Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Secret of the Pregnant Year

Rebbetzin with Rav Mechael
Mazal tov it’s our wedding anniversary this Shabbat! I bless all of you with many happy years together with your true soul mate. This year, is one of the rare occasions when I get to celebrate our real anniversary. Because we were married in Adar alef, our anniversary only occurs seven times every nineteen year, during Jewish ‘leap year’ – In Hebrew שנת העיבור/shenat haibur. 

Literally shenat haibur means ‘pregnant year,’ and there is actually, an underlying connection between the concept of pregnancy and the Jewish leap year. Kabbalah teaches us that the ‘pregnant year’ includes a deep secret about the world and the Jewish path. Let us take this opportunity to delve deeper into understanding the significance of the Hebrew calendar in general, and the secret of shenat haibur in particular. (This article is based on a recording I heard about 25 years with Rav Moshe Shapiro).

The order of the nature of the world is established by the sun. It determines the seasons, the climate and everything which pertains to the nature of the world. The moon, however, shows us the possibility of renewal. It doesn’t give enough light to generate direct changes of nature like the sun, but just enough to show us the importance of growth and rebirth. While the Gregorian calendar is linked to the sun and the Muslim calendar to the moon, the Jewish calendar integrates the lunar and solar calendar. It primarily follows the moon cycles, but is adjusted to the solar calendar by means of the pregnant year. If our calendar was determined only according to the moon, our holidays would occur eleven days earlier in the season every year, since twelve lunar cycles are eleven days shorter than the solar cycle.[1] Thus Pesach would end up in the fall and Sukkoth in the spring. Our holidays, however, must be celebrated at certain seasons, as every season in nature reflects the spiritual transformation Israel undergoes throughout our various holidays. Pesach – the holiday of our freedom – needs to be celebrated during spring, while nature awakens and expresses its freedom and unfolding. Therefore, the Torah specifically commands us to ensure that Pesach always falls in the spring:
שָׁמוֹר אֶת חֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב וְעָשִׂיתָ פֶּסַח לַהָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי בְּחֹדֶשׁ הָאָבִיב הוֹצִיאֲךָ הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִמִּצְרַיִם לָיְלָה 
Watch the month of spring (aviv), and observe Pesach to Hashem your G-d: for in the month of spring Hashem your G-d brought you out of Egypt by night.”[2]

Rashi explains that the word aviv indicates the season in which ripe ears for the Omer offering is produced. The Torah instructs us to watch before the month of Pesach (Nissan) whether this would be the case, if not then we must intercalate the year.”[3] This is the most well-known Torah source for establishing a pregnant year. Therefore, we need to adjust our lunar calendar to the solar calendar by adding an extra month before the month of Pesach, whenever the discrepancy between the lunar and the solar cycle adds up enough days to fill a month.

The spiritual Significance of our Lunar Calendar
The reason why the Jewish calendar primarily follows the moon is that the Jewish people are intrinsically connected to the moon, which renews itself. Likewise, our life rhythm is connected to constant renewal. Calculating our months according to the moon rather than the sun indicates that the time frame which only refers to the establishment of nature is not the primary order of time for us. However, it doesn’t mean that we separate ourselves from the fixed order of the world; but rather that we emphasize the renewal of the moon, for we are heading towards the future when: “They will in future renew themselves like her.”[4]

Adapting our Lunar Months to the Solar Year
We would have totally separated ourselves from the established nature of the world, had we calculated exclusively according to the moon. Actually, even in the mitzvah to sanctify the new moon, there is an allusion to the importance of integrating the renewal of the moon with he repeated cycles of nature represented by the sun.
הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה
“This month (chodesh) is the head of the months; it is first in the months of the year (shana).”[5]

The mitzvah to sanctify the new moon includes the two opposite aspects of both renewal of the month as well as repetition of the cycle of the year. Whereas the word for ‘month’ in Hebrew is ֹחֹדֶשׁ/chodesh related to the word חָדַשׁ/chadash – new, the Hebrew word for ‘year’ is שָּׁנָה/shana which means repetition, as in וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ/V’shinantam l’vanecha – “you shall repeat them to your children.”[6] While the sun repeats itself, the moon renews itself. For this reason the pregnant year comes to link the time-cycle of renewal (moon) with that of the nature of the world (sun). Although our calendar is primarily fixed by the moon, we are still obligated to operate within the framework of the solar-year. Whereas, the months are the months of the moon, the year must be the year of the sun. Since the verse about the mitzvah to sanctify the new moon includes a reference to the ‘year,’ it alludes to the mitzvah to intercalate the year. The fusion of the mitzvot to sanctify the new moon and to intercalate the year, as an introduction to the redemption from Egypt, indicates that the renewal of the moon will be born within the pregnancy of the order of the year.

Integrating Repetition and Change in our Lives and Relationships
The concept of the pregnant year teaches us that we need to maintain the balance in our lives between the repetition of good habits and the excitement of renewal and unexpected change. In our relationship with Hashem we pray daily the repeated prayers from the same prayer-book, yet we must continually infuse our words with new meaning and intent. Although there is a mitzvah to have a special designated place for prayer,[7] in my experience praying in a new place or praying a new prayer helps strengthen our kavana (intention) and bring renewal into our prayers. This is why going out to nature to talk with Hashem in your own words has become so popular in our times.

Also in relationships with people we need to balance reliability and dependability with creativity and original initiative. For example I’m grateful that my husband comes home for dinner at a set hour, yet I also need him to once in a while surprise me with an unexpected gift or excursion. I bake the same chocolate chip cookies for more than twenty years because they are yummy and easy to prepare, yet, my family really appreciate when I make the extra effort to try out a new recipe.

