Author Archives: evolvingjudaism
For a more in depth, ecological, and super meaty take on Tu B’Shvat check out Reb David’s offering:
While explanations of the significance of Tu B’Shvat laid largely dormant during and immediately following the rabbinic period, the kabbalists of the Middle Ages ultimately developed the Tu B’Shvat Seder as a means of articulating God’s cosmic significance in our world. This ritual ultimately became outlined in the Peri Eitz Hadar, a text of the Seder that is normally ascribed to the kabbalistic movement of sixteenth century Tzafat under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Luria.
The Peri Eitz Hadar is divided into four sections, each of which describes how the specific foods of the ritual are meant to be eaten, and includes a number of biblical, rabbinic, and, in particular, kabbalistic and zoharic texts about the holiday. While the ritual is similar to the way in which many of us observe a Tu B’Shvat Seder today, in terms of the foods eaten and the rituals recited, in many ways, the purpose of the ritual is not merely to eat certain foods and recite certain blessings, but to think about how what we eat and receive from trees bounds us up in God’s cosmic order.
According to Miles Krassen, “Implicit here is a notion of sacred cosmology, which is not limited to material existence. The kabbalists’ faith involves a hierarchy of worlds that are ontologically higher than the material world. These worlds are populated by angels and spiritual forces that span the ontological regions that separate humanity and the material world from God. Moreover, the forces in these worlds serve as conduits and sources for the divine energy that becomes manifest in nature and in Creation in general.”
-Joshua Rabin for JDC Europe
Incredible link to the “Open Siddur Project” and their Pri Etz Hadar translation and explanation from Reb Miles Krassen.
This is a link to a detailed Tu B’Shvat Seder from Yitzchak Buxbaum. It’s a great guide to understanding the 4 Worlds, with inspiration and teachings for each individual World…
|Tu BShvat: Celebrating Pleasure|
|Written by Rabbi David Aaron|
|The celebration of Tu B’Shvat –the 15th of the month of Shvat on the Hebrew calendar– is not mentioned in the Bible. The oldest reference is found in the Talmud, where Tu B’Shvat is called “the new year of the trees.” The Talmud ascribes significance to this date only in terms of the legal implications of taking tithes (10%) from fruits. However, about 500 years ago, the Kabbalists revealed the deeper meaning of Tu B’Shvat. They taught that Tu B’Shvat is an opportune time for fixing the transgression of Adam and Eve. Amazingly, just through the simple act of eating fruit during the TuB’Shvat festive dinner, we are able to contribute to this cosmic repair.
But how? How are we fixing the transgression of Adam and Eve, according to the Kabbalists? First let’s explore the transgression of Adam and Eve, and then we can understand the mystical meaning of the Tu B’Shvat holiday, and why eating fruit is the way we celebrate it.
The Torah says that God put Adam and Eve in the garden “to work it and to guard it.” The Jewish oral tradition teaches us that this refers to the do’s and don’ts of the Torah. The do’s are called the positive mitzvot and the don’ts are called the negative mitzvot. Adam and Eve were given very little to do: eat from all the trees of the garden. And their only don’t—their single prohibition—was not to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What was that about?
The Torah teaches that God created the world so that we could experience goodness in general, and His goodness in particular. Experiencing His goodness—bonding with God—is the greatest joy imaginable. God empowers us to bond with Him by serving His purpose for creation. Just as when we do for others, we feel connected to them, so, too, serving God enables us to bond with Him. Ironically, serving God is actually self-serving—profoundly fulfilling and pleasurable.
If we eat and enjoy the fruits of this world for God’s sake—because this is what He asks of us—then we are actually serving God and bonding with Him. We serve God by acknowledging that the fruits of this world are His gifts to us and by willfully accepting and enjoying those gifts.
The root of Jewish life is, in fact, enjoyment—the pleasure of connecting to God. We connect to God by serving Him, and this means obeying His command to enjoy the fruits of this world.
