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Tu beShvat: The Spiritual Roots of Gardening

Tu beShvat, the new year for the trees, held on the fifteenth of Shvat (fifth month on the Hebrew calendar), is an opportunity for Jews to touch upon their spiritual roots

 

“For is the tree of the field a man” (Deuteronomy 20:19).

Just like the tree, to be ready to bear (spiritual) fruit, you and I need to experience the same work we do on trees and plants. If we graft, powder, fertilize, and weed those parts in our souls requiring cultivation, our spirituality will enhance and fill our lives with joy. If we nourish our souls, we will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither” (Psalms 1:3). It only takes a few ground-rules to tend to our inner “plants.”

On the fifteenth of Shvat, 1957 (Jan 17, 1957), just over half a century ago, the great Kabbalist, Rabbi, Baruch Shalom HaLevi Ashlag wrote a letter to his students in Israel from his temporary residence in Manchester, England. In this fascinating (and extensive) letter, he described the entire spiritual process Kabbalah students experience, using examples from the work of the land. Tu beShvat, the New Year ’s Day for the trees, according to the Hebrew calendar, is a great opportunity to introduce this gem, so we can all benefit from the wisdom of a great sage.

Fertilize
Like plants, humans can’t grow without fertilizers. In Webster’s dictionary, “a fertilizer is a substance (as manure or a chemical mixture) used to make soil more fertile.” In plants, the fertilizer needs to be brought from the outside. We already have plenty of “materials” within us, which we can use to make fertilizers. We needn’t bring it from the outside, only correct what is already within us. For that, we need to recognize which of our qualities are improper (waste) and correct them (turn them into fertilizer). And the means to do that is the method of Kabbalah. This is the essence of “spiritual gardening.”

When Kabbalists speak of improper qualities, they are not referring to socially unbecoming qualities, but to spiritual qualities, relating to our relationship with the Creator. It does, eventually, make us treat each other better, but we must keep in mind that the final goal of Kabbalah is to return to the Garden of Eden, to the spiritual world.

Hoe
Spiritual hoeing means examining one’s soul. According to Kabbalah, only there, within ourselves, will we discover why we come into this world. The answers to all of life’s questions rest deep within us. If we want to find them, we must hoe into our souls and discover the answers.

Remove Calluses
A callus is a superficial defect. Because spirituality concerns a person’s contact with the Creator, it is a very intimate process. Kabbalists suggest that we keep spiritual thoughts to ourselves. When you study Kabbalah, you will discover where you are not in contact with the Creator. Don’t talk about it, it is a tool that you will put to use. In time, these discoveries about yourself will give you great powers.

Remove Excess Leaves
“Leaves” represent our efforts and desires to discover Him. Once we establish this connection, these efforts and desires become “fruits.” We do not change who we are, only our focus of attention: spirituality means focusing on the Creator, while corporeality means focusing on ourselves.

Leaves are very important. They are beautiful, provide shade, and protect the fruits as they grow. There needn’t be too many leaves so they will not exhaust the tree’s water and energy, but we need to have enough of them to help the fruits grow lushly and plentifully. Similarly, when you are learning how to become spiritual, don’t worry if you haven’t made contact with the Creator quickly, your attempts are your leaves. Even if you’re unaware of it, they are protecting the fruits already growing within you, hidden in the foliage.

Powder
Powdering, and in Hebrew—LeAbbek, means covering with powder or dust (Avak). It also means to struggle (Maavak). To connect to the Creator, we must bridge the barrier between our world and the spiritual world. We are born completely self-centered, and to connect to the Creator we must become “Creator-centered.” And that requires a struggle because our inborn nature objects to being Creator-centered and sends us thoughts that our connection with Him is not a worthy goal. Our job is to “powder” these thoughts, to cover them with conviction of the importance and the merit of our goal.

Water
“And God said: ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’” (Genesis 1:8).

We saved the best for last. Water exists above — in heaven — and below — on Earth. It is the ultimate solvent and the prime ingredient of everything that is alive. Not surprisingly, water also represents the Creator, or actually, His quality: mercy. As the Creator is omniscient, water, too, retains information about everything it touches. Plants can use this quality in water, and this tells them when to bud and when to blossom.

To grow, a plant needs only water and a few minerals, which it often takes from the water itself. No other substance can be the sole cause of evolution and growth like water. The hydrological cycle allows water to connect the “higher” worlds with the “lower” words, just as the Creator does it in spirituality. Knowing when and how much to “water” your soul with the quality of the Creator is therefore the single most important piece of information a seeker of spirituality needs.

Becoming a “spiritual gardener”
The wisdom of Kabbalah was hidden for many centuries — since the days of Abraham the Patriarch, to the end of the twentieth century. Today, however, we can all enjoy what it has to offer. To a spiritual person, Kabbalah is the hoe, the pruning-shears, and the plow. The Creator gives the water of life, and we need only turn our “waste” into fertilizer and discover the Creator so our souls can blossom.

* This column is based on lectures given by Rav Michael Laitman, PhD, edited by staff members of the Ashlag Research Institute (ARI).

 

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