The Secret of the Pregnant Year (Sod HaIbur)
The reason Jewish leap year is called a ‘pregnant year’ rather than a ‘leap year’ is explained through the concept in Kabbalah called sod haibur – The secret pregnancy.[8] This inner secret symbolizes that our bleak mundane reality carries within it a secret higher level of reality – the pregnancy of a new reality growing within the womb of the established realm. Just as pregnancy entails the existence of a fetus growing within the womb of the mother, the hidden reality of sod haibur keeps growing within our revealed level of existence. It demonstrates the existence of the renewal within the established. Within the framework of year, grows the pattern of months. Just as pregnancy is hidden and not recognizable until at least a third of its term, likewise the external established world is pregnant with an inner hidden spiritual reality.

The Renewal of Israel Born within the Frozen Predictable Egyptian Society
The first mitzvah that the Jewish people received as a nation was the mitzvah to sanctify the new moon in the land of Egypt: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Egypt saying: This month is the head of the months, it is the first month of the year to you.”[9] This prophecy, which took place on the first day of the month of Nissan, marked the beginning of the redemption from Egypt. It is followed by the remaining mitzvot pertaining to the Exodus from Egypt, which denote the birth of the Jewish people as a nation. The Torah emphasizes that this first mitzvah in the Exodus process – to sanctify the new moon – took place specifically in Egypt, which symbolizes the unchanging established reality. The Nile, as opposed to rain, would water Egypt at predictable intervals. The worship of the old and fear of the new is reflected in the ancient Egyptian society’s drowning of newborn babies in the Nile, while attempting to preserve the dead in their mummies. It was specifically within the frozen, dead, necrophiliac society of Egypt that the holiness of the renewal of Israel was born.

Renewal within the Yearly Routine is Foundation for the Final Redemption
The timeframe of sowing, harvesting, cold, heat, summer, and winter is the order of time that gives birth to a renewal totally independent from the realm of the mundane world. Even within the framework of the year which denotes repetition and routine there exist the level of renewal. Once a year, there is a renewal in the month of spring. The redemption from Egypt must always be a renewal. Therefore, Pesach needs to be in the spring. The redemption from Egypt, which itself is called a birth, laid down the foundation for the final birth. This renewal, revealed only in the month of spring is hidden within the remainder of time in our current reality. However, this secret renewal will one day become revealed within the entire world.

Mikdash & Mishkan (Sanctuary & Tabernacle)
This week’s Parashat Teruma includes the command to build the ‘mishkan,’ described as ‘mikdash’ as it states: “וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם Asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham” – “Make for me a sanctuary (mikdash) and I will dwell among them.[10] We would have expected our verse describing the tabernacle to use the word ‘mishkan,’ referring to the mobile tabernacle related to the word Shechina, which is with Israel in every place, even in the darkest exile. However, our verse used the word ‘mikdash’ deriving from the root of holiness which always denotes separation. Since the mikdash must be in a certain place, it is separated from those who are far away. The place of the mikdash has holiness in itself, and according to halacha one is to sacrifice in that place even if there is no building.[11]

The Dialectic between the Sun & Moon Reflected in the Mishkan & Mikdash
משכן איקרי מקדש ומקדש
“The tabernacle (mishkan) is called a sanctuary (mikdash) and the sanctuary is call a tabernacle.[12]

The same dialectic between the establishment of the sun and the renewal of the moon is reflected in the relationship between the mobile all-indwelling tabernacle (mishkan) and the holy separate sanctuary (mikdash). This dialectic is alluded to in our verse “make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them.” The word “I will dwell within” (v’shachanti) derives from the root of mishkan. The reason why it doesn’t say “I will dwell within it” (betocho), but rather “I will dwell among them” (betocham) teaches us that the Shechina is not limited to a certain place; it dwells among us wherever we are. This is contrasted to the mikdash denoting a specific place which we need to approach. It doesn’t come to us, we must come to it. The first part of our verse using the word ‘mikdash’ relates to the aspect of raising ourselves up towards Hashem, whereas the second part describes how Hashem’s presence comes to us in every place. It is not limited to the tabernacle itself. Yet the mikdash and the mishkan are interrelated. Just as the womb of the established year carries within it the realm of renewal, the mishkan carries within it the hidden seed of the mikdash. Within the mishkan the Shechina itself is crying in her yearning for the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). The end of the redemption from Egypt culminates with the building of the mikdash rather than the mishkan as it states: “You shall bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the establishment, O Hashem which you have made for your residence, in the sanctuary…”[13] Although the mikdash denotes separation, it will be built through the realm of mishkan which dwells among us even within our impurity. When the mikdash will be built, it likewise will carry within it the level of mishkan. The Shechina will not be limited to the Beit HaMikdash itself.

The 15-Step Ladder towards the Full-Moon of Final Redemption
King Shlomo who built the Beit Hamikdash is compared to the full moon. Just as the 15th day of the month is full moon, so was Shlomo the 15th generation after Avraham Avinu. From King Shlomo’s golden epoch in Jewish history it went downhill another 15 kings until the complete diminishment of the moon at the destruction of the Temple. The moon became smaller and smaller until we again await its rebirth. King David, known for his ability to renew himself, is compared to the moon. At the time of Kidush Levana (sanctifying the new moon) we recite: “David Melech Yisrael Chai v’kayam.” We thus pray that the dynasty of David will become renewed like the moon and reach its peak, as in Shlomo’s time. The fifteen days between the birth of the moon and full moon reflects the fifteen stages of redemption from the Exodus to the building of the Temple.[14] When we will complete climbing this fifteen-step ladder, we will reach the final redemption – the culmination of all the pregnancies, after which there will never again be any birth-pangs. At that time there will no longer be a gap between the sun and the moon – between repetition and renewal, miskhan and mikdash. May we all experience the unfolding of renewal when “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun… on the day that Hashem binds up the breach of His people, and heals the injuries of their wound!”[15]

