Make a holy table
The following teaching comes from the Zohar 2:154. This is Danny Matt's translation. This teaching expresses a strange idea -- that the table the bread sits on is more essential than the bread that sits on it. There are many ways to look at this idea, but one way that speaks to me is that the body is on some level more essential than the soul. Meaning -- we can't find or bring blessing into the world without the physicality -- the table -- the foundation. But the main idea is that the table is like a fruit tree, and the bread is the fruit--which makes this a great text to study on Tu Bishvat.
The question really is: how can we make our table a conduit of blessing for all creation, not just for ourselves? And applied to the Tu Bishvat seder -- how can we create a seder at our table that will truly accomplish the goal of Tu Bishvat, to bring abundance of life into the world, through eating and taking from the world with prayer and with holy intention?
A person's table entitles him to the world that is coming, entitles him to nourishment of this world, entitles him to be regarded favorably before the Ancient of Days (an especially venerable name for God), entitles him to add power and greatness where it is needed. Happy is the share of that person in this world and in the world that is coming!...
Rabbi Yaakov opened, saying, "You shall make me a table" (Ex 25:23)—this is a table below so that the bread of the Presence may be placed upon it. (Note: The verse refers to the table that was placed inside the mishkan/Tabernacle, and later in the holy Temple.) On it were twelve challah loaves, called the lechem hapanim (lit. "the bread of the face" – which were changed every week. After they were changed, the twelve that were replaced would get eaten by the priests.)
Which is superior to the other, the bread or the table? If you say that all is one, well, look, the table is set for that bread; the table is below and the bread is on it. However, the table is essential in its arrangement, to receive blessings from above and nourishment for the world. From the mystery of this table issues food to the world, as conveyed to and from above. And the bread is the fruit and food issuing from that table...If the vineyard did not exist, grapes, which are the fruit, would not exist. If there were no tree, fruit would not exist in the world. Therefore the table is the essence; the food issuing from it is that bread...
Because of the nourishing bread that the priests would gather, every item of food that they ate and drank was blessed, so that the evil impulse could not attack them; for the evil impulse appears only because of food and drink, as is written: "Lest I eat and be satiated...and forget the name of my God..." (Deut. 8:12 and Prov. 30:9) This bread...blesses the food of the priests, so that the Accuser will not appear, preventing them from serving the Holy One with a whole heart. The priests need this more than all of the people.... (Note that on Tu Bishvat we are all serving as priests for Creation.)
The table must be arranged on the north side, as is written: "The table you shall place on the north side." (Ex 26:35, again about the mishkan/Tabernacle) Why? Because from there begins joy. The left (north = left) always receives first from the right and then arouses toward Nukva/the Female; afterward the right draws Her near and She cleaves to Him... (The flow of blessings into the world must pass through Binah/the left and from there to Shekhinah/Malkhut/Nukva, which conducts the blessings into the world. In doing so, the process also leads the divine masculine and feminine to become united.)
The Zohar goes on to describe why we do mayim achronim (lit. "after water") – why people traditionally wash the ends of their fingers at the end of the meal before saying blessings. The reason is that even the "evil side" still needs to get nourished from our table, and this small amount of water is enough to sustain it. By doing this, we satisfy it and so free ourselves to make the blessings after the meal and create blessing in the world.