Monday, 2 February 2015

Tu Bishvat - Fixing the Original Sin

Being a rabbi, I don't get to hear many classes or talks given by speakers. But at SBH we have a learning Shabbat every four to six weeks. At these learning Shabbatot, different rabbis, educators and congregants give a twenty minute class. This past Shabbat I had the pleasure of listening to my wife's presentation on the "Roots of Tu Bishvat". This blog is based on her shiur. Click here to read the source material

Tu Bishvat is first mentioned in the first mishna in Masekhet Rosh Hashana. The topic of the mishna is the different New Years in our calendar. The date for the New Year for trees is an argument between Bet Shammai (1st of Shevat) and Bet Hillel (15th of Shevat). We hold with Bet Hillel and the New Year for trees is the 15th of Shevat. This date is significant in agricultural terms but for those of us who are not farmers there is very little relevance. The mishna and the Talmud make no reference to this being a festive day or a day for eating fruits and wine with friends and family so where does that come from?

Although the English translation of the phrase ראש השנה לאילן is New Year for the trees. The truth is that אילן is in the singular. So what tree is the mishna referring to? According to the Kabbalists there is a deep connection between Tu Bishvat and the tree in the Garden of Eden - עץ הדעת טוב ורע - the tree of knowledge. This was the one tree that God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from. But as we all know, this was the tree that they couldn't resist.

It is a point of discussion in the Talmud (Masekhet Berakhot 40a) of what type of fruit the tree was. You are all thinking an apple tree? Well not exactly. The Talmud posits three possibilities.

"Rabbi Meir holds that the tree of which Adam ate was the vine, since the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine, as it says, And he drank of the wine and was drunken. Rabbi Nehemiah says it was the fig tree, so that they repaired their misdeed with the instrument of it, as it says, 'And they sewed fig leaves together'. Rabbi Yehuda says it was wheat, since a child does not know how to call ‘father’ and ‘mother’ until it has had a taste of grain."

The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbi 15:7) adds "Rabbi Abba of Acco said that the fruit referred to the etrog as the verse states ‘and the woman saw that the tree was good’. Go forth and see, what tree is it whose wood can be eaten just like its fruit, and you find none but the etrog" So where does the apple idea come from? The etrog was known in Ancient Greek as the golden apple.

There is a lot more to Tu Bishvat than just eating fruit and wine. The 16th Century Kabbalists under the Arizal established the Seder Tu Bishvat with a particular order and sequence. The idea being that by eating these particular foods we are repairing the original sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. We eat from the seven species connected to the Land of Israel - wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Firstly to keep us connected to Israel and second to repair the sin of Adam and Eve who may have eaten from one of these fruits. Some also have the custom to eat etrog jam on Tu Bishvat too.

Have a wonderful and meaningful Tu Bishvat!

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