While in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s entire obligation was to enjoy all the lush fruits—with the notable exception of one forbidden fruit. Sure enough, they went after that one. This misdeed demonstrated their confused orientation to the real meaning of pleasure. Rather than seeing the fruits as pleasurable because they are God’s gifts and enjoying them as part of their service to God, they wanted to partake of them independently of God—in fact, contrary to His will.
The Art of Receiving
As already explained, real pleasure is experiencing a connection with God. We enjoy the ultimate spiritual pleasure when we enjoy the physical pleasures of this world as part of our divine service. Then, the act of receiving and enjoying God’s gifts to us is amazingly transformed into a selfless act of serving God.
We can understand now that God’s only desire in giving Adam and Eve those two mitzvot was to give them the ultimate pleasure—bonding with Him. True pleasure was not in the taste of the fruits, but in eating and enjoying these gifts from God. This was the way to serve and connect with Him—the Ultimate Pleasure.
But Adam and Eve misunderstood this. They did not see physical pleasure as a conduit to the spiritual pleasure of bonding with God. Rather, they sought pleasure independent of God.
This is the root of all wrongdoing. Do we see the pleasures of this world as a gift from God, enjoying them in the service of God, and using them as conduits to a connection to God? Or, do we seek pleasure independent of any connection to God? In other words, is the pleasure about us, or is the pleasure about our relationship with God?
There is a fundamental difference between having pleasure and receiving pleasure. If we want to have pleasure, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Having pleasure is void of any connection to a reality greater than ourselves. It is simply a selfish desire to experience a particular pleasure for its own sake. Receiving pleasure, however, is rooted in the soul’s desire to serve God’s purpose, which is to receive the ultimate joy of connecting to Him.
Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, because they were totally confused about their purpose on earth and, consequently, what is truly pleasurable in this world. They were clueless about what would bring them meaning and joy in life.
Following Adam and Eve’s fatal mistake, God told them, “Because you ate from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from, the earth has become cursed.” God was not punishing the earth because of Adam and Eve’s transgression, rather He was informing them that their distorted orientation towards physical pleasures has turned the earth into a source of curse rather than blessing for them and for their descendants.
Depending on how we view the physical world, it is cursed or blessed. If we look at the physical world as a conduit to a connection with God, and if, as a service to God, we gratefully receive His gift of delicious fruits, we thereby experience His presence and the physical world becomes blessed. The physical world then becomes a bridge between the human and the divine. But if we fixate on the physical, independent of any relationship with God, and mistakenly perceive this world as the source of our pleasure rather than as a bridge to God, then this world becomes a barrier to God and a curse for us.
Now that we understand the transgression of Adam and Eve, we can begin to appreciate how we can contribute to its fixing on Tu B’Shvat.
On Tu B’Shvat, the new sap begins to rise up into the trees. And we bring abundance to this process when we celebrate Tu B’Shvat.
The Talmud says that more than the baby wants to suck, a mother wants to nurse. The mother not only gets tremendous pleasure from nursing her baby, but the flow of her milk is actually generated by its sucking. The more the baby wants to suck, the more milk the mother has to give. This principle also applies to our relationship to God.
God wants to give us the greatest of all pleasures which is a connection with Him. But if we don’t recognize that to be the greatest pleasure, and we don’t want it, then He can’t give it to us. Of course, God could give it to us, but it would just be a waste, because we wouldn’t recognize it for what it is.
The Power of a Blessing
On Tu B’Shvat, we attempt to fix the transgression of Adam and Eve when we enjoy the fruits of the earth preceded by the recitation of an appreciative blessing to God—“Blessed are you, God…..” in other words, “God, You are the source of this blessing.”
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 God. 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 God. When I taste an apple with that kind of consciousness, I cannot but experience the presence of God within the physical. When I recite a blessing before I eat and acknowledge it as a gift from God, I reveal the divinity within it, and the transient sensual pleasure of the food is transformed, because it is filled with eternal spiritual pleasure. The food then feeds not only my body but also my soul. However, when I eat without a blessing, it’s as if I stole the food. Perhaps it will nourish and bring pleasure to my body, but it will do nothing for my soul. The soul is only nourished when it experiences its eternal connection to God.
