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The Jewish Holiday of Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish New Year for Trees. The name literally means “the 15th of Shvat” so it’s similar to the way American Independence Day is known as “The 4th of July.” As with all Jewish holidays, the exact date on the Gregorian calendar varies each year, and all holidays begin at sundown and end at nightfall the following day. In 2012, it falls on Tuesday night and Wednesday, February 7th and 8th.
Back when the Great Temple in Jerusalem was standing, Tu B’Shvat was used to calculate tithes on fruits and nuts that grow on trees; anything harvested before this date counted as last year and anything from this date forward counted for the coming year. Since we don’t pay tithes or our harvests anymore, Tu B’Shvat has a more symbolic meaning these days.
There are a variety of ways in which Tu B’Shvat is celebrated within the Jewish community. I’m planning to serve a “fruit and nut course” before my regular family dinner. Some families hold a Tu B’Shvat Seder, similar to the Passover Seder, but not nearly as formal. Others serve a wide variety of fruits and nuts alongside the meal but with no special ceremony. There may or may not be a large group of guests at the meal, or a party-like atmosphere. All serve several kinds of fruit. Some have 15 or 20 different kinds of fruits and nuts in all; most will serve all 7 of the special foods associated with The Land of Israel: wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and olives.
Some of those 7 special foods are problematic for my family: none of us should be having barley, only my son should be having wheat, he shouldn’t have pomegranates, I shouldn’t eat dates, etc. It’s HARD balancing our differing diets with the demands of religious Judaism. But I remember that these foods are merely symbolic; it’s not like Passover when there’s a commandment to eat matzah.
I’m going to make omissions and substitutions as needed for the health of my family. But I’m also bearing in mind that there are foods we *shouldn’t* eat and foods we really *can’t* eat. A crumb of wheat could sicken me for weeks, but ¼ of a date won’t do me any harm. I plan to serve the 5 fruits that symbolize Israel, even though they’re not perfectly compliant for all of us. We’ll each eat small amounts and enjoy them, guilt-free. I’ll make spelt bread for the children to symbolize the wheat, and rice bread or crackers for myself. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll make quinoa to symbolize the barley or simply omit it. I’ll also get a variety of other fruits; whatever looks good when I get to the store.
It’s a time to thank the Creator for the bountiful variety of foods that He created, and for making us able to appreciate them. The physical becomes spiritual when we use food for a holy purpose, both by making blessings over the foods we eat and by choosing our foods with a higher purpose in mind.
Certainly the laws of Kashrut are one such “higher purpose” to a Jew’s selection of foods, but physical health is equally important, and is applicable to everybody. If you knowingly eat foods that make you unhealthy, you’re defying the Creator’s will. How can you fulfill your purpose in the world if you’re sluggish from eating too much wheat or sugar, or if you’re bed-ridden from a chronic illness that a proper diet could have prevented? Dr. D’Adamo has given us the tools to nourish our bodies and help reach our physical potentials; I feel a moral obligation to follow those guidelines now that I know of them.
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