People who are accustomed to follow the Kabbalistic
Seder of fruits and wine on Tu B’Shevat organize their (thirty) fruits
according to certain criteria. There are three intersecting (and somewhat
conflicting) scales of measure.
(The Intrinsic) Scale of Kelipa
This hierarchy is a rich subject for observation, contemplation and meditation, but it does not have halachic import...
This scale measures an innate feature of the fruit
itself—the amount, placement, and intensity of its kelipa (the inedible
skins and pits attached to the fruit). In mystical texts, kelipa is the
skin or shell that surrounds each sliver of soul (be it human, animal, plant or
mineral) and marks it out from every other, producing the illusion of
multiplicity when really there is only One. We’ll call this the Scale of
Kelipa. At its lowest end are fruits with inedible skins or shells that must
be removed to access the fruit. The next rung up are those with inedible
pits or seeds hidden within. And finally at the top of the scale are fruits that
are edible through and through. This hierarchy is a rich subject for
observation, contemplation and meditation, but it does not have halachic
import at the Seder.
(The Objective) Scale of Yichus [i.e.
This scale begins with the seven special fruits
indigenous to Israel and continues with the fruits that are mentioned
explicitly in the Bible and then, finally, those named in the Mishna and Talmud.
Status on the Scale of Yichus comes from association with holy writ.
And since these texts have varying authority, so do the fruits mentioned
When G-d promised the land of Israel to the Jewish
people, He mentioned seven local edibles by name to prove that this was
His most prized real estate.
"G-d is bringing you to a good land—a land with
flowing streams, and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountain.
It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates—a land of
oil-olives and honey-dates. It is land where you will not
eat rationed bread, and you will not lack anything…" (Deut. 7:6-8)
The Rabbis teach that there is a hierarchy among
foodstuffs, and when it comes to raw produce these seven are the most
distinguished of all foods. Two are grains and five are fruits. Yet even among
them a pecking order exists, and we human beings must give honor where it is
The word land occurs twice in this verse, and
the closer a fruit appears to the word, land, the higher its status, and
there are real privileges associated with its rank. Looking only at the five
fruits, grapes are already 3rd in line from the first mention of
land, whereas olives appear immediately after the Holyland’s second mention.
Consequently the hierarchy of status with regard to fruits is: 1) olives, 2)
dates, 3) grapes, 4) figs, 5) pomegranates.
[A variant opinion is to give preference according to
the simple verse order. Thus: 1) grapes, 2) figs, 3) pomegranates, 4) olives, 5)
dates. – KOL]
Everyone knows that Jewish law forbids a person from
eating before thanking G-d for the specific food that he or she is about to
consume. When a person, with fruit in hand, before partaking, thanks G-d for the
produce from fruit-bearing trees, all the other fruits at the table are covered
by that blessing though only one was the actual focus of the blessing.
Every fruit hopes to be the one that inspires a
Every fruit hopes to be the one that inspires a
blessing and gets tasted first. The spark that is its soul, has slowly made its
way up through the ranks, enlivening minerals, now plants, soon animals,
then humans and eventually (joyfully) tzadikim. It has, and will, spend
painful years, centuries and perhaps even millennia in each kingdom. Yet now it
has the chance to ascend many rungs in a single leap, boosted by the merit of
instigating a blessing and being the one that gets eaten first. This is a
privilege the Code of Jewish Law assigns to fruits based on their rank in the
Scale of Yichus.
So now, at a Tu b’Shevat seder, surrounded by thirty
delectable fruits: How do you decide which to make the focus of your blessing,
for only one out of all those thirty gets the privilege? One opinion is that the
five fruits mentioned in the verse above are the elite of the fruit kingdom and
must be accorded the honor that is their due. G-d Himself has set them apart
which makes their superior status uncontestable.
Consequently, when faced with an array of fruits, the
honor of being the focus of blessing goes to these five distinguished species,
and if there are several present, it goes to the one of highest rank. So if
olives are present, the blessing is always said on them.
(The Subjective) Scale of Desirability
But the Code of Jewish Law brings a second opinion
which gives primacy to the person’s genuine preference. The eater
should say the blessing over the fruit that he likes best—the one that she
honestly wants to eat first. In the Scale of Desirability the fruit’s rank is in
the eyes of its beholder. It rises and falls according to the palette of the one
who is about to eat it....eating is an intimate encounter
between a person and his food.
From this perspective, eating is an intimate encounter
between a person and his food. It doesn’t make sense to force a person to eat
olives first, when really he prefers an apple. This opinion weighs the person’s
(subjective) wishes over the fruit’s (objective) yichus. The human’s
right of self-determination overrides the aristocratic privileges of the fruit.
The Solution of the Pri Eitz Hadar (Guidebook
for Tu B’Shvat Sedarim)
For those who follow the first opinion, everyone at
the table would say their blessing-of-gratitude-for-fruit-bearing trees over an
olive, and then partake of all the other fruits which were covered by that
blessing. Fortunate are the olives that land at such a table on Tu
For those who follow the second opinion, everyone
chooses the fruit that they prefer. Yet even here there is some confusion:
Does this mean that they should choose their all-time favorite fruit, or the one
that in this moment catches their eye? There are opinions in both directions.
The Pri Eitz Hadar suggests the following
practice which honors both values. Each person should pick the fruit that is
their favorite, the one that they want to honor with their blessing. Then
the Seder proceeds according to the Scale of Yichus. Meaning, in
terms of fruit, the olives are distributed and verses are read where olives are
mentioned. Then, the person who chose olives as their favorite, says a
blessing and eats their olive. But no one else eats olives yet. Then
dates are distributed, verses are read, the one who chose dates recites the
blessing, and that person can now eat not only dates, but all that came before
(in this case, olives). Next the grapes are distributed, verses are read,
the one who chose grapes recites the blessing and he or she can now eat all that
came before. Everyone else has all these previously blessed fruits on their
plate but they have not yet tasted them, for they are waiting till their
favorite fruit comes up in the Scale of Yichus which proceeds as follows:
1) Olives 2) Dates 3) Grapes 4) Figs 5)
Pomegranate 6) Etrog 7) Apple 8) Walnut 9) Almond 9) Carob 10) Pear
11) Quince 12) Peach 13) Etc.
Not all of these fruits have to be claimed as the
favorite by someone at the seder since those who choose fruits later on
the list may have to wait quite a while before they partake. It is also
fine for more than one person to choose each fruit.
Tu B’Shevat is New Year’s Day for fruit-bearing trees.
May it be a year of abundant rain, nutritious soil, conscious pruning, right
temperatures, successful pollination, disease and pest resistance, and bountiful
harvest for the ilanot of the world. And may our Tu B’Shevat fruit-fest
remind us that G-d loves variety, color, vitality, sweetness and savor. And may
we take that truth to heart. And may it change us in ways that serve only