One of the highlights of the Passover
seder is the recitation of the four questions
which consider how the night of Passover differs
from all the other nights of the year. Similar
questions are appropriate for Tu B’Shvat
because of the many ways that this holiday differs
from Passover and all other days of the year.
While four cups of red wine (or
grape juice) are drunk at the Passover seder,
the four cups drunk at the Tu B’shavat
seder vary in color from white to pink to ruby
While Passover is a holiday of
springtime, Tu B’Shvat considers the changing
seasons from winter to autumn, as symbolized
by the changing colors of the wine or grape
juice, to remind us of God’s promise of
renewal and rebirth.
While Passover commemorates the
redemption of the Israelites, Tu B’Shvat
considers the redemption of humanity, as the
kabbalists of Safed who inaugurated the Tu B’Shvat
seder regarded the eating of the many fruits
with appropriate blessings and kavannah (intentions)
on Tu B’Shvat as a tikkun (repair) for
the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden
While other Jewish holidays honor
or commemorate events and people, Tu B’Shvat
honors trees, fruits, and other aspects of nature.
While people generally eat whatever
fruits are in season, on Tu B’Shvat people
try to eat fruits from Israel, especially fruits
mentioned in the Torah.
While people generally take the
environment for granted, on Tu B’Shvat
there is an emphasis on the proper stewardship
of the environment.
While people do not generally
think about trees in the winter, there is much
interest in trees on Tu B’Shvat, although
the spring is still months away.
While people generally think of
Israel as the land of the Bible, as the Jewish
people’s ancestral home, and as the modern
Jewish homeland, on Tu B’Shvat people
think of Israel in terms of its orchards, vineyards,
and olive groves.
While people generally think of
fruit as something to be purchased at a supermarket
or produce store, on Tu B’Shvat people
think of fruit as tokens of God’s kindness.
While people generally try to
approach God through prayer, meditation, and
study, on Tu B’Shvat people try to reach
God by eating fruit, reciting blessings with
the proper feelings, and by considering the
wonders of God’s creation.
While many people eat all kinds
of food including meat and dairy products during
most Jewish holidays and on most other days,
the Tu B'Shvat Seder in which fruits and nuts
are eaten, along with the singing of songs and
the recitation of Biblical verses related to
trees and fruits, is the only sacred meal where
only vegetarian, actually vegan, foods are eaten
as part of the ritual.
While people generally look on
the onset of a new year as a time to assess
how they have been doing and to consider their
hopes for the new year, Tu B’Shvat is
the New Year for Trees, when the fate of trees
While most Jewish holidays have
a fixed focus, Tu B’Shvat has changed
over the years from a holiday that initially
marked the division of the year for tithing
purposes to one in which successively the eating
of fruits, then the planting of trees in Israel,
and most recently responses to modern environmental
crises have became major parts of the holiday.
Shlomo Carlebach once quipped
that the most important Jewish holidays are
the ones that are least celebrated. While there
has been increasing interest in Tu B’Shvat
recently, this holiday that is so rich in symbolism
and important messages for today is still not
considered to any great extent by most Jews.
Let us hope that this will soon change and that
an increased emphasis on Tu B’Shvat and
its important lessons will help revitalize Judaism
and shift our imperiled planet to a more sustainable