The Transformation of the Tu B’Shvat Seder
Parents are not kidding around when they tell their children to eat their fruits and veggies. In the World to Come, Hashem will judge us for the times we’ve passed up opportunities to eat fruits, according to the Talmud Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 4:12). Parents may value fruits for their healthy benefits; however, in Judaism, fruits’ significance stems from their potential to increase the world’s spirituality.
It is taught (Chemdat Yamim 2:3:108) that an angel holds power over every life form — fruits included. Saying a bracha over a fruit strengthens the angel’s providence over that type of fruit. By contrast, for every fruit uneaten (resulting in the loss of a potential bracha), the world loses potential spiritual influence.
For the majority of the year, we tend to forget and neglect fruits, but on Tu B’Shvat, we celebrate fruit’s spiritual role. Over the years, many Jewish people have taken to commemorating the holiday with a Kabbalistic Tu B’Shvat seder. During these seders, one acknowledges and appreciates the individual spiritual aspects of a variety of fruits.
One section of the Kabbalistic seder particularly mirrors the better-known Pesach seder. Everyone at the table drinks four cups of wine: the first white, the second white with a drop of red, the third an even mixture, and the fourth red with just a drop of white. The Zohar (1:192a) analyzes the two colors of wine: The pure white represents kindness, while the harsher red symbolizes strength and judgment.
Most people appreciate kindness; on the other hand, judgement is usually met with hesitation and fear. In this section of the seder, participants focus on accepting, and ultimately appreciating, qualities one tends to view with contempt. As the seder progresses, while the wine transforms from white to red, one learns not only to appreciate Hashem’s kindness, but His judgment as well. Throughout the seder, fruits accompany the wine and foster a similar transformative process for a variety of personal character traits.
After pouring the cup of white wine, the table brings the first group of fruits containing an inedible shell or peel. The outer layer represents impurity, while the edible fruit inside symbolizes holiness and perfection. At this point, everyone at the table pauses to meditate on a personal trait they dislike. As one throws away the fruits’ impure outside, they should mentally discard their negative trait.
Then, a drop of red wine is added to a second cup on white wine, and the participants eat fruits with an inedible center. In contrast to the first fruits, the tainted pit is surrounded by pure fruit. This represents the possibility of holiness growing out of impurity. One should think back to their unwanted trait, but try to imagine it developing into something great. The trait can transform from a fault into an asset.
Next, everyone pours a cup of red and white wine. This time they enjoy fruits with edible seeds. While the fruit does contain seeds, these seeds no longer represent contamination. All parts of the fruit, just as all personal traits, have become virtues.
Lastly, each person drinks a cup of red wine with only a single drop of white. With this wine, it is time to bring out the best-smelling fruits. These untainted, fragrant fruits symbolize true spirituality. After all, the sense of smell is the purest and most elevated: Hashem gave Adam his soul through his nose, as the Torah says, “God breathed into man’s nostrils a breath of life” (Bereshit 2:7).
The Tu B’shvat seder guides participants through a spiritual transformation. One realizes that their characteristics require no change, rather their perspective. By altering the way we view, approach, and work with ourselves, we realize that ultimately we control who we are. However, the goal is not to discard the traits we dislike, rather, we should see how to use each part of us positively. Hashem intentionally created us in a specific way. Each part of us was deliberately given; our job is to determine for what purpose.