Tu B’Shvat is an opportune time to celebrate how eating and enjoying the fruits of trees can be a bridge to God, and how it can bring back the blessing to the earth.
When we enjoy the fruits of the previous year as wonderful gifts from God and affirm our yearning for God’s presence manifest in the fruit, we are like a baby sucking his mother’s milk with great appetite. We draw forth with great abundance the “milk of the earth”—the sap in the trees rises up with great abundance, so that they will bear much fruit in the coming year.
Unlike Adam and Eve who sought pleasure separate from God and who turned physical pleasure into a barrier to God, we—on Tu B’Shvat—enjoy the fruits as God’s gift and experience their pleasure as a connection to God. In this way we fix the transgression of Adam and Eve. We free the earth from being a curse for us—a barrier to God. We transform it into a bridge, so that it becomes a wellspring of blessing and God-given pleasure.
Excerpt from Rabbi Aaron’s upcoming book: Inviting God In: The True Meaning of the Jewish Holy Days, published by Trumpeter/Random House, available Aug. 2006, http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?1590303377.
MATAT’RON AND THE UNTOLD
MYSTERY OF CHANUKAH
“In the Jewish mystical tradition, Chanukah belongs to a period older than itself by close to 5,000 years, and refers to the great mystical master Chanoch, or Enoch, famous for being taken up into the Heavens alive (Genesis 5:24). Before this occurs, Chanoch is described as “walking God” (literal reading of the Hebrew). It is sort of like he gives God a guided tour of the Creation Manifested, and God in turn gives Chanoch a guided tour of Creation in Divine Thought until the two merge as one and Chanoch is taken up alive to become Matat’ron מטטרון, the highest of the angels (Zohar, Vol. 1, folio 27a and Vol. 3, folio 283a).
Chanoch is recorded as “walking God” twice (Genesis 5:22 and 24). He takes God on a tour of the darkness of the world and of the lightness of the world, of the positive and of the negative, of the hatred and of the love, of the sadness of the world and of the joyfulness of the world. And the more they walk together, the more the constricted pathways to Eden begin to loosen their tightness for Chanoch, to the point that he eventually finds himself in the primeval arena of Eden itself, the very cauldron of Genesis, the very Thought of God. And there, in turn, the angels impart to him wisdom from beyond the beyond and from within the within (Tosefot L’Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 277a).
At the beginning of Beginning, Genesis opens up with בראשית berei’sheet, which etymologically breaks down to two words: Bara ברא and שית Sheet. ברא means “Created”, or “Externalized”. שית means “Garment”. Creation is then described in the Torah as the drama of God moving Itself beyond Itself, externalizing an aspect of Its Inner Essence to become the Embodiment of Genesis, the Mantle of Creation, the Divine Space within which the unfolding of all would be enabled. As is written: “You enrobed Yourself in splendor and majesty; donned Light like a mantle” (Psalms 104:1-2).
This great Divine Light, however, slowly began to ebb as the world began to fall apart and humanity started ripping at the seams (Genesis 6:6). And the angels rolled their eyes and restrained themselves from saying to God: “See? We told you so. We warned you to leave well enough alone and not create Humans” (Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 8:6). But lo and behold! In the arena where only angels can flourish, walked now a mortal, a man named Chanoch, who was gradually becoming enrobed in the very Light that was slip-sliding away from Creation. Here now walked a Human, elevating hope and possibility, and embodying all that was Divine, like the very angels who had once contested his existence altogether. And the Light returned to the world and remained to this day. For it is said that Chanoch, who is now Matat’ron, swoops down upon our world now and then to rekindle our dying hopes and illuminate the dimness of our long-forgotten dreams and visions of a better world. In the words of the Zohar, Chanoch – as Matat’ron — softens things for us when the world draws upon itself too much Divine Judgment (Tosefot L’Zohar, Vol. 2, folio 277b).
