Why the mys­tics con­nected Tu Bish­vat with a bucket

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY RABBI DAVID LIS­TER David Lis­ter is rabbi of Edg­ware United Sy­n­a­gogue

Tu Bish­vat is fa­mous as the New Year for Trees. It falls on the fif­teenth of the month of She­vat when the moon is full and the month is con­sid­ered to be at its height. But what is She­vat it­self all about? And what does it have to do with trees? One of our most an­cient mys­ti­cal works, the Se­fer Yet­zi­rah, traces a con­nec­tion be­tween each Jewish month and its mazal. Mazal means con­duit, re­fer­ring to the chan­nelling of a par­tic­u­lar heav­enly in­flu­ence down to us from the heav­enly realm.

Per­haps we can un­der­stand this to mean that God’s in­ter­ac­tion with the world changes with the pas­sage of the months and the mazal for each month gives us a hint as to what our pri­or­i­ties are for that time.

The mazal for She­vat is the dli, a bucket for draw­ing wa­ter from a well. This is the con­text for Tu Bish­vat, the cel­e­bra­tion of the New Year for trees. There is an­other im­por­tant con­no­ta­tion for the

mazal of dli. Var­i­ous com­men­ta­tors on the Se­fer Yet­zi­rah (such as Rav Hai Gaon and the Ra’avad) un­der­stand that dli is also the mazal for the Jewish peo­ple.

What is the con­nec­tion be­tween a bucket, She­vat and us Jews?

The Cha­sidic mas­ter, the Bnai Yisas­char (Rabbi Zvi Elim­elech Spira, 1783-1841), ex­plains that the bucket is the mazal for the Jewish peo­ple be­cause a bucket is used for draw­ing wa­ter and wa­ter is a biblical metaphor for To­rah. Our mis­sion as Jews is to study To­rah and bring it to the world, like a bucket draw­ing wa­ter from a well.

We see this in the prophecy of Isa­iah who de­picts the Jewish peo­ple bring­ing wa­ter, sym­bol­is­ing To­rah, for them­selves and oth­ers (55:1–3): “Ah! You that are thirsty, come to the wa­ter… In­cline your ears and come to Me, lis­ten that your soul may live, and I will es­tab­lish an eter­nal covenant with you…”

This as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween the bucket and the Jewish peo­ple ex­plains why draw­ing wa­ter fea­tures so of­ten in our early his­tory. Rebecca was iden­ti­fied as a wife for Isaac when she drew wa­ter for a ser­vant’s camels (Ge­n­e­sis 24). When Ja­cob first met his fu­ture wife Rachel, he drew wa­ter for her sheep (Ge­n­e­sis 29: 10). Af­ter leav­ing Egypt, Moses drew wa­ter for the daugh­ters of Jethro (Ex­o­dus 2:15–21).

These in­ci­dents can be un­der­stood me­taphor­i­cally. The act of draw­ing wa­ter shows a readi­ness to draw on the real source of life, the To­rah and pass it on to oth­ers. The lead­ers of our peo­ple were in­ter­ested in learn­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing To­rah teach­ings and this was the proper con­text in which the Jewish peo­ple would take their next step.

We un­der­stand the link be­tween the Jewish peo­ple and the bucket. But what is the con­nec­tion be­tween Tu Bish­vat, at the top of the month, and the bucket?

A deeper un­der­stand­ing of the New Year for Trees will help us. The To­rah states that a hu­man is like a tree of the field (Deuteron­omy 20:19). Like trees, we are rooted in the earth but we stretch heav­en­ward. Like trees, some peo­ple bear the fruit of knowl­edge and good­ness, while oth­ers of­fer noth­ing. Just as trees take the good­ness of the earth and trans­form it into fruit which sus­tains life, so peo­ple can take the phys­i­cal things of the world and turn them into wis­dom and a lifestyle that brings new hope and in­spi­ra­tion to oth­ers.

So on Tu Bish­vat, when we give thanks for trees and eat their fruit, we are ac­tu­ally cel­e­brat­ing our­selves, our di­ver­sity and our good deeds.

The mazal of dli is em­i­nently suit­able as a back­drop for this cel­e­bra­tion, be­cause trees de­pend on wa­ter. Tu Bish­vat re­minds us that just as a tree needs wa­ter, so a hu­man, sym­bol­ised by the tree, needs the wa­ter of To­rah. Just as a tree with­ers and dies with­out wa­ter, so the hu­man soul be­comes parched and mori­bund with­out the spir­i­tual nour­ish­ment of God’s word.

This idea is of such mo­ment in Ju­daism that it opens our most stir­ring na­tional heir­loom, the book of Psalms: “Happy is the man who does not walk in the coun­cil of the wicked… but his de­light is in God’s To­rah, and he med­i­tates in His To­rah by day and night. He will be like a tree planted on streams of wa­ter, which gives its fruit in its time” (Psalm 1:1-3).

The con­ver­gence of Tu Bish­vat and the dli ex­horts us to bring more To­rah into our lives, as a sub­ject for study and as a guide for life. It is the re­al­i­sa­tion of this vi­tal idea which will make our cel­e­bra­tion truly fruit­ful.

Just as a tree needs wa­ter, so a hu­man needs the wa­ter of To­rah ’

PHOTO: BRI­TISH LI­BRARY

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