Tu B’Shvat, 5767 / 2007
A Still Small Voice
המליק אות צדיק בלעיטה…שבט בשנה וקורקבן בנפש
HaShem made the letter tsadik rule over fressing (indulgent eating), Shvat in the year and the gizzard in the soul.
So, based on this tradition from the Sefer Yetzira, we all know that this month brings lights for the rectification of eating, although it’s interesting that the word used is לעיטה, and not אכילה. לעיטה is more gluttonous. It’s the word that Essav uses when he comes in from the field, famished, and asks Yaacov to “stuff some of the red stuff you’re cooking down my throat.”
יֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו אֶל יַעֲקֹב הַלְעִיטֵנִי נָא מִן הָאָדֹם הָאָדֹם הַזֶּה כִּי עָיֵף אָנֹכִי עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמוֹ אֱדוֹם:
For these words, his generations carry the name Edom, today. Selling his birthright (selling his soul) for food…but that’s another story.
And since the letter associated with the month is צדי, (which the Zohar always refers to as צדיק) it is clear that our striving toward tsidkut is somehow deeply connected with the tikun of eating. The sefer yetzira is letting us know that a tsadik is someone who has rectified his or her eating. And although eating is much more than simply taking food into one’s mouth…material acquisition, sexuality, honor-seeking, addiction to power, praise, drugs, or even attention are also forms of eating…nevertheless it seems that all these other ways of metaphorically eating are encapsulated in our literal eating.
And although this striving to bring tikun to eating is a practice and awareness that we should bring to every meal of the month (or year for that matter) the Tu B’Shvat meal is an especially propitious opportunity to do this kind of work.
I want to back track for a moment and remind everyone that the first sin in our universe was on of improper eating. Adam and Chava ate from the Tree of Knowledge and brought its impurity inside themselves, and ultimately inside the whole world.
And so now, on Tu’B’Shvat we’re here to fix all that. Rav Tsadok HaKohen explains that at our Tu’B’Shvat table we are reenacting what life was like for Adam and Chava before their sin, for it they were fruitarians. And they had two explicit commandments. One positive and one negative, and both were related to eating. One can only conclude that the primary focus of their spiritual life was eating as a spiritual practice. Last frontier…
מִכֹּל עֵץ הַגָּן אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל: וּמֵעֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ
Surely eat from all the trees of the garden [a positive command]…but don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge [their negative command].
So when we sit before our Tu B’Shvat spread, our table filled with fruits of every sort, it is as if we have returned to Gan Eden, and are fulfilling the one explicit positive commandment that we received there. We are fulfilling the most ancient commandment in the Torah (except for “to be fruitful and multiply”). Its really pretty awesome in its simple way.
Yet how do we fulfill the negative commandment of not eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Especially since many of the fruits of our table are suspected of being the infamous forbidden Tree of Knowledge. One rabbi says it was a fig, another says grape, another wheat…in fact for all the ז’ מינים there is an opinion that it was the forbidden tree.
So it seems like we’re doing the same thing again. We’re obeying the positive command while violating the negative one. It can’t be that we’re so far gone, that we are brazenly disobeying HaShem’s command and eating דווקא from the Tree of Knowledge (i.e. olives, dates, etc) and calling it a mitzvah.
So what’s going on. Rav Tsadok explains that the Tree of Knowledge was all of the seven minim and none of them at the same time. He explains that the Tree of Knowledge was not one fruit as opposed to another. He says that, in fact, the Tree of Knowledge was not a tree or a food or a thing at all. Rather it was a “way” of eating. Whenever a person grabs pleasure from the world, he falls in that moment from G-d consciousness and eats from the Tree of Knowledge.
What does it mean to grab pleasure. It means to get so distracted by the pleasure of the consumption that we forget about HaShem. We take the gift and leave the giver behind.
And so, at our Tu B’Shvat seder we have a special opportunity to rectify Adam’s sin. We are fulfilling his positive command by eating all this variety of fruits, and we can also fulfill his negative command and in so doing rectify his sin (which was also our sin) by this time not eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which means not to forget about HaShem while we’re eating our fruit and enjoying its taste and satiation.
In the moment of our chewing, tasting, enjoying, swallowing the fruits, we should close our eyes and thank HaShem, meditate on His name, commune prayerfully in your heart, or whatever is your way.
We also have a magic tool that Adam and Chava lacked. Our brochot before and after eating at least bracket the act of eating with remembrance. They serve as a kind of damage control. Even if we get distracted by the pleasure of the eating itself, we surround that moment with remembrance and so, even if we can’t hold remembrance throughout the entire act of eating, at least we should try very hard to say our brochot with kavanna at this time.
And so, on the Tu B’Shvat seder (or even if you don’t have a seder, but are just eating fruits in honor of the day) it is as if we are transported back to Gan Eden, and are given the opportunity to revisit that fateful event, and this time to do it right. It’s a therapeutic process, as well as an opportunity for deep soul fixing. By this time, fulfilling both commandments we bring a powerful healing to that first root of all sin, disease, imbalance and neurosis in the universe.
Bless us that as individuals, as groups and as members of the community of Israel and the larger world community that we should, through our Tu B’Shvat celebration, draw the special lights of this time into the deepest depth of our souls, bringing light and trust and healing there, and in so doing contribute, in our small way, to the six millennial process of tikun olam. May all that we do be pleasing in HaShem’s eyes.