[1] A lunar month is 29.5 days, (29.5 x12=354), a solar year is 365 days, (365-354=11).
[2] Devarim 16:1.
[3] Rashi, Devarim 16:1.
[4] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 42a.
[5] Shemot 12:2.
[6] Devarim 6:7.
[7] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 90:19.
[8] See for example Zohar, part 3, 216a.
[9] Shemot 12:1.
[10] Shemot 25:8.
[11] Mishna Mesechet Eduyot 8:6.
[12] Babylonian Talmud, Shavuot 16b).
[13] Shemot 15:17.
[14] In the Dayeinu song of Haggadah of Pesach we praise Hashem for fifteen great things He has done for us, beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and culminating in the building of the Temple.
[15] Yesha’yahu 30:26.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reduce and Re-use

The mitzvah of “Bal Tashchit” and Environmental Awareness
Our Tu B'Shevat Seder table
Since the Month of Shevat celebrates the New Year of the Trees, and the general mitzvah of “Bal Tashchit” not to destroy and waste is learned out from the prohibition of cutting down fruit trees,[1] it has become a custom to emphasize this mitzvah especially during the month of Shevat. Being a second generation holocaust survivor I very much relate to the mitzvah of avoiding waste. It is especially against my nature to throw out any food worthy of human consumption. Even my leftovers which are no longer fit for people to eat go into my special compost bin to the very last crumb. Luckily I have chickens to feed all my leftovers except chicken and meat, which the cats will happily fight over.

I heard s a story about Rav Kook to which I especially relate. While walking with Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Reb Aryeh Levin picked a leaf from an herb or flower. Rabbi Kook was shocked and mildly rebuked him, saying that we must take great care not to uselessly pick anything that could grow or sprout because every blossom praises Hashem and every stone whispers a secret. The entire creation sings.[2] Hashem created everything in the ecosystem with its own purpose, nothing goes to waste I try to by refill rather than new bottles of cleaning agents, and of course always write on both sides of the paper in order not to waste trees. Since reemerging from exile, we Jews need to redefine our relationship with the physical reality and learn to live in harmony with our land and environment.

Read on to learn Torah sources on environmental consciousness, as well as practical tips for reduce and re-use.

Shift of Consciousness in the Torah World
We live in very exciting times when the Torah and its adherents are remerging from exile. Within the cruel oppression of our long exile, we have mainly been preoccupied with preserving our spirit. Having as little interaction as possible with the physical world was idealized by our European ancestors from the ghetto. When the material overflow from Western industrialization permeated our Torah observant communities, we had no tools to deal with the material excess that streamed into our supermarkets and malls, eventually finding their ways into our kitchens, closets, dining-rooms, and cars.

Returning to our Land and Reevaluating our Relationship with the Earth
One of the major signs of the process of “Geula” (redemption) is the renewed awareness by Torah observant communities of how to relate to our physical environment. Now that we are returning to our own Land, the time has come to reevaluate our relationship with the Earth, and to start keeping the Torah laws that relate to the importance of recycling, minimizing waste and protecting the environment.

The Mitzvah “Do not Waste” From the Torah
There are several sources found in Tanach, Midrash and Halacha that stress the importance of protecting the environment. Our sages expanded the Torah prohibition of “Bal Tashchit” – “do not destroy”[3] – to include all waste, destruction and vandalism of any nature. Maimonides summarized the prohibition as “Take from nature what you need, but do not destroy it!”[4] He equates unnecessary destruction with “every evil thing” and explains that righteous people who inspire others to come close to the Torah must develop a higher sensitivity and love for everything good in Hashem’s world.

Sefer Hachinuch makes a connection between character development and avoiding even the slightest waste:
“The prohibition of destroying fruit-trees during a siege and likewise, all destruction is included in this prohibition. The root of the mitzvah is known to teach our souls to love what is good and useful and to subsequently cleave to it; through this, the good will cleave to us and we will distance ourselves from every evil thing and every destruction (waste). This is the way of people of good deeds who love peace, rejoice in the good of creation and bring everyone close to the Torah. They do not destroy anything – even a mustard seed – and it troubles them to encounter any destruction or harm. If they can act to save anything from destruction, they use their entire strength to do so.”[5]

The midrash expands this concern to preserve every part of G-d’s creation in nature to the mitzvah of safeguarding the whole world. It warns us not to destroy our planet Earth!

“At the time when Hashem created the first human being, He showed him each of the trees in the Garden of Eden and told him: ‘See my works how good and excellent they are! Now all that I created is for your sake. Think upon this. Do not corrupt or destroy My world. For if you destroy it, there will be no one to restore it after you.’”[6]

Stop Abusing the Resources of the World
How timely is this warning from our ancient classical sources dating back to the 9th century! Unfortunately we human beings did not sufficiently heed Hashem’s warning in our selfish striving for individual material profit. We have neglected to consider the consequences of our abuse upon the world’s physical resources on the greater whole and, as a result, we have wreaked irreparable havoc on our planet Earth.

Most surveys into the state of our world conclude that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations. The way society obtains its resources has caused irreversible changes that are degrading the natural processes supporting life on Earth. Our abuse of its food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel over the past fifty years has seriously degraded the environment.

Love Your fellow like yourself” Necessitates Environmental Consciousness
The following Midrashic anecdote teaches us an important lesson in environmental consciousness: A man was cleaning out the rocks and rubble from his field into the public area. A person passing by asked him: Why do you remove rocks from the place that is not yours and put them in the place that is yours? The man was dumbfounded by this question, and didn’t understand its meaning until one day many years later. After having become impoverished and lost all of his land, the man was once walking in the communal area and stumbled over a big rock. When he recognized the rock as one of those he had cleared out of his field many years ago, the meaning of the question dawned on him. Now that he was a pauper, without his own land, the communal area was all he shared a part of.[7]

Rabbi Akiva teaches us that the main principle of the Torah is “love your fellow as yourself.”[8] This principle includes considering the consequences of our actions, not only in our own lives but also in the lives of our fellow human beings throughout future generations. For example, this includes considering the consequences of using air fresheners that damage the ozone layer. While it may provide us with an immediate benefit, we should expand our awareness to consider the fact that our grandchildren may someday experience its damaging consequences.

