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Tu B’Shevat Reflections

The Ari (or somebody from his school) says that the Tu B’Shevat seder is the tikkun of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.   Tikkun means something like — taking something that didn’t turn out well and recontextualizing it so as to understand why in the ultimate analysis it is a good thing, healing, re-integration of disparate elements or subsystems of the self into a coherent whole.

In other words the Tu B’Shevat seder is meant to bring us back to the Garden of Eden.

What are we to make of a story about a super-man who creates a man in his image, puts him in a garden with two magic trees, tells him to eat one and not the other, then is surprised and all judgey when the copy-man eats the tree and kicks him out of the garden, punishing him with hard labor, sexual shame, and death?

The first thing is to realize that it is a children’s story.

The second thing is to realize that it is a children’s story about the loss of childhood, or ignorance, or animality, or feeling like being one with nature and part of nature.  It is not an adult story about that — the adult story about that is more like what I just said — we evolved from animals and have told various stories about what we have lost and what we have gained.   A species of arboreal primates who came down from the trees and developed sufficiently advanced brains that they could reflect upon their separation from nature, conquer nature, and long to return to it. The adult story is about regaining the second Eden, which is to say, the right blend of innocence and experience, of ignorance and knowledge.

Another way to say the right blind of innocence and experience is to say the right blend of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life.  The tree of life, the feeling that our lives are good because they are life — eating, hugging, breathing — and the the tree of knowledge, the idea that we are different from our natural, animal selves and can be better — all the things we know — have to be put in the proper relationship.

How do we put them in the proper relationship?  By making all the things we know and all the ideals we have of how to do better in service of the tree of life.

Because the Torah is a Tree of Life to those that hold on to it.

We put them in the proper relationship by ritual — the Tu B’Shevat seder.  Ritual is a fancy word for play.  Or to use another fancy word it is using transitional objects — things that hover on the boundary between self and world, real and imaginary.  Ritual objects are toys.  In play we have recaptured the second innocence.

As Nietzsche said that’s maturity — to recapture the seriousness we had as children playing with toys.

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Tu B’Shevat Reflections

  1. These are very good reflections for Tu B’Shevat. You seem to imply that the human was set up to fail. As you say:

    What are we to make of a story about a super-man who creates a man in his image, puts him in a garden with two magic trees, tells him to eat one and not the other, then is surprised and all judgey when the copy-man eats the tree and kicks him out of the garden, punishing him with hard labor, sexual shame, and death?

    That has always bothered me too!

      • Haha! Indeed! It seems the Zohar agrees with you:

        “Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘A decree was ordained beforehand that Adam should die since he was taken from the ground. As implied by what is written: on the day you eat from it [you will surely die] (Genesis 2:17)—teaching that had he not sinned, he would have had a long life. As soon as he sinned, the punishment was that his days be shortened—and that he die on that very day. After he repented, the blessed Holy One granted him His day—which is one thousand years.

        This proves that the decree that he die was prior. For were it not so, when he repented He should have rescinded the decree!

        Rabbi Shim’on explained, ‘He repented and He rescinded the decree ordained for him—on the day you eat from it (ibid.); He lengthened his days, granting him His day” (Zohar Ḥadash 18c).

  2. Thoughtful and well stated. I would add a couple of suggestions:

    First, IMHO many Biblical stories seem less to tell us something than to get us to *think* about something: e.g., “What are we to make of a story about … ”

    Second, I’m not sure that our lives are good just because they are life. They are an opportunity for us to do good, and if we choose wisely, we do it. Life per se is just a stage. Like our interpretation of the Garden of Eden, the play we write and perform on the stage is up to us.

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