Written by: Sarah Shneider
Edited & with Additions by: Rabanit K. Sarah Cohen
When Adam and Chavah were first created, they were explicitly told that they could eat from all the trees of the garden, and then they were commanded not to eat from the Etz Ha’daat Yode’a Tov Va’Ra, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Sadly, Adam and Chavah fell prey to the primordial snake’s guise and they ate from the Etz Ha’daat. Therefore, the first sin committed in this world was a sin of improper eating. It was through this sin that the yetzer hara became an internal part of each of us, challenging us to this day with obstacles towards our spiritual growth; by obscuring the path of truth and blurring the vision of G-d’s will. When Adam and Chavah ate from the Etz Ha’daat, an impurity descended upon the entire world.
On Tu Be’Shevat, we have a wonderful opportunity to correct the sin of the Etz Ha’daat.
Rav Taadok Ha’Kohen (a”h) explains that at our Tu Be’Shevat table we are re-enacting what life was like for Adam and Chavah prior to their sin, when they were “fruitarians.” When we sit in front of our Tu Be’Shevat table, a table filled with fruits of every kind, it is as if we have returned to Gan Eden and are fulfilling the advice of Hashem to eat from all the trees of the garden that were permissible to us. This is an amazing concept if you think about it.
But how do we account for the negative commandment of not eating from the Etz Ha’daat? Especially since some of the fruits on our table are suspected of being of the same species as the infamous forbidden Etz Ha’daat?
One Rabbinic opinion comments that the Etz Ha’daat was a fig tree; another source writes that it was a grape vine (which actually was a tall tree in Gan Eden, but was lowered to a vine by the sin of Adam and Chavah); another opinion says that it was wheat. In fact, for each of the seven species of fruit associated with Eretz Yisrael, all of which are eaten on Tu Be’Shevat, there is an opinion that it may have been the species of the forbidden tree.
Could it be that when we sit down to eat fruits on Tu Be’Shevat, we are doing the same thing Adam and Chavah did? We are taking the advice of Hashem to eat from the permissible fruit, but then violating the negative commandment and eating from the forbidden fruit? It cannot be that we are brazenly disobeying Hashem’s command and eating specifically from the Etz Ha’daat (i.e., olives, dates, etc.) and then calling it a mitzvah.
Rav Tzadok explains that the Etz Ha’daat was all of the seven species and none of them at the same time. He explains that the Tree of Knowledge was not one species of fruit as opposed to another; it was not a thing at all but rather a way of doing something, a manner of eating. Whenever a person grabs pleasure from the world, he falls spiritually, and it is as if he is eating from the Etz Ha’daat. What does it mean to grab pleasure?
Unfortunately, people get so distracted by the pleasure of consumption that we forget about the Creator of the Universe. We take the gift and leave the Giver behind.
When we eat the many fruits associated with the Etz Ha’daat on Tu Be’Shevat and we do so with consciousness of our Creator, that in itself is a tikun, a rectification of what occurred in Gan Eden.
It is written in Sefer Yetzirah, the world’s oldest work on Kabalisitic thought, that the Hebrew month of Shevat is a time when there is a unique opportunity to rectify our relationship with food and with pleasure in general. According to Sifrei Kabalah, the alphabetical letter that corresponds to the month of Shevat is, Tzadi, also called Tzadik.
The Torah Ha’kedoshah states that for the tzadik, the righteous or enlightened person, eating is inherently satisfying: "The tzadik eats for the satisfaction of the body; the belly of the wicked feels always empty" (Mishlei: 13:25). This means that a righteous individual, eats for the purpose of nourishing his body. Although this person’s food choices may tend to be more nourishing and healthy than those of the unenlightened person, it is primarily the purposefulness of his eating that brings satisfaction. His eating is spiritual, really satisfying his soul as well as his body. An unenlightened person may eat the same amount of the same food as the tzadik, yet since he eats for no deeper purpose, he only exacerbates his physical and spiritual hunger.
Interesting, the word we use to describe eating is l’eita, and not achilah. L’eita is more gluttonous. It is the word that Esav uses when he comes back from the field, famished, and asks Yaakov, “Give me some of the red, red stuff you’re cooking, down my throat.” Because of these words, his descendants, to this day, carry the name Edom (related to adom, “red”).
Since the month of Shevat is associated both with the letter, “Tzadi,” which the Zohar Ha’kadosh refers to as Tzadik, and with indulgent eating (i.e., eating without consciousness of the Creator, the sin of the Etz Ha’daat), it is clear that our striving towards righteousness is somehow deeply connected with the rectification of consumption, which is related to how we eat.
The Sefer Yetzirah is telling us that a tzadik (righteous individual) is someone who has rectified his or her eating. Eating, or l’eita, as it is used in ancient texts, is much more than simply taking food into one’s mouth. It can symbolic of material acquisition; honor-seeking; addiction to power, praise, drugs or even attention - these are also forms of achilah, “eating.” Nevertheless, it seems that all these other ways of metaphorically “eating,” or consuming, are encapsulated in our literal consumption of food.
And although this striving to rectify eating is a practice and awareness that we should bring to every meal we eat, Tu Be’Shevat is an especially favorable opportunity to work on eating the right way, and with the right mindset and awareness.
On Tu Be’Shevat, we have a special opportunity to correct Adam and Chavah’s sin. Hashem also gave us an extra tool with which we could rectify our relationship with food that Adam and Chavah did not have, a tool that is available year-round. That tool is the berachot we recite over food before we eat and after we eat. Our berachot anchor our every meal in an awareness of G‑d. Even if we are distracted by the pleasure of the eating itself, we surround the act with an awareness of G‑d as Creator and Giver.
Ideally, in the moments of our chewing, tasting, enjoying and swallowing the fruits, we should close our eyes and offer our sincere gratitude to the Creator of the world. And when we do so, it is as if we are transported back to Gan Eden, and are given the opportunity to revisit that fateful event, and to do it right this time. It is a means of healing our neshamah. When we eat properly we are giving ourselves the opportunity to partake of and enjoy the pleasures of this world without being consumed by them.