Having a Tu B'Shvat Seder is a fun way to celebrate Tu B'Shvat. Invite good friends, eat good food, drink good wine, and read what Judaism has to say about nature!
* Below are Readings for Tu B'Shvat Seder compiled by Neot Kedumim - The Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel (POB 1007, Lod 71100, Israel. Tel. 08-923-3840, Fax 972-8-924-5881). Copyright 1996. Midrashim (rabbinic homilies) are paraphrased from the sources.
The grapevine is like a human community. The leaves are like the amei ha'artzot, the people of the land, who work the land and provide food for all, as the leaves sustain the plant through photosynthesis. The branches, which distribute what the leaves produce to the entire plant, are like the merchants who distribute goods to the entire community. The tendrils, which fasten the grapevine to its support, are like those who produce neither goods nor scholarship, but have a function in the community. The bunches of grapes are like the scholars, who cannot survive without all the other parts of the grapevine/community. (Babylonian Talmud, Hulin 92b)
Why is the Torah compared to the fig?
1) Unusual among fruit trees, the fig can produce fruit over a long season, from Shavuot to Sukkot (late May to early October).
a) You cannot pick all the figs at once, but only gradually, over a long season. Similarly, you cannot learn the whole Torah at once, but only gradually, little by little, over an entire lifetime. (Midrash Numbers Rabba 12,9; 21,15)
b) Whenever you go to the fig tree, you are likely to find ripe fruit to eat. Similarly, whenever you go to the Torah, you will find nourishment for the spirit. (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 54a, b)
2) Most fruits have inedible parts: dates have pits, grapes have seeds, pomegranates have skins. But every part of the fig can be eaten. Similarly, no part of the Torah is without value; all parts of it provide sustenance. (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, Joshua 2)
Dates grow in desert oases, such as Jericho, which was famous for its date palms. This midrash hinges on the Jericho date palms.
Just before Moses' death, he was shown the Promised Land that he would never enter. "Moses went up from the steppes of Moav to Mount Nevo, to the summit of Pisgah, facing Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land...as far as the Western Sea, the Negev, and the plain, the valley of Jericho, city of date palms...saying, this the land that I have let you see with your own eyes, but you shall not cross there" (Deuteronomy 34:1-4).
The midrash says that Moses, at this final moment before his death, was shown the Garden of Eden and the righteous walking there, through the date palms of Jericho: As Psalm 92 says: "The righteous shall flourish like the date palm tree... " (Psalm 92:13). (Yalkut Shimoni)
* * *
No part of the date palm is wasted:
The fruit is eaten,
the embryonic branches (lulav) are used for the Four Species of Sukkot,
the mature fronds can cover a sukka,
the fibers between the branches can make strong ropes,
the leaves can be woven into mats and baskets,
the trunks can be used for rafters.
Similarly, no one is worthless in Israel:
some are scholars,
some do good deeds,
and some work for social justice.
(Midrash Numbers Rabba 3.1)
If you remove one nut from a pile of walnuts, every nut in the pile will be shaken. Similarly, if one person sins, the whole community will suffer. (Midrash Song of Songs Rabba 1 on 6:11)
The almond, which needs little water, is the first fruit tree in Israel to wake from its winter dormancy, and bursts into bloom when the others are still bare and "asleep." The Hebrew name for almond is thus "shaked", meaning watchful, wakeful, diligent, or alert.
The almond often appears symbolically in the Bible:
"The Lord asked me: Jeremiah, what do you see?
I answered: I see a branch of an almond tree (shaked).
The Lord said to me:
You have seen right,
For I am watchful (shoked)
to bring My word to pass" (Jeremiah 1:11-12).