Tu B’Shevat: Celebrating Nourishment from Trees and the Land
By Dasee Berkowitz
Dasee Berkowitz is a writer living in Jerusalem with her husband and kids. She is a frequent contributor to JTA, Times of Israel, Forward.com and Kveller.com.
Tu B’Shevat is one of the holidays that kind of catches me off guard every year. Without the buildup of obsessing about costumes that comes with Purim, or cleaning, menu planning, and the pressure to learn new insights from the hagaddah that comes with Passover, Tu B’Shevat is usually celebrated with a mini planting project at home with the kids. (My fave is planting parsley seeds and then picking the leaves for karpas on Passover.)
But with the shmitta (the sabbatical year) in full swing, and the obligation to let the land rest (and not plant anything new!) I’m thinking about other ways to connect to the holiday this year.
While Tu B’shevat originated as an important date for calculating the beginning of the agricultural cycle for the purpose of determining biblical tithes, the 16th Century mystics of Tzfat opened up the holiday’s more spiritual dimensions by developing the Tu B’Shevat seder. Through a feast of fruits, wine and blessings they hoped to bring the human and divine realms closer together and help us elevate our spiritual selves.
As a mother of three little ones, it’s sometimes (read: always!) a challenge to develop my spiritual life unfettered by domestic responsibilities. Tu B’Shevat gives me the lens to make that spiritual space by elevating the mundane tasks of caring for my family to something sacred, especially when it comes to food.
So this Tu B’shevat I am thinking about:
1/ The Sheva Minim (The seven species or fruits from the land of Israel.) The sheva minim are first mentioned in the biblical passage in which God promises that the Israelites will arrive to a “land of wheat, and barley, and grapes and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey (Deut. 8:8)." These fruits represent promise but they also represent redemption (as the final stage of the Israelites wandering in the desert was their arrival in the Land of Israel.) Take time to eat these fruits on Tu B’Shevat and while eating them, think back to your time in Israel; the feel of the sun, the smell of the soil and all of the other ingredients that contribute to the fertile ground in which these sheva minim can thrive.
2/ You are what you eat – A friend shared with me that every so often he would go on a special diet and would eat only the food that his grandparents would recognize as food (a potato yes, potato chips, no.) We eat and serve so much processed food to our families. It’s cheaper and quicker (and some might argue it’s even tastier!). This Tu B’Shevat, honor whole/ real and nourishing foods and steer clear of the processed stuff.
3/ Eat slowly – too often (especially when dining with kids and grandkids) mealtime is harried and fast paced. Make a big deal about eating slowly on Tu B’Shevat. Taste your food, and you will probably enjoy it more.
4/ Say brachot (blessings) – Use the traditional formulation. And even try a short-guided meditation that honors all the stages the food had to go through in order to arrive at your table. It can include a thank you to the farmers and the workers and the truck drivers, even the store clerks who helped make it possible for you to prepare your meal. By pausing before we eat, we elevate our experience.
The passage about the Sheva Minim in Deuteronomy ends by saying “You have eaten and are satisfied, then bless God for the good land which God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10) While snowstorms are raging in many parts of the States, the almond trees are blossoming and the smell of spring is around the corner in Israel. Tu B’Shevat can be celebrated everywhere in the world, and wherever you are celebrating the holiday, let the smells and tastes of the seven species bring you a little bit closer to that good land.