He is Chanoch. He is Chanoch, the angelic force responsible for our world. He is חנוכ to whose name is added the letter הwhich symbolizes this world (Talmud Bav’li, Menachot 29b), thus transforming his fuller name to חנוכה Chanukah (16th-century Rabbi Yeshayahu ben Avraham in Sefer Ha’Sh’LaH, Ha’ga’ho’t L’sefer B’reisheet, Va’yeshev, Miketz, Vayigash, Torah Ohr, Ch. 12 – Menorah). And so, every year when we approach the Winter Solstice, the period of ever-increasing darkness and ever-ebbing light, we draw from the inspiration of Chanoch, the kindler of Divine Light in the world, and we kindle our menorahs with ever-increasing flames as we scale the fence of Darkness back into Light on the other side of the Solstice. After all, it was Chanoch, as Matat’ron, who showed Moses the image by which he was to sculpt the original Menorah in the desert (Tikunei Zohar, folio 119b).”
“We can overcome the negative influences in our immediate environment, just as the Macabees conquered the Greeks and rededicated the holy Temple. The question is how? What does it mean to us today that the Greeks defiled all of the oil in the Temple then?
“Defiling the oil” at the individual level is a reference to the increased power and control of the person’s animal or natural soul in its battle with the divine soul for control of the body. Increased power of the animal soul means that a person’s spiritual senses are blocked giving them an increased awareness and pleasure in the physical world around them. Still, in the end, a small vial of pure oil will be found, sealed with the seal of the High Priest, and with this vial we are able once again to fully connect to holiness and light up the darkness around and inside us, as it says in Proverbs, “G-d’s candle is the soul of man”.
The ‘High Priest’ is the inextinguishable point of one’s Judaism….
How can this be? Do we live in some kind of fairy tale or dream that we can fall so low and still rise out of this deep pit? The answer is better than the question! “The hand of the High Priest is there to intervene. Maimonides describes how the High Priest must be: “His beauty and power is that he sits in the holy Temple the entire day, even his home must be in Jerusalem – whose name is derived from the words, “Yira shalem”, meaning total and encompassing awe – he never leaves”.
In the individual, the “High Priest” is the inextinguishable point of one’s Judaism, called Yechida of the soul, the 5th and highest level of the soul that is always tied to the Divine. Every other level of the person’s soul has a balancing evil counterpart, while Yechida is unique in its pristine purity and completeness, existing above all the others. The problem is that sometimes, especially when faced by a trial, this level of the soul, the High Priest within us, can fall asleep (Tanya ch. 19), and our vial of oil becomes hidden.
If we search, we will find….
Two ways exist to recover our vial of oil: The first is to find and connect ourselves to the High Priest in our generation. He is the Jewish leader who, like the High Priest of old, never leaves the “Temple”, never leaves holiness, just as the Jewish people were led to victory by the Priests during the battle with the Greeks. Only he is able to give to all those connected to him, their vial of oil that can light up the soul, even if it appears that all of the oil in us and around us has been contaminated. But, it is up to us to search, and if we search, we will find.
The second way is to totally immerse ourselves in the study of the Torah, especially the inner dimensions of Torah, which is compared to oil. It matters not if part of us says we do not need to study, or if we think we learned enough, or even if we completely understand what we are studying. Just as the Jewish armies were ready to battle to the death against the Greeks, we need to push ahead beyond our normal capacities and the limitation of our strength and intellect until, like our ancestors, we are victorious in the battle. This is why Chanukah is 8 days – the number eight representing “beyond nature”. Through our victory and the recovery of our vial of oil, two things will be accomplished: the destruction of the evil within us and the impact on those around us. And as the Torah promises, when you influence those around you, the impact on ourselves is 1000 times more.
