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A Tu b’Shevat seder primer

It's traditional to sample the fruits of Israel at a Tu b'Shevat seder.

It’s traditional to sample the fruits of Israel at a Tu b’Shevat seder.

This post is adapted from an excellent guide to Tu b’Shevat by PJ Library.

At sundown on Tuesday, Jan. 30, the holiday of Tu b’Shevat — the New Year of Trees — begins. This time of year is the beginning of spring in the Middle East. The first almond blossoms have opened and the sap in the trees is beginning to rise. Therefore, it’s traditional to eat fruits from Israel on Tu b’Shevat: figs, dates, grapes, olives, pomegranates.

But it’s not only about sampling fruit. There is a tradition of holding a seder of wine and fruits in honor of the new year for trees. In 16th-century Safed, Jewish mystics created the Tu b’Shevat seder, recognizing the many and varied dimensions of G-d’s creation and used the fruits of Israel to symbolize their existence.

The seder is split into four sections, each connected to one of the four worlds of Jewish mysticism.

  • First Cup, the World of Asiyah (Actualization): Fruits and nuts with a hard outside and an edible inside, for example almonds or walnuts. A glass of white wine is served.
  • Second Cup, the World of Yetzirah (Formation): Fruits with stones at their center, such as olives or dates. The wine in this course is white, with a little red mixed in to tinge the color.
  • Third Cup, the World of Beriah (Creation): Fruits that are entirely edible, and typically soft, such as figs. The wine served is half white/half red.
  • Fourth Cup, the World of Atzilut (Presence, Emanation, Birth): As this world cannot be made physical, it is traditional to enjoy scents, such as cinnamon or rosemary. The wine served here is the reverse of the second cup: red, with a drop of white.

Enjoy these courses for the physical pleasures, but use them also for jumping off points for discussion, with questions related to the “world” embodied through the fruit of each course:

  • First Cup: When have you “judged a book by its cover” only to realize that you were mistaken?
  • Second Cup: What is something you have done or created that started out very small and became bigger or more important over time?
  • Third Cup: When do you feel truly whole and happy?
  • Fourth Cup: What helps you remember and appreciate what you cannot see?

If you’re not quite ready to host your own Tu b’Shevat seder, there are plenty happening across the Front Range. Visit the IJN Events Calendar to find one near you.

Happy Tu b’Shevat!

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