You may have heard of a Passover seder, but did you know that many people celebrate Tu BiSh’vat with seders also?
With the revival of Jewish mysticism—kabbalah—in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Tu BiSh’vat received renewed attention and importance. The kabbalists created a special ritual, modeled after the Passover seder, which celebrated God’s presence in the natural world. As the rituals and readings for the Tu BiSh’vat seder developed, they were eventually collected into a book, Pri Etz Hadar, (The Fruit of the Goodly Tree), which was published in 1753.
The Tu BiSh’vat seder, full of imagery and symbolism, is divided into four sections that represent the four seasons. This seder also is divided into four mystical “spheres,” each of which represents a different relationship between humans and the earth: Assiya (Actualization), Yetzira (Formation), Beriah (Creation), and Atzilut (Nobility).
As with the Passover seder, the Tu BiSh’vat seder evolved to include four cups of wine or grape juice, but in varying shades of red, which represent the seasons: white for the bleak time of winter, white with a bit of red to represent the earth’s awakening in early spring, red with a bit of white representing the blossoming of late spring, and dark red to represent the fullness of all the growing plants and vegetation along with the heat of summer.
Many of our contemporary Tu BiSh’vat haggadot (texts that set forth the order of the seder) draw on its rituals. Often we group the fruits into three types: fruits with tough outer shells and edible interiors (melons, peanuts, pomegranates, coconuts, citrus, etc), fruits with edible exteriors and inedible pits (dates, olives, plums, peaches, apples, etc) and fruits that are entirely edible (berries, figs, grapes, etc). These are said to represent different seasons and/or ways of being in the world, often following kabbalistic categories.