God of all spirit, all directions, all winds You have placed in our hands power unlike any since the world began to overturn the orders of creation. . . .
Talmudic and midrashic sources contain hymns of the creation usually based on homiletic expansions of metaphorical descriptions and personifications of the created world in the Bible. The explicitly homiletic background of some of the hymns in Perek Shira indicates a possible connection between the other hymns and Tannaitic and Amoraic homiletics, and suggests a hymnal index to well-known, but mostly unpreserved, homiletics. The origin of this work, the period of its composition and its significance may be deduced from literary parallels. A Tannaitic source in the tractate Hagiga of the Jerusalem (Hag. 2:1,77a—b) and Babylonian Talmud (Hag. 14b), in hymns of nature associated with apocalyptic visions and with the teaching of ma’aseh merkaba serves as a key to Perek Shira’s close spiritual relationship with this literature. Parallels to it can be found in apocalyptic literature, in mystic layers in Talmudic literature, in Jewish mystical prayers surviving in fourth-century Greek Christian composition, in Heikhalot literature, and in Merkaba mysticism. The affinity of Perek Shira with Heikhalot literature, which abounds in hymns, can be noted in the explicitly mystic introduction to the seven crowings of the cock — the only non-hymnal text in the collection — and the striking resemblance between the language of the additions and that of Shi’ur Koma and other examples of this literature. In Seder Rabba de-Bereshit, a Heikhalot tract, in conjunction with the description of ma’aseh bereshit, there is a clear parallel to Perek Shira’s praise of creation and to the structure of its hymns. The concept reflected in this source is based on a belief in the existence of angelic archetypes of created beings who mediate between God and His creation, and express their role through singing hymns. As the first interpretations of Perek Shira also bear witness to its mystic character and angelologic significance, it would appear to be a mystical chapter of Heikhalot literature, dating from late Tannaitic — early Amoraic period, or early Middle Ages. . . .
From the Pri Etz Hadar, the first ever published seder for Tu Bishvat, circa 17th century: “speech has the power to arouse the sefirot and to cause them to shine more wondrously with a very great light that sheds abundance, favor, blessing, and benefit throughout all the worlds. Consequently, before eating each fruit, it is proper to meditate on the mystery of its divine root, as found in the Zohar and, in some cases, in the tikkunim, in order to arouse their roots above.” . . .
This Tu BiShvat haggadah focuses on healing the wounded Earth today, with passages on major policy questions facing the human race in the midst of a great climate crisis and massive extinctions of species. In each of the Four Worlds in this Haggadah (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) there are traditional, mystical, and poetical passages, and in each there are also contemporary passages on aspects of public policy (Earth: food and forest; Water: fracking; Air: climate; Fire: alternative and renewable energy sources.) These policy-oriented passages help make this a distinctive Haggadah. After these passages, this Haggadah encourages Seder participants to take time for discussion. They may also decide to omit some passages and/or add others. The desire for such a Haggadah grew from discussions of the Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental organizations. Thanks to Judith Belasco, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Sybil Sanchez, Rabbi David Seidenberg, Richard Schwartz, Rabbi David Shneyer, and Yoni Stadlin for comments on an earlier draft of this Haggadah. . . .
Tu biShvat, the 15th of the month of Shevat, was designated by the Talmud as the New Year for the Trees. It was tax time for HaShem, a time of tithing for the poor. This tithing has its origin in the following Torah verse: “Every year, you shall set aside a tenth part of the yield, so that you may learn to revere your God forever.” The Kabbalists of 17th century Safed developed the model of tikkun olam that we embrace today — healing the world by gathering the scattered holy sparks. To encourage the Divine flow — shefa — and to effect Tikkun Olam, the Kabbalists of Safed (16th century) created a Tu biShvat seder loosely modeled after the Passover seder. In recent decades we have learned how the well being of trees is intimately connected to the well being of all creation. This relationship is clearly stated in the following Midrash: “If not for the trees, human life could not exist.” (Midrsh Sifre to Deut. 20:19) Today the stakes of environmental stewardship have become very high. Tu biShvat calls upon us to cry out against the enormity of destruction and degradation being inflicted upon God’s world. This degradation includes global warming, massive deforestation, the extinction of species, poisonous deposits of toxic chemicals and nuclear wastes, and exponential population growth. We are also deeply concerned that the poor suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation. Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote: “[Human beings have] indeed become primarily tool-making animal[s], and the world is now a gigantic tool box for the satisfaction of [their] needs…” . . .
Ḥaza”l suggest that at this season in particular, we honor the spirits of our friends and teachers, the trees. On Rosh HaShanah La’Ilan, the New Year of The Tree, we connect with the spirits of those trees. According to Rabbi Tzvi Elimelekh of Dinov (B’nei Yissakhar):
. . .
From [the Holy One’s] form/to’ar the constellations are shimmering, and God’s form projects the exalted ones. And Her crown blazes [with] the mighty, and His garment flows with the precious. And all the trees will rejoice in the word, and the plants will exult in His rejoicing, and His words shall drop as perfumes, flowing forth flames of fire, giving joy to those who search them, and quiet to those who fulfill them. . . .
The four teachings above are connected with the Four Worlds that the kabbalists saw as the architecture of the universe. When the Kabbalistic community of Tz’fat created the Seder for Tu BiShvat/ Yah BiShvat, they unfolded these Four Worlds in four cups of wine and four sorts of fruit and nuts (one sort so ethereal it was invisible and untouchable). This year, the full moon of Shvat will fall on Shabbat Shira itself, January 24-25. . . .
The Tu Bishvat seder is a metaphor. But usually we use metaphor in our daily lives to accomplish, persuade, inspire or explain. There is something we’re bending metaphor to accomplish. This meditation is an exercise in free-thinking. Here, just play with metaphor for the sake of expressing and exploring your emotional state, history, anticipations and apprehensions. Each of the quotations from the Torah or rabbinical writings below represents an emotion. After we say the blessing over the olives, read the quotations, pick one (or more) that resonate, and play with the metaphor to reach a deeper understanding of yourself and others. . . .
In the wake of the continued uprooting of fruit trees and human settlements in the Land of Israel, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights shared the following petitionary prayer. . . .
We call to sukkat shalom, the shelter of peace, all of our various selves To rest from the contortion of social life and the demands of others. We liberate ourselves and each other from roles and titles labels and closets positions and pretendings internalized oppressions and oppressive projections hierarchies and competition. . . .
Through eating those fruits that our sages of blessed memory identified as the fruit of the tree of knowledge, we recall the best of creation, in its beauty and completeness. We remember that every human being, by virtue of being a human being, is the pinnacle of creation. Our task as caretakers is to preserve the world, to work it, and to repair it. Our task is to make the State of Israel more just, so that she will be a blessing to all of her inhabitants and those who love her. . . .
This is the month when we tell the story Of the escape from the narrow place. This is the month of Shabbat Shirah, When we sing the song of liberation. We give thanks for freedom. This is the month when we talk of wine and nuts and fruit, The New Year of the Trees. This is the month of Tu Bishvat When we eat the gifts of our planet. We give thanks to the earth. . . .
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