Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tu B'Shevat

We interrupt our vacation review and images to provide you with an important interruption.  Did you know that today was Tu B'Shevat?

On Tuesday night I went to the Manhattan Torah Center to learn more about Tu B'Shevat from the monthly women's class that I have joined.

Tu B'Shevat is the new year of the trees.  It celebrates the time in the middle of winter when the trees start their renewal process, when they begin to 'reach' for spring.

Oliver Bonas
Traditional elements of Tu B'Shevat include eating new fruits and vegetables, and there are 7 traditional 'fruits' associated with the holiday.  These are the 7 products of Israel, The class I had on Tuesday really illuminated the meanings behind these 'fruits' and why we talk about them on the holiday.  Think like the Passover seder plate, each thing has a purpose.

Wheat and Barley:  No they aren't 'fruits' per our technical definitions, but when you think about the fruits of our labors and the labors of G-d, they certainly qualify.  Layla and Sarah taught that the main difference between wheat and barley is that one is eaten more by animals and the other eaten more by human beings.  These represent our more animalistic self, and our 'higher' self.  I loved talking about this.  The idea of our two selves being there, constantly trying to move forward.

We talked about how our barley is our more immediate needs.  Our impulses, our selfishness... all the times that we move forward with the immediate.  Then our Wheat is our connection to G-dliness.  Our attempts to be better than our baser selves.  Why have both?  Each gives us the opportunity to connect to something higher than ourselves.  Each time we choose to overcome our baser animal instinct to respond with a higher tendency... that means we're reaching out to G-d.

Grapes and Olives: The grapes are really represented as wine.  The start of every simchas and festival for all of our traditional  holidays.  We learned that wine helps to bring the heightened happiness of our soul into alignment with our bodies.  A little wine can go a long way to helping you get some clarity, have some joy and really celebrate.  Olives start out so bitter, but when we struggle with them, press them hard, their oil comes out and is a delicious smooth treat.  These represent our struggles within ourselves and that we have to fight sometimes for things to be smooth.

Fig and Pomegranate:  These were probably my two favorites, because I think I feel them so keenly everyday.  The fig represents our need to be fully together in our mind/body/soul when we move and make decisions.  It represents our completeness, being as one as we move forward.  The pomegranate is the exact opposite.  It's seeds are all individual compartments, one not integrated with the other.  This is our ability to sometimes do without feeling it.  Sarah pointed out that sometimes you just have to do it!  Just do the mitzvah and that can make the rest of you get into it.  This has been so true for me.  Every day I feel like there are things I have to believe in with my whole heart, and then there are times when I  know I have to keep moving and do it anyways.

Finally it's Dates:  These are harmony and sweetness. The perfect balance of everything.  They represent the harmony we can find in our lives, and hopefully the harmony we will all share in.

So, that's Tu B'Shevat.  Are you going to celebrate?  If you can try to find a fruit you haven't eaten yet this year and recite the Shechyeanu prayer over it.

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