These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] The Four Faces of ט”ו בשבט (Tu B’Shvat)

Posted on July 11, 2011 by Cheryl Stone

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Check out THIS POST to see photos of the AMAZING new mural at Pardes!

The first annual Yom Iyun envisioned, planned, run, and taught by the Pardes Educators Program took place on ט”ו בשבט 5771/2011. Facilitating both formal and experiential sessions, the Educators focused on the four גלגולים – embodiments or incarnations – that the holiday of ט”ו בשבט has taken on over the centuries. This mural, conceived and crafted by Pardes students, represents each of these four גלגולים.

Below are the artists’ descriptions of the panels, listed in chronological order by גלגול:

Panel: Rosh Hashanah for the Trees (ראש השנה לאילנות המקורי)

Artist: Carina Rock

The original ט”ו בשבט, harking back to Temple times, was a technical cut-off date for tax collection. The first משנה in מסכת ראש השנה cites Rabbi Hillel as saying that the 15th of the month of שבט is the ראש השנה for trees. As such, in this painting I have depicted the tree and the harvest, the landscape of ארץ ישראל in Biblical times and the Temple with its pilgrimages.

One way to re-envision this first incarnation of ט”ו בשבט in our own lives today is to be cognizant of our agricultural connection to ארץ ישראל and the beautiful fruits the land produces for us. We work and respect our land and in turn it sustains strong trees that provide us with nutritious and delicious fruit. We are sustained by this land and ט”ו בשבט gives us a day to reflect upon this symbiotic relationship.

Panel: Trees and Fruits as Kabbalistic Metaphor (עץ החיים של מקובלי צפת)

Artist: Malika Krassik-Geiger

The עץ חיים (Tree of Life) is a classical kabbalistic image mapping the relationship between the ten ספירות, or emanations, of God. The more familiar image of the עץ חיים is a purely geometric diagram that places the ספירות into three straight vertical columns with various lines interconnecting them. That image was used by the Kabbalists of Safed in their 16th-century reinterpretation of ט”ו בשבט. This mural uses an asymmetric tree shape for the framework of the עץ חיים, but one can still identify the three ספירות of the left column, the four ספירות of the center, and the three ספירות on the right. Each ספירה is shown in the color that is traditionally associated with it and is labeled with the letter that begins its name. As stated in their classical order, they are: כתר (Crown), חכמה (Wisdom), בינה (Understanding), חסד (Loving-kindness), גבורה (Judgment/Restraint), תפארת (Beauty/Balance), נצח (Victory), הוד (Splendor), יסוד (Foundation), and מלכות (Reign).

The nine upper ספירות are represented by pomegranates – an allusion to the פרדס, or orchard of mystical enlightenment. Collectively, these ספירות represent the masculine energy of the Divine. The large sphere around which the tree roots grow is the lowest ספירה of מלכות, which represents the שכינה: the feminine manifestation of the Divine.

The עץ חיים helps illustrate our tradition’s belief that all things are interconnected, that God manifests in a plurality of ways and yet remains unified, and that we, as microcosms of the whole, must aspire to balance the various parts of ourselves into a harmonious unity.

Panel: Zionism and Yearning for the Land of Israel (ציונות והשתוקקות לארץ ישראל)

Artist: Cheryl Stone, Medium: Acrylic paint and gel medium image tranfer

The image of returning to our agricultural roots pulled at our hearts as we wandered from land to land. We have a land, we can make it grow! When Zionism looked for a way to unite Jews to the cause of building our own state and returning to our homeland, it was not through religious fervor, but rather through the need to create a fertile land, and make that land fruitful, fulfilling the Biblical promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.

It is looking at these two sides of the same coin, a biblical promise fulfilled through hard labor and a love of the land, which provided the basis for the images depicted here. The seven species as listed in תנ”ך – pomegranate, grapes, figs, dates, olives, wheat and barley – are the foundation of our agriculture. From this we built a nation, both in Biblical times and now, with the new state, the new dream. To observe the other side of that coin – the Zionistic ideals of labor – we used images that would evoke our collective memory of what those early years were like, work and finding joy in that work as we returned to the land and caused it to flourish.

Panel: Judaism’s Modern Interpretation of Earth Day (יום לאיכות הסביבה)

Artist: Coretta Garlow

This panel was created with the “Universal Ecosystem” aspect of ט”ו בשבט in mind. I attempted to convey the earliest moments of creation, before distinctions first appear – even before liquid and solid (top of panel). Then (towards the middle), the rich and varied world as we know it is delineated from the chaos. Adam (the primordial human, before woman and man were separated out) appears and begins to separate into Adam and Hava, and then into many different individuals.

In the Jewish model of creation, this early, universal Adam is the earliest ancestor of all human beings on earth, and is given the responsibility to work and guard the universal ecosystem. To reiterate the very universal ט”ו בשבט point: the responsibility to balance the protection and the cultivation of the earth belongs to HUMANKIND, which means all of us. The seed beginning to sprout, sheltered by the loins of Adam/Hava and their multitudes, is this tender realization.

The spirals are present because they are a shape that can be found in nature everywhere, from microscopic to galactic proportions. Therefore the spiral is a potent symbol of universalism and the Divine, both in Judaism (such as the שופר) and across human culture, and thus serves as an excellent example of humans working to create art and tradition inspired by the miracle of the natural world.