Kabbalistic Tu Bishvat Seder: Part 3

In Jewish mystical thought, the Tu Bishvat seder became a time to atone for sexual impropriety by blessing, eating and meditating on the symbolism of fruit.

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In the kabbalistic seder text, Peri Eitz Hadar, Tu Bishvat is associated with God’s potency. Since human behavior can influence the cosmic balance, Tu Bishvat was viewed by mystics as a time for atoning for male sexual improprieties. In this manner the holiday--and the mystics who take part in the seder- play a crucial role in maintaining both earthly and cosmic bounty. This article, the last of three, is excerpted from a longer, footnoted work. (Read Part 1 or Part 2).  It is reprinted with permission of the author from Trees, Earth,and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society).

Because of the kabbalistic [mystical] perspective, Tu Bishvat takes on a significance that goes beyond a simple celebration of an important stage in the cycle of nature. For one thing, the symbol of the cosmic tree is so central to kabbalistic thinking that any dramatic change affecting trees in the material world must be seen as a reflection of a cosmic event of the greatest importance. Thus Tu Bishvat represents not only the New Year's Day for trees in this world, but even more importantly, for the kabbalist, the time when the cosmic tree becomes fecund.

Since nature and all of creation is directly dependent on the spiritual bounty that is received from the cosmic tree, the kabbalistic perspective of the Peri Eitz Hadar [the book containing the kabbalistic seder] considerably magnifies the importance of Tu Bishvat. Indeed, one may say that the day becomes associated with a cosmic myth of divine potency and fertility. Thus the introduction to the Peri Eitz Hadar indicates that the central focus of the tikkun [ceremony]is the ninth sefirah [emanation]--Yesod [foundation]--which represents the divine phallus, or male generative principle within God. An emphasis is placed on contemplating the relationship between Yesod and Malkhut [kingdom], the female principle, which "bears fruit" as a result of being impregnated by Yesod.

Tu Bishvat and Divine Potency

The mythological perspective is complemented by a theurgic practice. As is often the case, kabbalistic practice involves numerical correspondences between words, or gematria. In this case, the letters of the Hebrew word for tree, ilan, have the same value as the sum of the letters that spell two divine Names, YHVH and ADoNaY. This indicates that the New Year's Day for the ilan involves the union of the two Names. Moreover, in kabbalistic tradition, these two Names represent the male and female divine principles. When the letters of these two Names are combined to form YARDVNHY; they become an object on which a kabbalist can meditate in order to bring about the actual union of the corresponding sefirot. This meditation is appropriate for Tu Bishvat.

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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.