Tu Bishvat and the Transformation of Eating

A Holy Pleasure.

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Reprinted with permission from Iyyun, an institute for the exploration of the deeper dimensions of Torah.

The Sefer Yetzirah, among other texts, reveals a constellation of unique energies, themes and spiritual practices for each month of the year. We will build on these teachings in order to discover some of the deeper meanings of the month of Shevat, and its special day, Tu Bishvat. This will allow us to unleash the transformative powers of these times.

The Letter-Combination of the Month

There are four letters in the name of Hashem (Yud, Hei, Vav, and Hei) and each month of the year has an inner light that shines as a different sequence of these four letters. The month of Shevat shines as the combination Hei–Yud–Vav–Hei. It's interesting to note that the only difference between this combination and the original spelling of the Divine Name is that the sequence of the first two letters is reversed.
tu bishvat berries
There are two parts of the month of Shevat. The first part, from the first of Shevat until the eve of the fifteenth (Tu Bishvat), is considered 'harsh' (din). This is because the natural flow of the first part of Hashem's name is reversed in this month's letter-combination: Hei then Yud. The second part of Shevat is much less harsh, and contains more kindness (hesed). This is because the second part of the letter-combination is in the natural flow of the Divine Name: Vav then Hei.

The second part of the month begins with Tu Bishvat. As the fifteenth day, Tu Bishvat is the fulcrum between the two sides, the Hei–Yud, and the Vav–Hei. As a fulcrum contains the qualities of both sides, so the day of Tu Bishvat includes the four letters of the Name. Tu means 15, and this is the numerical value of Hei–Yud (or Yud–Hei). Shevat is the eleventh month of the year (starting from Nisan), and 11 is the numerical value of Vav–Hei.

Tu Bishvat is thus the shifting point where din is diminished and the proper flow of chesed is restored. How can we activate this shift in our own lives?

The Torah Verse Connected with Shevat

The letter-combination of the month is found in Vayikra, 27:33: "Hamar Yamirenu V'haya Hu…" This verse says that when selecting an animal for a Temple sacrifice, if a person wanted to exchange the designated animal for different one, both animals would then be considered holy. The theme, therefore, is expanding Kedushah (holiness). In Shevat, we expand holiness in the realm of eating.

The real pleasure of eating comes not from the physicality of the food, but from the spiritual "word of Hashem" within the food, as it is written, "for not on the bread alone will man live, rather from the word of Hashem…." (D'varim 8:3) What if we could taste the spiritual reality within the physicality of the food itself? Then the "word of Hashem" and its "exchange", or the physicality, would both be holy, and we would have expanded holiness into the realm of physical pleasure.

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.