We can see this hinted at in the first verse of parashat Miketz, “It was at the end of two years that Pharaoh dreamed and behold, he was standing by the Nile [in Hebrew, ‘Y’ohr’, like the word for ‘light’, ‘ohr’]”. Rebbe Bunim of Parshischa would say to read and interpret the verse as follows: It came time to end the years of Pharaoh’s dreaming (i.e. the evil part of our nature). So what did the person do? He stood by the source of the light (ohr), as the verse says: “The Mitzvah is the candle. and the Torah is the light.”‘
Shabbat Shalom & Happy Chanuka! Shaul
In the following meditation, the Ari introduces us to the mystical methods by which, in the merit of Chanukah, we draw down sublime holiness to lower realms rarely privy to such lofty divine light. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches that the holiday of Chanukah, whose name is rooted in the Hebrew word “chinuch”, meaning “education” or “becoming accustomed”, guides us in our constant struggle with the forces attempting to distance us from G-d – those of the power of impure imagination, or in Hebrew “m’damei”; by purifying our imaginative capabilities we are able to break the primary force behind all our negative qualities and illusions.(Likutei Halachot, hilchot Chanukah 1:1)
The word “m’damei”, whose numerical value (89) equals that of the word “Chanukah”, is rooted in the letters dalet and mem, which spell the Hebrew word for “blood”. Blood represents the negative powers of judgment, our mission it is to sweeten. Via the 44 (the numerical value of dalet, 4, and mem, 40) lights we kindle throughout Chanukah (including the shammas) and the awakening of consciousness they embody, the kelipot become nullified before us. As we witness so clearly in our times, all that seems to stand between our present situation and complete national (global) redemption is our resolve and clarity of our national (personal) will. In light of these insights, Chanukah, in which we celebrate our redemption from foreign powers which attempt to delude us into abandoning our G-d and His Torah, is a particularly auspicious time for meditation, especially on the lights and lamps of the Chanukah menora.
The mystical meditations one should have for the lighting of the [Chanukah] lights primarily revolve around one supernal and complete mystical unification called “Ner” [Hebrew for “candle”]….Briefly, there are three primary aspects of the unification of Zeir Anpin and Nukva: Havayah [united] with Eh-yeh [which has a numerical value of 47], Havayah with Elokim [equaling 112], and Havayah with Ado-nai [equaling 91]. Sometimes one aspect becomes united, sometimes two, and sometimes all three, in which the above become completely unified – and [then] Nukva is called “Ner” [whose numerical value is 250], equaling the total of the above six divine names.
Havayah = 26
Eh-yeh = 21
Havayah = 26
Elokim = 86
Havayah = 26
Ado-nai = 65
Plus 6, one for each name, the kolel,
= “Ner” (250), spelled nun (50), reish (200)
In the first blessing [“…Who has commanded us to light the Chanukah candle”], all three [above unifications] are hinted at [in the word “candle”].
In the second blessing [“…Who created miracles…”], the second unification is hinted
And in the third blessing [“…Who has given us life…”], the lowest of all is hinted at. During the holiday, the loftiest of supernal levels of holiness are actually accessible even in the lowest of realms…
I [Rabbi Chaim Vital] have found in another manuscript that the first name Havayah [the one unified with Eh-yeh] should be Ab , spelled out with yuds, the second Havayah [the one unified with Elokim] should be that of SaG , and the third Havayah [the one unified with Ado-nai] should be that of MaH [spelled out with alefs, 45].One should meditate on these three [ways of spelling out the name] Havayah when one says the word “l’hadleek” [meaning “to light”, in the first blessing], which has the numerical value of these three names, Ab, SaG, Mah.
Ab = 72
SaG = 63
Mah = 45
Plus 1 for the kolel = “l’hadleek” (180),
spelled lamed (30),hei (5), dalet (4), lamed (30), yud (10), kuf (100) plus the kolel.
