Kabbalistic Tu Bishvat Seder

For Jewish mystics, nature is a sacred text.

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As a result, the Peri Eitz Hadar is essentially a kabbalistic work, meant to be read and applied by a reader thoroughly schooled in the outlook of the kabbalah, particularly as it developed in the school of Isaac Luria. This fact renders the text, even in translation, virtually incomprehensible for a modem reader. This is due to several factors. First, the text does not explain the rather complex basic principles of kabbalah as they developed since the late 12th century. In particular, the text assumes that its reader is familiar and comfortable with the kabbalistic classic, Sefer ha-Zohar, an esoteric work characterized by obscure allusions and highly symbolic language.

In addition, the author's outlook involves certain fundamental notions about nature, the cosmos, and the spiritual role that human beings are meant to play, which may be unfamiliar and even strange to a contemporary reader. Such notions, moreover, are not defended or justified, but are implicit in the author's and the intended reader's worldview.

The Kabbalistic View of Nature

The Tu Bishvat seder celebrates an important moment in the yearly cycle of nature, the appearance of fruit on trees. In the Land of Israel, this stage occurs during mid-winter. In order to understand how the Peri Eitz Hadar approaches this celebration, it is necessary to gain some understanding of how the kabbalists viewed nature. In general, the kabbalistic view shared many traits that were typical of other pre-modern cosmological systems, which tended to regard nature as in some sense sacred.

This approach to nature is in marked contrast to those that have become typical of the modern period. For the kabbalist, nature is neither a source to be exploited for utilitarian benefits nor a sentimental vestige of the past to be romanticized by poets and naturalists. It is rather an ultimate link in a chain of divine manifestation that directly emerges from the divine source of life.

Implicit here is a notion of sacred cosmology, which is not limited to material existence. The kabbalists' faith involves a hierarchy of worlds that are ontologically higher than the material world. These worlds are populated by angels and spiritual forces that span the ontological regions that separate humanity and the material world from God. Moreover, the forces in these worlds serve as conduits and Sources for the divine energy that becomes manifest in nature and in Creation in general.

Although each world is characterized by an increasing degree of opacity that veils its divine root, all worlds share a common underlying structure. Thus contemplation of any world can lead to knowledge of the structure of the ultimate theosophical realm. This realm is the world of the ten sefirot [emanations], which is composed of the ten divine qualities and aspects that constitute the inner life of God, insofar as it is accessible to human imagining. This principle is no less true of nature. Indeed, nature (along with the human body) is, in a sense, the most available arena of divine revelation, since the higher worlds are not apparent to the senses. As such, nature may serve as a mirror in which all of the mysteries of the concealed Godhead are reflected.

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Rabbi Miles Krassen

Rabbi Miles Krassen, PhD., is a teacher, author, scholar in the fields of comparative mysticism and the World's Wisdom Traditions, and musician. He serves as Rabbi of Rain of Blessings, a non-profit organization for disseminating mystical Jewish teachings based on the spiritual insights of early Hasidism and Kabbalah.