Shabbat Beshalah/Tu Bishvat 5773

How different this seder is from all others! I refer to Seder Tu Bishvat, which we will conduct on Shabbat afternoon followingminhah in the waning hour of the day designated as the New Year for nature. A Tu Bishvat seder is not merely an opportunity to eat rare fruit in great quantity, or to experiment in shades of grape juice. It’s meant to bring us pause, to have us stop what we are doing and ask questions, just as on Pesah.

In an essay prepared for the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Lawrence Troster suggests that we consider asking ourselves and each other these four questions:

1. What do I know about the place where I live?

2. Where do things come from?

3. How do I connect to the earth?

4. What is my purpose as a human being?

As we consider these questions over Shabbat, getting ready for the Tu Bishvat Seder, let’s note the famous rabbinic legend about the central episode in this week’s Torah reading, Beshalah. We call it Shabbat Shirah because of Moshe’s (and Miriam’s) poem-songs. But the rabbis tell us that before the humans got around to composing those celebratory songs, the angels got into the act, and God was livid. “The work of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you sing a song?!” (Bavli Megillah 10b)

The overarching question of Tu Bishvat is: are we aware when our desire to consume creates an ethic of destroying what God created? If we are to stifle our joy at the downfall of our enemies, shouldn’t we hesitate to destroy nature, which is at least neutral and easily considered our ally?

May these questions open our Shabbat and Tu Bishvat tables to a larger conversation about what it means to interact with the rest of God’s masterpiece of creation. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise