Shvat: Hazon’s Seder and Sourcebook at Hazon is the largest faith-based environmental organization in the United States. It works towards strengthening Jewish life while contributing to a more environmentally sustainable world for all.

By holding a Tu B’shvat seder we can take the mystical philosophy that says each fruit holds the seeds of renewal and give it new expression in today’s mantra, ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’.

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