Talmudic Wisdom is Foresight
We live in an era of instant gratification. The Western “consumer culture” persuades us to concern ourselves with our own immediate comfort without considering its future consequences. In contrast, the Talmud teaches us: “Who is a wise person? Someone who sees what is being born!”[9] It is, therefore, our Torah responsibility to consider the future impact on the environment of our current lifestyles and uses of the earth’s resources. With this foresight, we will curtail unnecessary air-pollution by carefully selecting, buying and using environment-friendly products. Moreover, we must make an effort to compost and recycle rather than to throw everything away. Otherwise, in the near future there will no longer remain any place called “away.”

Practical Tips for Reduce and Re-use
Here are a few tips for avoiding waste. Since plastic is a material that does not decompose, we need to minimize its use. A simple way to make a difference is to reuse plastic bags over and over. For example, instead of taking new plastic bags from the supermarket, we can bring our own bags from home.

Water is a valuable resource and with a bit of mindfulness we will find many opportunities to conserve it. For example instead of wasting the water in the shower while it’s warming up to a comfortable temperature, we can use the running water to fill a couple of netilat yadayim cups. Extra left over water in tea kettles, cups and vases can be used to water the plants. Washing plastic bins, netilat yadayim cups, and muddy boots can likewise be done outside while simultaneous watering the grass.

Composting can be understood as a “Hidur Mitzvah” (The highest way of glorifying the mitzvah) of “Bal Tashchit” (The prohibition against destruction and waste). Recycling is a basic yet important way of engaging ourselves in the Jewish goal of Tikun Olam – (repairing of the world). By recycling, we can elevate even the “lowest” aspects of our physical world, reconnecting to their higher capacity sparks of holiness and purpose within each element that we work with.

Spirituality Implies Having a Proper Relationship with the Physical Environment
We are obligated in the mitzvah of emulating G-d, as it states, “And you must walk in His ways.”[10] Just as Hashem does not waste, so we must learn to live in harmony with the physical world and to use its resources with the utmost purpose and with great care. The many advertisements in our consumer society attempt to convince us to purchase goods in excess; yet, we may discover that we really only need a small fraction of all those products.

As Torah Jews bound by the mitzvoth of “bal Tashchit”, and “love your fellow like yourself” we need to have the foresight to find ways of repairing our world. We must begin to take responsibility for the consequences that our actions have on the environment. Following the rule, “Reduce and re-use” is a first step.

As Jews who are striving to live according to the Torah’s precepts, we need to be in the forefront of preserving the world that Hashem entrusted into our stewardship. Let us set an example in our personal life by affirming that true spirituality entails actively caring for our physical environment.

Keeping Hashem’s mitzvot of preserving the Earth: isn’t it worth the extra effort?

[1] Devarim 20:19.
[2] Related by Rabbi Danny Landes about his great-uncle, Reb Aryeh Levin.
[3] Devarim 20:19.
[4] Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Kings 6:8-10.
[5] Sefer Hachinuch – The Book of Education, Mitzvah 529.
[6] Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:19.
[7] Based on Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 6:10.
[8] Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 24:7.
[9] Babylonian Talmud, Tamid 32a.
[10] Devarim 28:8.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tu B’Shevat – The Holiday of Redemption

A Tu B'Shevat Seder
My favorite holiday –Tu b’Shevat – has arrived. On that holiday, we recognize how these holy fruits are vehicles through which our mutual relationship with Hashem is expressed: Hashem bestows His blessings of fruit upon Israel, and we praise Hashem for the fruits of the Holy Land. Tu b’Shevat is the time to work on our emunah and patience. Even when things look bleak on the outside, the greatest blessings of surprise peak beyond the surface.

I’m giving you a drop of the book from the Tu b’Shevat section of The Seven Fruits of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties.

Tu b’Shevat – Celebrating the Fruits of the
Land of Israel
The Torah is a “Tree of Life,”[1] the fruits of the Land reflect the unique Torah of Eretz Yisrael. Just as the tree of the field blossoms on Tu b’Shevat due to the rain water it receives that year, likewise the Tree of Life within us – the Torah – flourishes then. The chidushei Torah (original Torah insights) granted to us on Rosh Hashana in potential, materialize on Tu b’Shevat through the blossoms of the new fruits.

The Tu b’Shvat Seder
In the past few decades, as we get closer to our final redemption and return to Paradise, the Tu b’Shevat Fruit Seder has become widespread among Jews across the world. It facilitates partaking of the fruits of the Land in a mindful way, enjoying their colors, textures and tastes, while praising Hashem for the fruits with intentional blessings. Originally in the Garden of Eden, humanity was sustained by the sparks of the holy Hebrew letters of the Torah inherent in the fruits.[2] By blessing the fruits during the Tu b’Shevat Seder, and sharing Torah insights about them, we can elevate our relationship to food, and infuse our eating with Torah, transforming our eating once again into the words of Torah. Moreover, eating fruits on Tu b’Shevat in a mindful way gives us the opportunity to rectify all of our past eating during the entire year.[3]

The Origin of the Tu b’Shevat Seder
The Tu b’Shevat Seder somewhat similar to the Pesach Seder was compiled by the students of the Holy Arizal.[4] It is based primarily on the Kabbalistic work, Chemdat haYamim, later published separately under the title “Pri Etz Hadar.[5] The Tu b’Shevat Seder involves appreciating the fruits of the tree, particularly those native to the Land of Israel.

Between Tu b’Shevat and Pesach Seders
Although the Pesach Seder is halacha (Jewish law), the Tu b’Shevat Seder is not obligatory. Halachic sources do mention the minhag (custom) to enjoy an abundance of different fruits on Tu b’Shevat.[6] Since the order and the content of the Seder do not follow specific Jewish law, there is much room for flexibility and creativity for each of us to conduct the Seder in our own way. Pesach celebrates the past redemption of the Jewish People from Egypt and anticipates our return to the Land of Israel. However, Tu b’Shevat celebrates the return to the Land – the entryway to the Garden of Eden, and anticipates the redemption of all humanity we will eat – this time – fruit from the Tree of Life.

