Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
How to make a Kabbalstic Tu Bishvat Seder
The Tu Bishvat seder is a Kabbalistic ritual meal in honor of the Mishnaic New Year for the Tree. We travel through the four worlds of Kabbalah from the beginning to the end of the Tu Bishvat seder in order to strengthen the Tree, that is, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
On the simplest level, the four worlds can be thought of as levels of intimacy with God. At the lowest level (Asiyah) we see and create divine patterns in the physical world, while at the highest level (Atzilut) we stand alongside God's sustaining power, merging our will into the divine.
The goal of the seder is to draw all these levels close together and to unite their ko'ach, power, and shefa, overflowing energy, to the fertility of the earth and the trees themselves, so that both physical and spiritual abundance will express themselves in this world.
The four worlds in the original seder also represent the transition from winter to spring, though in modern seders one often finds them associated with the four seasons or the four elements -- which invokes the idea that we are unifying the diverse aspects of Creation.
Another modern interpretation is that the different levels of the seder and specifically the kind of fruit for each level represents different levels of symbiosis between ourselves and the fruit trees. The lowest level of fruit is one where we destroy the seed by eating it. The highest level of fruit, like apples, grapes, etc, is also the highest level of symbiosis, where we can swallow the seeds and excrete them, thereby benefiting the seeds as much as the fruit benefits us.
The original Tu Bishvat seder describes the divine image as being embedded in the heavens and mirrored in the earth, creating symmetry between the highest realms and the lowest. God gave this symmetry to the universe "to join the tent together to become one".
We have the task of seeing and deepening this unity, in our intentions, prayers, and senses, as we taste the fruit and drink the wine of the seder. Just as it is our unique power according to Kabbalah to drive the sparks of divine energy into exile, it is also our unique power and privilege to draw these sparks back together, and, as the original Tu Bishvat seder states, to restore them to the Tree of Life.
Through our intentionality, we engage ourselves with the image of God that can be found in the created world. When we do this in order to bring blessing to all of creation, we also bring blessing to ourselves, and ultimately back to God. Our consciousness then becomes a vessel which provides for all and receives blessing for all.
The blessing prayer from the Pri Etz Hadar can be used in a few ways. It can be read at the beginning of the seder as a map or kavannah (intention) for what is to come. It can be used as a study text. It can be read at the end of the seder, as a vision of what the seder journey means``. The last way of using the prayer is what seems to work best with people who have not studied Kabbalah. Various versions of the blessing can be found on neohasid.
The seder starts with white wine (or juice) and fruit with a hard shell (e.g. nuts) at the first level, where material reality and separateness are strongest. Traveling upwards (from the branches to the roots of the Tree of Life), we taste white with a drop of red along with fruit with a pit, then half white and half red along with fruit without shell or pit, and finally red with a drop of white and sweet smells that represent the worlds of pure spirit. A simple way to organize this is to put all the fruits of one category onto their own plate.
Citrus in the original seder is counted as wholly edible fruit, since we can use the peel for food. Some people place citrus at the level of fruit with a shell, however, since we usually discard the peel. But by the logic of ecological relationships, citrus certainly belongs at the highest level, since we can swallow and excrete the seed without harming it.
As we move symbolically from one world to the next, each level is an opportunity for a new blessing over fruit, and especially a chance to say an additional blessing of Shehechiyanu over a fruit not yet tasted since Rosh Hashanah. However, unlike the traditional Ashkenazi Pesach seder, a blessing for wine is only said over the first cup. The form of different blessings for tasting and smelling is shown in boxes on the chart.
In between each step of tasting and sensing, there are a opportunities to share, interpret, sing and discuss. A seder leader can come prepared with texts, poetry, songs, even pictures or objects, appropriate for each level, according to his or her interpretation. But participants can also be invited to bring something for specific levels. A more challenging way to do this is to invite people to bring to the seder anything related to trees or the earth, and then to decide together at the start of the seder itself where each of their offerings should be shared.
The chart represents each step of the seder, flowing from the bottom to the top, as a circle with varying attributes. At each level corresponding to the four worlds, we mix a certain color of wine and encounter a certain kind of fruit (or for the forth most refined level, a sweet-smelling fruit or plant), according to that level.
Traditionally, the Kabbalistic seder consisted of eating ten types of fruit for each of the first three levels (i.e. ten kinds of nut, ten pitted fruits, etc.), along with reading a paragraph from the Zohar about that fruit. Unlike the traditional seder (and unlike many other rituals in Judaism), this One-page Haggadah depends on leaders and participants to bring texts and teachings of their own choosing.
The schematic of the chart is designed to be open to many interpretations and interpreters. Each level can be interpreted psychologically, historically, politically, Kabbalistically, etc. A few concrete interpretations according to the seasons and elements are suggested on the chart itself. But the best way to use the One-Page Haggadah is for you to decide how the rhythm of the levels should unfold.The important thing is to experience the flow of the seder as a process with a purpose and direction.
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006