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Tu Bishvat – New Year of the Trees – at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation

Today, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, we celebrate a resplendent prelude to spring, the holiday of Tu Bishvat (Rosh Hashana le’Ilanot – New Year for the Trees). This Yom Tov is one of the four New Years mentioned in the Mishna. Since the ShkediaAlmond tree – is the first tree to blossom during the season and the last one to wither, it has come to symbolize Tu Bishvat.

An almond tree, shkedia, on a hill overlooking Jerusalem...

Its flowers symbolize the cups crowning the seven branched Temple candelabra.

On Rosh Hashana we use fruits or vegetables as symbols for various brachot and good wishes. On Tu Bishvat, Sephardim use fruits whose names hint at their symbolization. For example,the almond tree appears in Yermiyahu – Jeremiah 1:11-12: The word of Hashem was addressed to me, saying: “What do you see Yermiyahu?” And I said: “The branch of a watchful [shaked-almond] tree I see.” And Hashem said: “You’ve seen well, for I am watchful [shoked – watchful] over my word that it be accomplished.

Last evening, I attended a Tu Bishvat Seder at the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation (325 East 75th Street; Manhattan, NY) and this minhag (new to me and to many as well as to many a litvish or chassidish yid) was deeply meaningful and enlightened my appreciation of our richest traditions. As an Ashkenazi I had never heard of a Tu Bishvat Seder such as Rabbi Raphael Benchimol conducted this past evening. He relayed that on Tu Bishvat we get to repair the sin committed by Adam and Eve when they ate of the fruit of the Etz Hada’at in direct violation of Hakadosh Baruch Hu‘s explicit command against it. Just as mankind’s very first sin came through a fruit, here – as we rejoice in the Almighty’s handiwork – we have the chance to rectify, purify and be metaken our souls through fruits and their blessings.

Rabbi Benchimol explaining each item, its blessing and meaning

We started the Seder, by sipping an Israeli Ben Ami Chardonnay 2011. This was a light wine dominated by aromas of pineapple and guava, light and balanced on the palate with a rich, clean finish.

A partial view of the crowd

On each table there was a lovely array of fruits signifying various human and divine attributes as expounded by Rabbi Benchimol…

Close to thirty different types

The custom of this Seder had its beginning in the 16th century, at the table of the AR”I Hakadosh in Tzfat, the center of mystical studies since the days of the academy of Shem va’Ever – which goes back to the days before Avraham Avinu went out from Ur Kasdim to follow the Bore Holam‘s command to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s dwelling.

This seder‘s ritual is spiritually enriched with hidden and obvious Kabbalistic meanings making for a most engaging memorable evening.


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