a Tu B’ Shevat collection to brighten the last months of winter.
What is Tu B’ Shevat?
Jewish mystics called this time the birth of the Tree of All Life; the birthday of creation. It falls on the full moon of the month of Shevat (roughly January to February) when it is said all trees have their birthday. It is a time full of beautiful stories, creativity and wonder at the splendor of life, as winter begins to melt into spring. Linking to many other nearly forgotten late winter world festivals, celebrating the thaw and promise of warmer days, it is a festival of hope for all humans and fellow creatures. At the same time, those south of the equator tend and plant trees and harvest and share their produce.
A special meal is eatten made entirely of different varieties of nuts and fruits, and white and red wine or grape juice that is slowly blended to from clear through rose to mainly red to emulate both creation and the changing season. This is called the Tu B’Shevat seder or Peri Eitz Hadar which is loosely translated as book of the insider or initiate. It is a participatory story of the creation of the world, or Tree of Life through different realms of spiritual manifestion and conciousness that are connected to different aspects of our souls, and different elements in nature.
The practice has evolved into many interpretations, and they have fairly deep roots. This seder dates back to the middle ages and primarily Sephardic Jews including Issac Luria and a place called Safed, were Jewish mysticism gave birth to kabballah. They in turn based it on wisdom from Torah, nature and midrash. I’ve long been intrigued by someone called Antonia Francessca, who it was reported was deeply helpful in her dreams and interpretations to the largely male kabbalists known of the time. My interest raised, of course, by the similarity in our names, but also because she was an influencial woman we know only through the reports of men.
The Tree of Life is an image that can be found across so many ancient cultures and different faiths. This makes sense because it embraces all life-forms. From Yggdrasil of the Norse, Hinduism to ancient American cultures, from China to Germany, ancient Iran and ancient Mesopotamia to Buddism, Islam, Christianity and the Bahai faith. The commonality of this beautiful imagery that reminds us of our connection to nature, fellow creatures and fellow humans, while also honouring diversity, has always been something that makes me hopeful in the most tangible ways. I think of this and I am lifted. Humans are one branch with many shoots.
The Tree of all Life is said by Jews to be created by the vibrations of letters, or the word of the Divine, Tu B’ Shevat is a time of poetry and tales old and new. It is also a celebration and protection of nature.
In the agricultural year only trees over 3 years old can be harvested for fruit, and then only to give to those most in need. On year 5 and after, a percentage was always to be given to those struggling and those without land or home. It has become a festival of environmentalism and social justice. (For source material see Leviticus 19:23-25)
It is also the month of my birthday. By the Hebrew calender I was born just past the new moon. Jewish months always begin on the first sliver of the moon. The secular/Gregorian calender measures time differently. I wanted to reach out and share it this year, with narratives of hope and resilence for anyone who needs it.
It is a time of year associated by many with the blues, but this birthday of the Tree of Life, and these festivals of life-welcoming can help break through the ice of a difficult year and add candles to our daily lives.
“She is a Tree of Life for all who embrace her, and all of her ways are branches of blessing.”Proverbs 3:18