The Sequences of the Seder Corresponding to the Four Worlds
The fruits of the Tu b’Shevat Seder are divided into four categories corresponding to the Four Worlds that link the upper and lower reality. Each sequence of fruit culminates with a cup of wine. As on Pesach, the wine is poured before the text is read and drunk afterwards. The first cup is white wine symbolizing the refined ethereal upper world of אֲצִילוּת/Atzilut – Emanation. This cup is followed by a cup of white wine with a drop of red added, corresponding to the world of בְּרִיאָה /Beriyah – Creation. The third cup with equal red and white wine reflects the world of יְצִירָה /Yetzirah – Formation, whereas the fourth cup filled with red wine, represents our coarse material lower world of עֲשִׂיָּה /Asiyah – Action. During the Tu b’Shevat Seder we spiral downward from the highest world of Emanation beyond any physical manifestation, through the worlds of Formation and Creation, ultimately landing in our physical world of Action.

The Different Categories of Fruit and their Corresponding Kabbalistic Worlds
1. There are no fruits that correspond to the world of Emanation, which is totally spiritual beyond physical manifestation. However, for this category, we have chosen the Seven Species by which the Land of Israel is praised, since these fruits take precedence according to the laws of blessings as will be explained.
2. Wholly edible fruits correspond to the world of Creation.
3. Fruits that are wholly edible except for their inner pits correspond to the world of Formation.
4. Fruits that have outer inedible shells correspond to the world of Action.

It is interesting to note that the Seven Species include fruits from each of these

The Tu b’Shevat Haggadah
Just as Pesach is accompanied by the Haggadah, the Tu b’Shevat Seder includes texts with verses from the Bible and passages from the Oral Torah describing the fruits. Before each fruit is eaten, a portion of the Written or Oral Torah is recited and discussed. In contrast to the Pesach Haggadah which is a fixed text, you can create your own Tu b’Shevat Seder text, personally selecting the Torah portions of your choice for each fruit.

Practical Guidelines for Conducting a Tu b’Shevat Seder
It is recommended to set aside at least two hours to run a meaningful Tu b’Shevat Seder with enough time to share and discuss Torah about each of the fruits. Set your Tu b’Shevat table with four fruit platters arranged according to the Four Worlds. It is preferable to prepare thirty kinds of fruit corresponding to the Ten Sefirot in each of the three lower worlds. If this is not possible, a minimum of twelve fruits will do. If you are missing one fruit you can substitute another, preferably from the same category. You can invite each of the participants to bring one kind of fruit and prepare Torah insights to share about it. Be creative! You may decorate your table with fragrant flowers, for instance. Include songs and meditations of your choice between each of the sequences. At the end of your Tu b'Shevat Seder, make sure to recite the threefold ‘M’ein Shalosh’ after-blessings for cake, wine and fruit together with all the participants.

Laws and Order of Blessings
Whenever we eat, the blessing on sustaining foods made from the five grains precedes the rest of the blessings.[8] Therefore, we begin the Seder by blessing ‘borei minei mezonot’ on the wheat cracker or cake. When blessing on wheat have in mind to include all other grains as well. The Torah mentions seven kinds of fruits in praise of the Land of Israel. These seven species are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. The first blessing recited over the fruits of the tree includes all other fruits on the table. When you eat several different kinds of fruits, choose a fruit from the Seven Species to eat first.[9] The order of blessing within these Seven Fruits is according to their proximity to the word ‘land’ in the Bible verse.[10] Consequently, we bless ‘borei p’ri ha’etz’ on the olive and have in mind that this blessing includes the remaining fruits of the tree. Whenever making a blessing, hold the fruit in your right hand. Whenever possible each person should recite her own blessing.[11]

New Fruits from the Land
Contemplating the marvel of the gift of the divine fruits can teach us many lessons about G-d, life and ourselves. Try to include in your Tu b’Shevat Seder as many fruits as possible grown in the Land of Israel, in order to connect yourself to the Holy Land on this day. Make sure the fruits have been grown and tithed according to the Laws of the Land. It is also recommended that you include a fruit you have not eaten yet during that year, in order to recite the special shehecheyanu blessing for eating a fruit for the first time in the season.[12]

Tikun via Eating
During the Tu b’Shevat Seder we have the opportunity to rectify eating from the Tree of Knowledge – the root of all eating disorders and sin – which corrupted the world and combined the pure with the impure by causing sparks of holiness to fall into the husks. Words of Torah, blessings and proper intentions enable us to raise the fallen sparks within the food and return them to their source in the Garden of Eden. Since the exile from the Garden, every fruit includes a part of both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, its antidote. Every time we put food in our mouths, especially on Tu b’Shevat, we have the choice whether to continue the sin of Adam and Eve by eating the Fruit of Knowledge or to eat like the righteous and take each bite from the Tree of Life.[13]

Elevating Sparks
It is our G-d-given opportunity to rectify and unify the upper worlds through the power of blessings and prayer. The purpose of reciting berachot (blessings) is to affirm that there is one G-d in the world and that everything belongs to Him. Blessing with proper intention purifies and elevates the Divine sparks contained in the food. Learning Torah, praying to G-d, and using the food’s energy to perform a mitzvah elevate the sparks contained in the food to the upper worlds, from where they had originally fallen. The sparks of holiness are thereby returned to their source. Whereas, the blessings on mitzvot draw down celestial abundance, blessings over food and other pleasures are meant to rectify the worlds themselves, by elevating them and connecting each one with the world above it. This way, even our lowest world can receive the Holy influence of the highest light.[14]

Tu b’Shevat – An Occasion to Connect with the Land of Israel and Yearn for Redemption
If you seek to heighten the spirituality of your life by deepening your bond with Eretz Yisrael, the holiday of Tu b’Shevat assumes major importance. When blessing and enjoying the fruits during the Tu b’Shevat Seder, keep in mind that the fruits of the Land of Israel herald the redemption as we learn from the prophets: “But you, mountains of Israel shall give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people, Israel; for soon they will come.”[15] Based on this verse, the Talmud reveals that there is no more revealed sign of the End of Days, than when the Land of Israel will produce fruits in abundance.[16]

