In the Tu B’Shevat seder, I made the choice to have all prayers address Goddess (i.e. the feminine face of the Divine). This was done as a conscious and carefully considered choice. While Kohenet focuses on the Divine Feminine, I personally believe that “God” is male, female, both and neither — all at once. There are many different facets and faces that are presented to us based on our needs, experiences, and world-view. My stance used to be that if the Divine is inherently genderless, then it doesn’t matter what gender we pray in. I now know that it does matter. My experience has also taught me that while many people give voice to this, they do not act it out in practice.
The easiest example is the one I use in the Tu B’Shevat Seder.
עץ חיים הי למחזקים בה
Eytz chayim hi l’ma-chazikim bah
She is a tree of life for those who hold her fast
This is generally translated as “it is a tree of life…”. People will say, “well Hebrew is gendered but English isn’t,” to explain the use of “it.” But, the same people will use the same “gendering” of the language to explain why God is a male. In effect, all the references to a feminine God(dess) have been removed from the translations but the masculine remains. An complete imbalance has been created. Making the choice to pray in the feminine helps to correct this imbalance. Check out this re-interpretation of the 23rd Psalm, and the following conversation, on a progressive Christian site and you’ll see a beautiful illustration of this at work.
If God(dess) is (d) all of the above…then we should pray to the most appropriate facet for the occasion.
This essay is part of my project for my Tzovah (first-level) initiation with the Hebrew Priestess Institute. The project I have been working on for the past year and 1/2 is to develop seasonal seders. The physical deliverable I will present to the directors of the program and my sisters in January will be the first seder, in what I hope will be an on-going and life-long project: Seders for all Seasons.
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.