[Also,] if one spells out the name Eh-yeh in the above meditation with yuds, equaling 161, uniting it with the Havayah spelled with yuds, equaling 72, one gets the numerical value of the word “regel” [Hebrew for “foot”, equaling 233]. This hints at the fact that Chanukah is called a “pilgrimage festival” [in Hebrew, “regel”, literally meaning “foot”], among the other holidays, as is mentioned in the handwritten notes in the introduction to the Tikunei Zohar [even though it is not literally one of the three primary pilgrimage festivals]…This is the secret of the concept that the optimal time to light one’s Chanukah menora is “until feet [literally ‘foot’, ‘regel’] cease in the marketplace”…
The commandment to publicize the miracle of Chanukah demands that we light our menoras in a place visible to passers-by and at a time not so late that no one will be found in the streets to see them. The above term hints that the power of Chanukah is so great that, during the holiday, the loftiest of supernal levels of holiness (represented by the above unification of divine names, the “foot” – or “regel”) are actually accessible even in the lowest of realms. These less than lofty dominions are represented by the term “marketplace” (in Hebrew, “shuk”, related to the word for “thigh”, associated with the sefira of hod, the eighth sefira from above), a place characterized by diffusion, disharmony, and susceptibility to the External Forces. (Ibid. 2:6, 3:1) Chanuka shows us that sparks of holiness are everywhere and gives us the ability to redeem them, shining holy light even in realms of darkness. During the blessing…one should meditate on the supernal River…
One should meditate on the idea that the initials of the words “…to light the Chanukah candle” [in Hebrew, “l’hadleek ner Chanukah”, in the first blessing] are the holy name called “Nachal” [meaning “stream” or “river”], which emanates from the initials of the words “He preserves kindness for two-thousand [years]” [in Hebrew, “notzer chesed l’alefim”, the eighth and ninth of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy], as is known. The significance of this is [to show] that light [i.e. divine sustenance] is transmitted from supernal Imma to Zeir Anpin, in order that he have enough strength to connect with the three above unifications, those of the Candle Meditation.
Generally speaking, once access to the sefira of bina, the eighth sefira when counting from below and the lowest of the sefirot associated with the “head” (keter, chochma, bina) has been achieved, so too are the remainder of the supernal sefirot of the “head” accessible. In the same way, the eighth of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, that of “Notzer Chesed”, grants access to the totality of the thirteen. The eight-branched Chanuka menora as well as the eight days of the Chanukah festival hint at this deep secret.
Thus, [during the blessing “…to light the Chanukah candle”] one should meditate on the supernal River [in Hebrew, “nachal”, the initials of the blessing “l’hadleek ner Chanukah”], that it is the spelling-out of the name Havayah with alefs [known as “Mah”] – with the letter alef of the spelling out of the letter vav transformed into the name Eh-yeh expanded [in Ribua], like this:
Yud, vav, dalet
Vav – alef, alef-hei, alef-hei-yud, alef-hei-yud-hei – vav
This name [which has the same numerical value as “nachal”, “river”, 88], indicates the concept of Imma, which “shines” [her light] unto Zeir Anpin as she is enclothed within him…
After, in the word “Chanukah” [again, within the first blessing] have in mind that in the same way that [via our meditations] we drew divine sustenance from Imma to Zeir Anpin with the River Meditation [above] in order that they [Ed. likely Zeir Anpin and Nukva] unite via the three unifications, known as the Candle Meditation – so too, now we [utilize] the name Sag [Havayah spelled-out to equal 63], of Imma, whose numerical value plus the simple value of the name Havayah  adds up to 26 plus 63, the same as the numerical value of the word “Chanukah” [plus the kolel: 89].
Here, “Chanukah” is spelled: chet (8), nun (50), vav (6), chaf (20), hei (5), totaling 89, which is also the same as “nachal”, the “River” mentioned above.
This [time, via the meditation] we are drawing divine sustenance in Nukva, which [itself] is called “Candle” [or “Ner”], and thus we arrive at the “Chanukah candle” [“Ner Chanukah” of the blessing].
Also, on the word “Chanukah”, one should meditate upon what the Sages taught that it is made up of the words “chanu-” [meaning “encamped” or “rested”] and “-ka” [spelled chaf, hei, the numerical of 25], which is the secret of the 25 letters of the six names that a person should concentrate on in the Candle Meditation.
The Zohar (Tikunei Zohar, 13) teaches that these 25 letters are also the secret of the 25 letters of the verse “Hear, O’ Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.” (Deut. 6:4)
[Translated and edited by Baruch Emanuel Erdstein from Shaar HaKavanot, Inyan Chanukah]