Tu B'Shevat Seder of the Four Worlds
On Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish festival of the trees, mystics established the custom of performing a seder with four cups representing the four worlds of creation; doing, feeling, thinking, and being, or earth, water, air, and fire. We also eat various kinds of fruit on Tu B'Shevat. This year, Tu B'Shevat, the festival of the trees, falls on the evening of Feb. 12 and during the day on Feb. 13--just about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. This festival occurs at the time of the rising of the sap in the northeast of the US, and when the blossoms begin in regions like Israel and California.
Etz chayim hi lemachazikim bah.
She is a tree of life to all who hold onto her.
(Give one or more participants flowers or branches to wave in each direction)
The four winds bring to us the different fragrances of the tree of life.
We turn to the west to welcome the roots holding the tree firmly in the earth.
We turn to the south to welcome the trunk bringing water and nutrients to the branches.
We turn to the east to welcome the leaves that rustle in the wind, taking in air and breathing out air.
We turn to the north to welcome the crown shining green in the sun, taking sustenance from light.
(Facing downward and upward) We honor the Divine Presence within the trees around us. We honor the Tree of Life, the sustenance and nourishment of all.
Our ancestors taught: “The tree of life has five hundred thousand kinds of fruit, each differing in taste. The appearance of one fruit is not like the appearance of the other, and the fragrance of one fruit is not like the fragrance of the other. Clouds of glory hover above the tree, and from the four directions winds blow on it, so that its fragrance is wafted from world’s end to world’s end.” (Yalkut Bereishit 2)
The tree of life exists in the earth itself, mother of myriads of different kinds of fruit. All who support her find joy.
We will share in a ritual meal of fruits of trees and the fruit of the vine, to represent the four worlds contained in the tree of life.
(For blessings over wine and fruit, see end of document. These blessings should be recited at each stage of the seder before drinking the cup or eating the fruit).
First Cup: The Earth
We drink the first cup to honor assiyah, the world of earth and the body. This is the world of the real, where resources are limited. On Tu B’Shevat, we pray for the health and abundance of trees, for our world needs them in order to survive.
In the Talmud we are taught that we mark a tree that is ill by painting its trunk red, so that passersby will remember to pray for it. We are also taught in the Torah that if we besiege a city, we are not to cut down the fruit trees around it. Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer teaches: ‘When a tree is cut down, its cry rings from one end of the world to the other, though no sound is heard.” Through these teachings we learn that it is a commandment to pray for and preserve the health of trees.
We eat fruits with a hard shell (walnuts, coconuts, pomegranates, etc.) as a sign that we surround the trees with blessing at this season.
Second Cup: The Water
We drink the second cup of wine, to honor yetzirah, the world of water and the heart. The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that “On Tu B’Shevat most of the winter rain has already passed, and the roots of the trees begin to suckle from the new rains of the current winter, and no longer suckle from last year’s rains.” These new rains can bring healing, to trees and to us. We wash one another’s hands with water to wash away suffering and welcome healing and cleansing to our lives.
(Ask people to break into pairs or groups, share what they need healing from, and then wash one another. At the end, use the water to water a tree or plant, as a symbol of new life.)
We eat fruits with pits (dates, apricots, plums, etc.) as a sign that our heart is strong and firm within us, receiving healing so that it may grow.
Third Cup: The Air
We drink the third cup to honor beriyah, the world of air and imagination. At this season we remember that the trees breathe air that we need, and we breathe air that the trees need. The trees give us fragrance, and the sound of wind in the branches. We are taught in the midrash that “trees converse with mortals.” That is, the trees teach us deep wisdom about the world. Trees give us beauty and inspiration as well as breath itself.
(Ask people in advance to bring poems or art about trees to share, and have them talk about what inspires them about trees. Or, bring many good things to smell, such as herbs and rose petals. Ask people to breathe them in and pick a smell that symbolizes their current state of being or a state of being they want. Let people make mixtures of smell to share and take home. Or, create art about trees. At the end of this part, ask people to meditate on their breath, and imagine sharing their breath with a tree.)
We eat fruit that is soft all the way through (figs, apples, grapes, etc.) as a sign that we are open and vulnerable to new dreams.
Fourth Cup: The Fire
We drink the fourth cup to honor Atzilut, the spirit. This world has no fruit representing it, for it is internal. We meditate inwardly to learn from the spirits of trees and from the Divine tree of life.
(Lead a guided meditation in which people imagine they visit the parts of a tree: roots, trunk, bark, branches, flowers, whatever makes sense to you. Ask people to silently inquire of each part of the tree what they need to learn from it. When the spirit journey is over, ask people to share what they learned if they wish.)
The Sefer Raziel, a medieval Jewish magical work, teaches that in order to invoke the prosperity of the earth we must say its names. We close the seder by turning to the four elements, the four corners of the world, and chanting a song that contains their names.
(May the earth hold prosperity.
May the water hold life.
May the wind hold rest.
May the fire hold being.)
Eat the remainder of the fruit and enjoy!
Masculine: Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam borei pri hagafen.
Feminine: Beruchah at shekhinah eloheinu ruach ha’olam boreit pri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Divine Presence filling and surrounding the world, creator of the fruit of the vine.
Masculine: Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam borei pri ha’etz.
Feminine: Beruchah at shekhinah eloheinu ruach ha’olam boreit pri ha’etz.
Blessed are you, Divine Presence filling and surrounding the world, creator of the fruit of the tree.
Written by Rabbi Jill Hammer in collaboration with Zoe Cohen and Melissa Weintraub.
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