Mysticism and Making a Difference: Tu b’Shevat in Silver Spring

My local community group, the Kayamut Silver Spring Sustainability Circle, held our Tu b'Shevat Seder on February 7. It was the first time in a long time that I hosted a Tu b'Shevat Seder that was actually on Tu b'Shevat. So I wanted to make it special. Instead of being a mock seder or a model seder, it was a real seder and an opportunity to experience Tu b'Shevat for itself.

I know that Tu b'Shevat has mystical meaning in addition to the more modern, environmental meaning we've given to it. For this seder, I wanted to blend a little of the mystical back into our understanding of Tu b'Shevat. I believe that this mystical understanding is not only complementary, but supportive of our goals at a deep level .

To achieve this, I began by reading from Inviting G-d In, Rabbi David Aaron's book about the holidays. Regarding Tu b'Shevat, he writes:

"The Torah teaches that G-d created the world so that we could experience goodness in general and His goodness in particular. Experiencing His goodness — bonding with G-d — is the greatest joy imaginable… If we eat and enjoy the fruits of this world for G-d's sake — because this is what He asks of us — then we are actually serving G-d and bonding with him. We serve G-d by acknowledging that the fruits of this world are His gifts to us and by willingly accepting and enjoying those gifts… We connect to G-d by serving Him, and this means obeying His commandments to enjoy the fruits of this world." (p. 158-159)

Rabbi Aaron goes on to explain that the mystical significance of Tu b'Shevat is to receive pleasure and have this act transformed into an act of service of G-d. He writes:

"An apple is not just an apple; an apple is a blessing. Maybe I could believe that apples come from trees but a blessing could only come from G-d. If I really contemplate the mystery and miracle of the taste, fragrance, beauty, and nutrition wrapped up in this apple, I see that it's more than just a fruit – it is a wondrous loving gift from G-d. When I taste an apple with that kind of consciousness, I cannot but experience the presence of G-d within the physical."

Thus, we began our seder with a true appreciation of the fruit as a gift from G-d. We began the seder with Canfei Nesharim's fruit meditation, but this time I tweaked it so that we could focus on the fruit not just as a blessing in itself but as a gift — from G-d! All the way through the seder, when we ate fruit, we savored it and we experienced it as a gift. This is part of the mystical beauty of Tu b'Shevat.

Just today one of the participants told me that every time she slows down to eat, she remembers what we learned and how delicious food can be.

The other thing I was interested in was having this seder make a real difference. That's not always easy to do, especially with a Tu b'Shevat Seder. So many things are happening at any one time, and the program does not lend itself to action. But this time we had a special opportunity. The very next day, on Tu b'Shevat, a group of environmentalists were going to meet with our delegate to Maryland's legislature to talk about bringing wind power to Maryland. This is a campaign our group is already behind.

The fourth world of the Tu b'Shevat Seder is emanation. It's about transcending physicality and I like to use the time to appreciate the importance of things we cannot see. I always ask: what things are important that we can't see? It's a meaningful exercise. People often take a few minutes to figure out an answer. Someone always figures out that "air" is something we can't see that's very important. Later on, someone usually comes up with "love." The suggestion I made this time: "the opportunity to make a difference." It's something we often cannot see. It may take many years before you can see any change at all! The emunah, the faith that it is possible is all we have for a long time. And althought it's hard to see, the possibility of making a difference is incredibly important.

That gave me the opportunity to speak of something else that we can't see: wind. And our group did something unique (thanks to Joelle Novey for suggesting it!): we sent a Tu b'Shevat card to our Delegate (Del. Ben Kramer) thanking him for his support of renewable energy, a friendly but encouraging reminder that people in his district care about this. You can download the card here.

Another thing you can see? The ripples of the difference you might make before they spread out. I experienced that when our efforts were covered in the Washington Post the next week!

I believe that we all have something meaningful to contribute to the world. Maybe the key is just this: to believe in something you can't yet see!

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