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tu b’shvat

“In the next world, a person will be judged for all the fine
fruit that he saw but did not eat.” – R. Abbun, The Talmud
getting phone call from a brooklyn orthodox synagogue
asking me to lead a tu b’shvat seder
that will include a talk about nutrition and ecology

tu b’shvat is the jewish holiday
marking the new year for the trees

honored by the invite
i answer yes without giving it a second thought

after the phone call realizing that
i never led tu b’shvat seder
actually i’ve never even been to one

diving into books
googling the internet
consulting with rabbis
what a better way to learn about tu b’shvat
than preparing to teach about it?

tu b’shvat arriving hand in hand
with the biggest snow storm of the year
despite the extreme weather
thirty persistent jews showing up at the synagogue
young and old
some with babies
lifting the strollers above the piles of snow

i begin by asking
does healthy jewish food have to be an oxymoron?
this sparks laughter and lots of comments, replies, and
conversations
giving me sneak preview
of this hyperactive audience

the tu b’shvat ritual includes drinking four cups of wine
moving from mercy (hesed) to strength and judgment (gevurah)
each cup symbolizing different level of the world

first cup is white wine
reflecting ‘asiah’ – the world of action
our day-to-day materialistic life

second cup is white with drop of red
‘yetzirah’ – the world of formation
creating something out of something
like making a vase out of clay

third cup is half white half red
‘briah’ – the world of creation
something out of nothing

fourth cup is red with drop of white
‘atzilut’ – emanation of pure godliness

after the first cup of wine
we begin eating fruits with a peel or shell
we throw away the peel
symbolizing getting rid of our bad habits

following the second cup of wine
we’re moving into eating fruits with pit inside
dates and plums
though we dispose the pit
it is also potential for future plant

just like the pit
a bad habit, anger for example
may be important in some situations
when your three year old kid
is ready to stick a fork into an electric outlet
it’s not the time to say bravo mendel

drinking the third cup of wine
everyone is becoming livelier
full with questions and comments
time to enjoy fruits that are completely edible
no shell, no pit
we feast on blueberries – nothing to dispose of
experiencing what it would feel like to be our ideal self

ascending through our fruit and wine journey
moving into meditation
asking everyone to close their eyes
an almost impossible task for the synagogue crowd
lots of giggling and peeking
as if closing the eyes is more challenging
than committing harakiri

i recall that during the daily prayer of ‘shma’
the eyes have to be closed
and in addition covered with the right hand

i’m telling the people
that god must have great sense of humor
installing double safety feature for the ‘shma’ prayer
my words making the rabbi of the synagogue burst into laughter
as he’s struggling to keep his eyes shut

we’re discussing the healing properties
of the fruits we’ve been eating
becoming aware that fruits and vegetables
are the original foods mentioned
in the torah and writings of the sages

hydrogenated junk food and even gefilte fish
are relatively new creations
that took us away from the source
and removed us from nature

tu b’shvat is the time to perform ‘tikkun’ on all eating
opportunity to reconnect
to the land and the wisdom it’s derived from
where exile no longer has to exist on our plates

le’chaim

© 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Zemach Zohar Wilson, New York, February 2006

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