From Sod to Seed, and back again

seedThis past weekend, about 75 people gathered at my congregation for a Tu Bisvhat seder sponsored by our community’s Tuv Ha’aretz CSA. I wrote previously about the emphasis on Fair Trade products at our seder this year, specifically via four cups of Fair Trade coffee and Fair Trade chocolate fondue for dipping all the various fruits and nuts. It was great to see such a diverse group of people – kids and seniors, synagogue members and local CSA supporters, as well as a much-appreciated “guest-appearance” by Hazon’s own Leah Koenig, all learning, singing, and, yes, dipping together. FYI, if you’d like to try a chocolate fondue seder, I highly recommend it. We used this chocolate, and this recipe (minus the added sugar), and I was able to prepare fondue for 75 people in less than 15 minutes! Just microwave 1 bag of chocolate chips + 1/2 cup half & half + 1 tbs. butter in a microwave safe bowl for 1 minute 30 seconds, wisk vigorously, and repeat for each serving – each bowl serves a table of 12, and stays dippable (if not hot) for over an hour, no fondue pots necessary!

After the jump, I’d like to share a few thoughts about the mysterious end to the Tu Bishvat seder, and the strange eating of No Fruit…
One thing that has always struck me about the Tu Bishvat seder is the anticlimactic nature of the final section, which is associated thematically with Fire, Fall, and the mystical aspect of reality called Sod. After ritually consuming three types of tree foods, we are left with an empty plate as we reach the conclusion of the seder, with no opportunity to eat a fruit that represents the final element, or season, or plane of existence. In a sense, this hearkens back to the Pesach seder, where after an evening of feasting and storytelling, we conclude with a lonely piece of matzah, as Elijah’s cup remains undrunk on the table.

The connection between these two seders is that the end is really the beginning. On Pesach, the afikomen is not only a final taste of the bread of liberation, it’s a reminder of the bread of affliction. We say, “Next Year in Jerusalem” as we dedicate ourselves to becoming our own Elijahs – ushering in a redemptive world where no one will have to taste the brittle hardship of servitude. The seder continues as we exit through the door that we opened for Elijah, and we translate our gastronomic and symbolic epiphanies into every day life. Likewise, on Tu Bishvat, each theme of the final section of the seder echoes this notion of continuing the cycle of growth by carrying the inspiration from our seders out into the real world:

  • Fall: Once the last bit of sugar makes its way through each leaf, they detach silently from their branches and fall to the ground, where the cycle is renewed as the leaves protect the soil and slowly release their nutrients to growing plants.
  • Fire: We burn the calories from the food that we have just consumed during the seder, our metabolism supplying us with renewed energy and sustenance.
  • Sod (סוד): But what about the fruit that was not eaten? The answer can be found in this quote from the Maggid of Mezritch, the Chasidic master Dov Baer:

“Nothing in the world can change from one reality into another, unless it first turns into nothing, that is, into the reality of the between-stage. The moment when the egg is no more and the chick is not yet, is the level of Ayin, nothingness. Philosophy terms this the primal state…it is called chaos. It is the same with the sprouting seed. It does not begin to sprout until the seed disintegrates in the earth and the quality of seed-dom is destroyed in order that it may attain to nothingness which is the rung before creation.”

The “fruit” at the end of the Tu Bishvat seder exists only in potential – this liminal state is the sod – the secret whispered to us by God when we are attentive enough to hear it:

And the angel of the Eternal appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not eaten (אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּֽל) (Exodus 3:2).

The fruit not eaten at the sod level of the seder is our “burning bush” – pointing to the eternal cycle of birth, growth, death, and renewal. We leave the seder empowered by the knowledge that liberation comes not from escaping this cycle, but embracing it.

Print This Post Print This Post

Leave a Reply