Tonight is Tu B'Shevat, the Fifteenth Day of the Jewish month of Shevat, the day which marks the New Year for the trees. In our area in Northern Israel the holiday sometimes cooincides with the blooming of almond trees, where in other warmer parts of the country the trees have outwardly begun their process of renewal.
This year on Tu B'Shevat as we read and hear about our friends and family on the East Coast who are snowed in, we are presently on a snow watch! (Not exactly what you would imagine for Israel, I know but we actually live 3,000 ft above sea level with no desert or camels in sight.) It is currently hailing outside and temperature is around 2 C in my protected courtyard, which I guess means closer to zero (32 degrees F) elsewhere. Needless to say the kids are praying for snow, lots of it! And honestly, there is nothing I'd love more. Even the slightest bit of snow or ice will be a reason for the city to issue a snow day, so there might as well be real snow for the kids to have fun in!
Now a few words about Tu B'Shevat at our house and the Tu B'Shevat Seder:
As it turns out, my husband is out of town, and with me holding down the fort I decided it was time to hold a simple version of the Tu B'Shevat seder developed in the 16th century by Kabbalists that lived in my very neighborhood! The youngest of my kids are now old enough to understand some very basic Kabbalah and since we can see the gravesite of the last great Kabbalist, the Ari HaKadosh, from our window, well I figured the time had come! I read last night with my 12 year old that there is a custom to have 30 different kinds of fruit on your Tu B'Shevat table, (including or course the fruits from the 7 species, namely grapes, pomegranite, olives, dates and figs) so despite the stormy weather I hiked up to the city and between three different stores was able to purchase enough fruit, dried fruit, and nuts (also considered fruit) to reach the number 30, yippee!.
Like the Passover seder, this one also has four cups of wine, and special foods. Each cup of wine represents different aspects of the fruit tree and of ourselves, and as the seder progresses, we change the color of the wine in the cups (like the changing of the seasons) – from the whiteness of winter to the fullness of spring. The last cup is mostly red, a reference to the coming of Spring and passover! Oh, and just by the way, we did the seder using white and red grape juice, also fine and the only way to go with kids. Not to mention that I have to somehow leave the warmth of my home and go to a Bar Mitzvah celebration tonight, so four glasses or wine was certainly not something to even think about!
The traditional Tu B’Shvat seder also includes a special order for eating different kinds of fruits, first we eat fruit with hard inedible shells or peels, then we eat fruits with a hard pit, and then we eat fruit which are entirely edible. Each of these three types of fruit is eaten after drinking the corresponding cup of wine. For the fourth cup of wine we smell spices ot remember that our connection to this world isn't just through taste, it is also with smell and all of our senses.
However you choose to celebrate Tu B’Shvat, don't forget to appreciate the bounty of this world, and to give thanks for the many ways that trees provide us with food, shelter, beauty, and air purification, just to name a few! All the best, and Tu B'Shevat sameach, treat yourself to some amazing fruits and nuts and enjoy!