Bucket, bucket, who’s got a bucket? A bucket (d’li)? That’s the astrological symbol for the month? How unglamourous is that? Not that a set of scales is glamourous, but it’s not a bucket. But the truth is that buckets, vessels that carry water, play an important role in Torah. A bucket on it’s own is useless, too. There must be a water carrier for the bucket to serve it’s role in the world.
Rebeka, wife of Issac and mother of Yisrael, is one of the most famous water carriers in the bible. We first meet Rebeka in Gen 24:16-22 when she is drawing water for her sheep and for Abraham’s servant. Her willingness to work as a water carrier is one of the criteria the servant sets for the women he will bring home to Issac as a bride. (Gen 24:14)
How do we connect the humble d’li, water bucket, with trees for Tu B’Shevat. The easy answer is that we use buckets to water trees. We also use buckets to collect fruit from the trees. After all, a bucket can hold things other than water. Tu B’Shevat is the day when the sap in the trees begins to rise, which is an invisible sign of the coming Spring. According to a midrashic tale found on Telshemesh.org, “In the month of Shevat, God throws down three burning coals to warm the earth. On the seventh of Shevat the first coal falls, to warm the air. On the fourteenth of the month the second falls, to warm the water in the trees.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what a good, simple Tu B’Shvat ritual would be. Where I live February is still winter, and where many of my friends live it’s really winter. Maybe in Israel and places south, it’s time for the earth to start warming up — but in the Northern USA and Canada — it’s winter.
So how do we recognize and appreciate this earth-based ritual in an authentic way? Well, I was reading a great ritual idea by one of my favorite teachers, Rabbi Jill Hammer, on my way to work this morning and I was inspired. She says in her newsletter that reading the psalms known as the “songs of ascent” is a traditional thing to do for Tu B’Shvat, and has a lovely way of associating them with trees.
Now, me — I’d want a tree to look at or smell or something, but it’s cold outside.
Here’s my variation of this concept. Get a forced bulb kit, so you can actually have something growing to enjoy. There are many options, here are pretty ones I found on Amazon.com.
I like the idea of using a crocus because for so many of us it in the North, it is the first sign of spring, although crocus forcing kits can be hard to find. It will be easier to find hyacinth, paper whites, and amaryllis. Order it in time to have it by Rosh Chodesh Shevat, which is a new moon.
On the night of the new moon, when it is still a dark moon prepare your bulb. Sit in the dark moon and feel that time between. Just sit with your bulb and meditate on this dark time of year. Accept it, don’t fight it. Just allow the darkness to exist.
The next night is Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat. Here begin saying your psalms (Psalms 120—135 ). Cast a circle or ground in center in your own way — and each night or morning until Tu B’shevat say one of the fifteen psalms and feed energy into your baby crocus. Some of the psalms may confuse your or not inspire you — that’s okay. Think about them. Analyze them. Write down what you like and don’t like about them.
On the last night, Tu B’Shvat. Read the last psalm and conclude with this prayer by Rabbi Jill Hammer:
The Divine One created good trees so the children
of earth might benefit from them. At this
moment, for the sake of the fifteen psalms, and
for the sake of the Divine Breath, the Tree of
Life, may the sap awaken in the branch. Awake,
thornbush and myrtle, awake etrog and reed, awake
willow and palm, awake fig and cedar, awake vine
and oak, awake almond and terebinth, awake
pomegranate and olive and apple. Awake (insert
your own varieties). Awake, all trees in all the
corners of the earth. I awaken the trees in the
name of the Tree of Life, for she is a tree of
life to all who hold her fast.
It’s hard to get in the mood of Tu B’shvat when there’s snow on the ground and it’s freezing cold outside. But when you think about it, isn’t this when we need to believe that the sap is rising and spring WILL come back?
Simple Tu B’shvat Ritual Please modify this however you like. I kept it very simple to allow people to play with it and add pieces that would speak to them. Consider ideas like using a bonsai or lucky bamboo instead of a bulb.
Begin by taking three slow deliberate breaths to change your mindset from ordinary to sacred. Prepare your space by casting a circle in what ever technique you are most comfortable. Take your pot with soil or water and hold it between your hands. Focus on it and reach down into the dormant earth, drawing the energy into your body. Let this energy flow from your hands into the soil.
Say, “Blessed be the Source of Life, source of beginnings and endings, source of life and death, source of sleep and rebirth. May Spring come again in its time, and with it abundance for all.”
Take the bulb into your hands. Draw up Earth energy and feed it into the bulb.
Say, “Blessed be the Source of Life through whom we receive fruit and flowering trees. May the flowers return in their time, for the benefit of all.”
Place the bulb into the soil. Hold both together. Focus one by one on the elements of nature that the bulb will need to grow both the physical and the metaphysical. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. As you move through each, symbolically sprinkle that element on the bulb. (Careful with the fire!)
Imagine the bulb growing and flowering and with it the Spring returning.
“Kein Yehi Razton”
Sit quietly for a moment, and release your circle. Finish by taking three more deliberate breaths to return to ordinary space. Be sure to keep your bulb where you can easily care for it and watch it grow.