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.
— reprinted with permission
If you are looking for more information about the associations of the Songs of Ascent to trees, do check out Jill Hammer’s great piece on that, which is where the above prayer came from.
No matter how cold and snowy it is where you live, you are able to experience this holiday through the blooming of a beautiful plant.