[1] Mishlei 3:18.
[2] Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, Likutei Amerim 11.
[3] Rav Tzadok HaKohen, P’ri Tzadik, for Tu b’Shevat 2.
[4] Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 16th century, Tzefat.
[5] The book P’ri Etz Hadar was first published as part of Chemdat HaYamim, in Tzefat, 1641.
[6] Mishnah Berurah 131:31; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:26.
[7] The fig, which is totally edible, from the world of Creation; grapes, olives and dates, with their inedible pits from the world of Formation; wheat, barley and pomegranates with their inedible shells, from the world of Action.
[8] Although only wheat and barley are mentioned among the Seven Species in Deuteronomy 8:8, spelt, rye and oats are included as their subspecies.
[9] Mishnah Berurah 211:4-5.
[10] Mishnah Berurah 211:21.
[11] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 213:1, Mishnah Berurah 213:12.
[12] הַזֶּה לַזְמַן וְהִגִּיעָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ מֶלֶךְ אֱלֹקֵינוּ הָשֵׁם בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה/Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu melech ha’olam shehecheyanu, v’kimanu, v’higianu lazman hazé – Blessed are You Hashem our G-d King of the Universe, Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
[13] Based on Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, P’ri Tzadik, for Tub’Shevat.
[14] Based on Rav Chaim Volozhin, Nefesh HaChaim 2:3-4 and 14.
[15] Yechezkiel 36:8.
[16] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tu B’Shevat - A Time for Hidden Beginnings

Preparing the Land
This winter has been hard on many levels. The snow was a bittersweet blessing bringing needed water to the land together with causing much damage. I don’t want to complain about the broken trees in my garden and the chicks in my coop that died of cold, which I know is all a kapara (atonement), but I want to share with you my own experience of pulling myself out of feeling low inside.

This was the first time in so many years that all of a sudden I was not super busy. Teaching had to be called off because of the snow, and my upcoming book The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties, which I so much hoped would be ready for Tu b’Shevat had additional delays. Since the book had not yet been finalized, I also didn’t feel like beginning working on a new book. When I began to sort my photos compulsively on the computer I realized how I thrive when being busy. It was like hibernating, sleeping lazily long, no one knocking on the icy doors, feeling alone and not needed. When things are low there is a tendency to feel the moment isolated from the past and future, as if I forgot how many people got strengthened from my teachings and EmunaHealing sessions throughout the years. I seemed to be unable to call to mind that I have a wonderful role to play in the drama of life, but just succumbed to down feelings.

Then the sun began to shine, and my emunah began to grow. In my experience the main healing and rising from a “low” is to accept being in that “low,” not trying to run away from it into all kinds of “exits” and escapes. Life has ups and downs and through experiencing the “downs” and calling out to Hashem from the depth, we may accomplish more than when we busily ride the roller-coaster of rampant success. A breathing space for self-inventory and tune up can be viewed as a welcome blessing. So I just slowed down and experienced the power of acceptance. As the snow is melting and the buds of the almond trees are opening, I look forward to a bundle of blessings this coming spring. I bless you to experience personal renewal and strengthening of emunah in all the goodness waiting for all of us around the corner!

The Timing of Tu b’Shevat – A Lesson in Emunah (faith)
As the holiday of Tu b’Shevat – the New-Year of the Trees is approaching, we would have expected to see the trees in their full green glory crowned with ripe radiant fruit. Wouldn’t it at least be fitting to celebrate the New Year of the trees around Pessach time when the buds are just opening to express the beginning of their new life?

Yet, The New Year of the trees is celebrated at the time when all the fruits and leaves have fallen and the tree stands bare and naked; when the cold and dark envelops nature with its muddy cover. The secret of Tu b’Shevat gently whispers; “when everything looks dead, dark and murky, life, light and glory is hiding just below the surface.” The time when nothing seems to be happening on the outside; is the beginning of the richest inner life.

The fact that the peak of winter is selected to mark the New Year of the Trees reflects the Jewish outlook to begin the day with its preceding night. During the night and dark times of our lives it is only faith in a better morrow that gives us the strength to keep carrying on. It is this faith that has nurtured the Jewish people throughout our troublesome history of anti-Semitism, suppression and pogroms.

Gardening and Emunah
Gardening and planting also help strengthen our faith in a better future. The first order of the mishnah is called “seeds” because it deals with the many Torah laws connected to planting. When the Talmud designates a name depicting the character of each of the Six Orders of the mishnah, the Order of “Seeds” receives the name אֱמוּנָה/Emunah faith.[1]

Decomposition Prior to Growth
The medieval Torah scholar and poet Yehuda Halevi points out that the seed actually decomposes completely before it is transformed into a tender plant. He compares this with the fate of the Jewish people who became completely decomposed and scattered before the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Temple.[2] On a personal level, we can learn from the nature of seeds that when things seem most dark and devastating it is only the dark before the dawn. The more hopeless the situation, the closer is its gratifying solution.

From Crisis to Renewal
In my own life I continuously draw on the faith I receive from the decomposing seeds that get transformed into small saplings in my garden. Many people can testify that it is the crises in their lives, which they can thank for their great personal renewals and growth. Was it not for the difficulties we experience and the decomposing depression of feeling potentially unfulfilled, we would have never taken initiative to make important changes in the direction of our lives. To this day when times are rough I remind myself how great new beginnings surely are just around the corner.

Renewed Building Emanates from Fallen Structures
The secret of Tu b'Shevat teaches us to view the current crisis in Israel, USA and the world in a new light. Instead of losing faith and giving in to the feelings of depression and despair, we need to realize that although we can no longer hold on to the walls that are crumbling down, the fallen structures give way to building new and infinitely higher strongholds. They teach us that we cannot rely on the ephemeral values of financial success, rather we must rebuilt our world founded on spiritual everlasting values, placing G-d in the center of our aspirations for true morality. May the decomposing seeds of the present darkness take root in new and richer soil, and may we enjoy the fruits of the renewed perfected world!

[1] The Six Orders of the Mishnah have each been given a name by the Talmud corresponding to a word in Yesha’yahu 33:6 as follows.

וְהָיָה אֱמוּנַת עִתֶּיךָ חֹסֶן יְשׁוּעֹת חָכְמַת וָדָעַת יִרְאַת הָשֵׁם הִיא אוֹצָרוֹ
“It shall be the emunah (faith) of your times, a store of salvation, wisdom and knowledge, the fear of Hashem is his treasure” (Yesha’yahu 33:6).
“Emunah” corresponds to Seder Zeraim (Seeds), “Your Times” to Seder Moed (Holidays) “A Store” to Seder Nashim (Women), “Salvation” to Seder Nezikin (Damages), “Wisdom” to Seder Kedoshim (Holiness), “Knowledge” to Seder Taharot (Purity)… (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
[2] Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, The Kuzari, Article 4:1.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Blessed Month of Shevat – The Month of Spiritual Renewal

A Fig Tree Renewing itself in Bat Ayin
The month of Shevat comes upon us at the peak of winter. All the leaves have fallen from the trees, the colorful flowers have withered, and everything seems dead and frozen. At this time we need renewal more than ever. Shevat is the time that the rainwater of the winter months begins to ascend in the veins of the tree, bringing it new life. The month of Shevat is not only the month of nourishing rain for the land, but also the time for the spiritual rain of the Torah which “is a Tree of Life to those who hold on to her.”[1] When most of this year’s rain has fallen, and we have become purified with the waters of Aquarius, we are ready to start over, to learn from our previous mistakes and grow like the trees, allowing our roots drink the sweet spiritual nourishment of Torah. The month of Shevat is referred to as the “New Year for the study of Torah.” Our new understandings in Torah are the fruits we produce. The fruits we eat on Tu b’Shevat correspond to partaking of and integrating the sweet fruits of Torah wisdom. On the first of Shevat Moshe started to review the Torah, to prepare the Israelites for entering the Land of Israel.[2] Moshe, our Teacher, explained most of the Divine Commandments to the generation who was on its way to the Land of Israel. He infused the mitzvot with renewed meaning, and gave them new mitzvot too. This renewal of the Torah during the month of Shevat sparks us to experience the excitement, and newness of the Divine Torah. Even if we have already learned a certain chapter several times, we must never become complacent and lose the enthusiasm of youth, but feel as if we ourselves stood on Mount Sinai, and G-d told it to us for the first time today. I invite you to share spiritual insights on the month of Shevat, learn about the special energy of Aquarius, women’s special tikun of eating, and recreating our lost Paradise through holy eating,

The Spiritual Attributes of Shevat
המליך אות צ' בלעיטה וקשר לו כתר וצרפן זה בזה וצר בהם דלי בעולם, ושבט בשנה, וקורקבן בנפש זכר ונקבה
He made the letter tzadik king over stuffing (eating), And He tied a crown to it and He combined one with another and with them He formed Aquarius in the Universe and Shevat in the year, and the stomach in the soul male and female.[3]

צַדִי/Tzadi – The Letter of the Righteous Tree
The letter tzadi symbolizes the tzadik (righteous person), who personifies the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The early beginning of renewal of growth in trees, that is discernable during the month of Shevat, is symbolized by the shape of the letter tzadi (especially its final form), which resembles a tree. The tree represents the written Torah and its fruit the oral tradition, which draws sustenance from the tree. The shape of the letter tzadi consists of a yud and a nun symbolizing wisdom and understanding which always operate together.

The Weekly Torah Portions during Shevat
The plagues began in Egypt during the month of Shevat. Therefore, the month is called Shevat – a rod to the Egyptians.[4] Likewise the first parasha we read during the month of Shevat is Parashat Bo, which includes the last three plagues through which the Israelites were delivered from the bondage in Egypt.

Parashat B’Shalach usually falls out around Tu b’Shevat, and it is therefore fascinating that there are several references to trees in this parasha. After the splitting of the Reed Sea, the Jewish people traveled three days without water. When they finally found water it was intolerably bitter. G-d then revealed a tree to Moshe to throw in the water in order to sweeten it.[5] Immediately afterwards the Israelites traveled and camped in Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms.[6]

Parashat Yitro usually read the Shabbat following Tu b’Shevat includes the giving of the Torah which is compared to “A tree of life.”[7] Receiving the Torah also connects with the renewal of the Torah which takes place during Shevat as explained.

The last parasha during the month of Shevat is Parashat Mispatim. It includes an episode connected to the topic of eating – the sense of the month of Shevat. “Upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand although they beheld G-d through eating and drinking.”[8]

Rashi brings the opinion that the elders who ate and drank while “gazing” at Hashem did so arrogantly, insensitively. Although there is a great temptation to get caught up in our appetites, eating has the potential to be a deep way of connecting to Hashem, especially during the month of Shevat.

Women and Rectified Eating

G-d created us in a way that we need to eat in order to live. In order to be holy, we must eat in holiness. The month of Shevat is the time to work on rectifying our relationship with food, and learn to extract the holy sparks from the foodstuff. The first direct command given by G-d to humankind is the prohibition of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.[9] All eating disorders and unholy eating are a result of disobeying this initial decree. Rectifying our relationship with “the Tree” entails elevating our eating. As we approach the final redemption, eating in holiness becomes increasingly more vital and proportionally more of a challenge. Perhaps eating problems affect women more than men, because it was the first woman who originally partook from the Tree of Knowledge. In addition, women pave the way for redemption; therefore we are in the forefront of enacting the final rectification through the challenge of elevating our eating. It is, therefore, essential that we put special effort into working on elevating what we eat and our ways of eating. When we begin working on eating for the sake of Heaven rather than to satisfy our cravings, unresolved emotional issues that had previously been numbed may surface. Holy eating is a gateway for reclaiming our emotional and spiritual health. Rav Tzadok HaKohen explains that every time we put food into our mouth, we have the choice of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, or eating like the tzadik who takes each bite from the Tree of Life.

Recreating our Lost Paradise through Holy Eating
Eating in holiness is not only for the great spiritual masters. If this were true what would happen to the holy sparks that fell into the food of regular people? Everyone has the opportunity to extract holy sparks and force away waste and husks, through eating healthy foods with proper intention.

Eating only what our bodies need, while recognizing the Creator of our food through appropriate blessings, has great ramifications upon all levels of reality. Since the good and holy originally became mixed and fell to the husks through eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the very meaning of human existence is separating the sparks from the husks through elevating our eating. By working on eating in holiness, and recognizing Hashem as the source of our sustenance through reciting the appropriate blessings with pure intention, we have the opportunity to participate in recreating our lost Paradise.

Eating the Food of the Land
In addition to having proper intention during blessings, connecting with the land, moreover, help elevate holy sparks. Growing our own food and eating of the crop we have tended and prayed for helps us to realize how the food only grows by the blessing of Hashem. When we become partners with Hashem in working the land, we connect on a very deep level with the spiritual essence inherent in the food. Although it is important to grow our own food wherever we live, nothing compares to what grows in the Holy Land, where Hashem’s light shines directly. This is why the Torah emphasizes that Hashem fed us Manna until we could eat from the crop of the Land of Israel, to ensure that the transition from the holy food of heaven to the holy food of the Land.

The Process of Refined Eating: From Shevat to Shavuot
“A tzadik eats to sustain his soul, but the belly of the wicked is lacking.”[10] The month of Shevat is predisposed to learn to eat like the tzadik who eats in order to give life to his soul without any lust. He allows his stomach to release the sparks of Divine life-force contained within the food by breaking down the coarse food substance to finer part. When we reach this level we are able to indulge in eating and drinking on Purim, during the month of Adar following Shevat. This is the beginning of the process of Divine service that culminates with Pesach when we perform the mitzvah of eating the matzah. Since Tu b’Shevat is preparation for Pesach, which is preparation for receiving the Torah, it follows that Tu b’Shevat is preparation for Shavuot. The Torah was given in the month of Sivan, yet Moshe recited the repetition of the Torah (The Book of Devarim) during Shevat. Thus the month of Shevat is preparation for the Giving of the Torah – the Tree of Life, when we rectify eating from the Tree of Knowledge symbolized by the sacrifice of the two wheat breads.[11]

Aquarius – Water-carrier: Watering the World with the Light of Torah
The astrological sign of the month of Shevat is Aquarius or in Hebrew דְלִי/d’lee which literally means ‘water-carrier’ or ‘bucket.’ The root of the word דְלִי/d’lee means “to lift up,” as in the verse “…my eyes are lifted up to the most high.”[12] Likewise the job of the water-carrier is to draw water from the depth and elevate it. Although Israel is above the constellations, Aquarius is the sign of the Jewish people, because its sole purpose is to draw water, which represents Torah.[13] The task of the Jew in the world is to draw from the wisdom of the Torah and give drink to the rest of the world.

The Ba’al Shem Tov said that when one meets a water-carrier carrying pitchers full of water; it is a sign of blessing. The tzadik is a true manifestation of a water-carrier who draws from the wisdom of the Torah and shares it with others. Moshe, our Teacher, whose name means “from the water I have drawn you,” is noticed first by Yitro’s daughters as the man who “drew water for us and gave the sheep water too.”[14] Moshe personifies the task of the people of Israel to water the world with the light of wisdom.

Aquarians: Flexible, Open-Minded, Creative & Wise
People born during the month of Shevat are seekers of truth. They are idealistic, and capable of immense devotion. Being born during the month when Moshe taught the Torah anew, Aquarians are often intelligent, concise, clear and logical. Many are strongly imaginative and psychically intuitive. Aquarians embody the flexibility of water and are extremely open-minded. Due to their breadth of vision that brings diverse aspects into a whole, they are tolerant of other points of view. They also have the capacity to change their opinions, however firmly held, if evidence comes to light which persuades them that they have been mistaken. Just like the waters of Aquarius bring renewal, people born under the sign of Aquarius have a talent for originality. The letters of דְלִי/d’lee are the same as in ילד/yeled – child or יולד/yoled – giving birth. Both indicate creativity. Those born under Aquarius, have energy of fundamental change, a clear break from the past. With the New Year of the Tree as the center-piece of Shevat, people born during this month have an innate feeling of unity with nature, and may excel in fields of natural science and healing. This is the month to focus our attention to our connection with mother earth and in particular with the Land of Israel.

Shevat – A Month of the Sweet Water of Torah
During the month of Shevat we celebrate Tu b’Shevat – “The New Year of the Trees.” Actually, this minor holiday is mentioned in the Mishnah (Oral Torah), as “The New Year of the Tree” in singular, although there is more than one tree in the world. Kabbalah teaches that Tub’Shevat is the New Year of the particular Tree – “The Tree of Life,” planted in the midst of the Garden of Eden. It is through rectifying our relationship with this mystical Tree that we will ultimately return to our Promised Land.

Shevat is a month filled with blessings of renewal. It is an opportune time to elevate and spiritualize eating. Use the power of renewal to immerse yourself in the waters of Torah, nurture your personal vision, and bring forth the fruits of your own creativity.

[1] Mishlei 3:18.
[2] Devarim 1:3.
[3] Sefer Yetzirah 5:2.
[4] Rav Tzadok of Lublin, P’ri Tzadik, for Tu b’Shevat, 1.
[5] Shemot 15:25.
[6] Shemot 15:27.
[7] Mishlei 3:18.
[8] Shemot 24:11.
[9] Bereishit 2:6.
[10] Bereishit 2:6.
[11] Kedushat HaLevi, Collections.
[12] Yesha’yahu 38:14.
[13] B’nei Yissascher, Articles for the Month of Shevat, Article 2.
[14] Shemot 2:19.