The New Year for rebirthing trees: A Tu B’Shvat seder to heal the wounded earth

This Tu B’Shvat haggadah focuses on healing the wounded Earth today, with passages on major policy questions facing the human race in the midst of a great climate crisis and massive extinctions of species.

In each of the Four Worlds in this Haggadah (Earth, Water, Air, Fire) there are traditional, mystical, and poetical passages, and in each there are also contemporary passages on aspects of public policy (Earth: food and forest; Water: fracking; Air: climate; Fire: alternative and renewable energy sources.) These policy-oriented passages help make this a unique Haggadah. After these passages, this Haggadah encourages Seder participants to take time for discussion. They may also decide to omit some passages and/or add others.


 A Song to Welcome the Celebrants:

We’ve got the whole world in our hands:
We’ve got the rivers and the mountains in our hands;
We’ve got the trees and the tigers in our hands; 
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.

We’ve got the wind and the oceans in our hands,
We’ve got our sisters and our brothers in our hands,
We’ve got our children and their children in our hands,

Introductory Invocations

 “Said Rabbi Simeon: ‘Mark this well. Fire, air, earth and water are the sources and roots of all things above and below, and all things above, below, are grounded in them.’” (Zohar, Exodus 23b)

 “Sh’sh’sh’sh’ma Yisrael, Yahhhh Elohenu, Yahhhh Echad: Hush’sh’sh’sh to Hear, you Godwrestlers: our God is The Interbreathing-Spirit of all Life; The Interbreath of Life is ONE.

 “If you hush’sh’sh’sh to listen, really listen,  to the teachings of YHWH/ Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life, especially the teaching that there is Unity in the world and inter-connection among all its parts,  then the rains will fall as they should, the rivers will run, the heavens will smile, and the good earth will fruitfully feed you. BUT if you chop the world up into parts and choose one or a few to worship – like gods of wealth and power, greed, the addiction to Do and Make and Produce without pausing to Be and make Shabbat — then the rain won’t fall  – or it will turn to acid; the rivers won’t run  – or they will flood your cities because you have left no earth where the rain can soak in;  and the heavens themselves will become your enemy: the ozone layer will cease shielding you, the Carbon Dioxide you pour into the air will scorch your planet. And then you will perish from the good earth that the Breath of Life gives you.”

 (A midrashic translation by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Sh’ma  and its traditional second paragraph, which originally appeared in Deuteronomy 11: 13-17,)

“Know that every shepherd has a unique niggun [melody] for each of the grasses and for each place where they herd. For each and every grass has its own song and from these songs of the grasses, the shepherds compose their songs.”

 “…Would that I merited hearing the sound of the songs and praises of the grasses, how every blade of grass sings to the Holy One of Blessing, wholeheartedly with no reservations and without anticipation of reward. How wonderful it is when one hears their song and how very good to be amongst them serving our Creator in awe.” (Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav)

 “A person who enjoys the pleasures of this world without blessing is called a thief because the blessing is what causes the continuation of the divine flow of the world.” (Peri Eitz Hadar, the original plan for the Tu B’Shvat Seder, publ. 1728).

The Four Worlds

 [If there is a leader, s/he may lead the group in the meditations  at the beginning of each world, and the kavannot before the blessings. The group as a whole sings. Distribute the readings  in each world ‑­embellish here, too…. from your own sources‑‑ before the beginning of the seder so that as many people have parts as possible. Other activities, such as dancing, storytelling, etc, should be inserted into the appropriate world. – EB]

 I. ASIYAH (Actuality, Physicality): The World of Earth


Earth is the rhythm of our feet on the Mountain. In this world, we bless the physical: our bodies, our land, our homes. It is our connection to the Earth which inspires Action. [EB]

 SONGS: “Tzadik KaTamar,”  ”You Shall Indeed Go Out with Joy,” “Inch by Inch (The Garden Grows)”


 “And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken, yes hearken to my commandments which I command you this day, to love YHWH your God and to serve the One with all your heart and soul, then I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, and your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them. Then the anger of YHWH will burn against you, and the One will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land YHWH is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17).

“In the seventh year there shall be a Shabbat to the exponential power of Shabbat;  a Sabbath-pausing for the Land, for the sake of YHWH, the Interbreath of Life. Your field you are not to sow; your vineyard you are not to prune.  And the Land shall not be sold in harness, for the Land is Mine; you are sojourners and resident-settlers with Me.” (Leviticus 25: 4, 23).

“And if you will not hearken to Me, I will make the land desolate, and through these days of desolation the land will find Shabbat, since it was unable to make a Shabbat-pausing when you were settled on it.” (Lev. 26: 32-35)

“In nature, what dies and decays provides the fertility for that which is to continue. At one time farmers respected these processes and used them to advantage. Farming is no longer a way of life, no longer husbandry or even agriculture. It is big business….agribusiness.

 “Agribusiness does not love the land. It treats soil as a raw material to use up. The result of the exploitation of the soil is soil erosion, soil compaction, soil and water pollution, pests and disease due to monoculture, depopulation of the country, decivilization of the city.” (Adapted from Wendell Berry, The Gift of the Good Land)

“Judaism teaches us to become good stewards of the Earth. But Monsanto – a major player in industrial global-corporate agriculture – is imposing genetically modified crops on more and more farms, with the result that some farmers report the growth of “superweeds” and end up using about 25 percent more herbicides than farmers who use traditional seeds.

“”Monsanto also threatens the sustainability of agriculture because its products require the use of larger quantities of water and fossil fuels in farming. While genetically engineered crops are supposed to be more drought resistant, the opposite turns out to be true.  

“And Monsanto is a major threat to a sustainable climate and society because it pushes an energy-intensive agricultural model and promotes ethanol as a fuel source.” (Rabbi Mordechai Liebling)

“Jewish wisdom,  from the earliest verses of Torah to the teachings of Rav Kook in the 20th century, yearn toward a vegetarian diet. Now we must do more than yearning. Current livestock agriculture contributes greatly to all four major global warming gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons. Every year millions of acres of tropical forest are burned, primarily to raise livestock, releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The highly mechanized agricultural sector uses a significant amount of fossil fuel energy, and this also contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. Cattle emit methane as part of their digestive and excretory processes.

“A 2009 cover article in World Watch magazine, ‘Livestock and Climate Change,’ by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank argued that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gases. This is largely due to the massive destruction of tropical rain forests to produce pasture land and land to grow feed crops for animals and the emission of methane  from farmed animals. During the 20-year periods that methane remains in the atmosphere it is per molecule 72 times more potent in causing warming than CO2.

“According to a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow,’ animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in carbon dioxide equivalents) than all the cars, planes, ships and other means of transportation combined (18 percent versus 13.5 percent).

“A shift toward plant-based diets is essential.” (Richard H. Schwartz>)

· recycle waste paper and buy only those paper products that are made with a high percentage of post-consumer content recycled paper;

· use only wood certified as sustainably harvested by the Certified Forest Products Council for all construction purposes;

· divest from corporations whose activities contribute to the destruction of forests in the U.S. and abroad; dedicate one Shabbat or holiday (such as Tu B’Shevat or Sukkot) to learning about environmental issues and Jewish environmental ethics.…

· Furthermore, the CCAR calls upon the federal government … to protect roadless areas in National Forests … and end all subsidies for logging and mining on public lands and immediately suspend all such activities in all old-growth forests and other threatened habitats on public lands.” (CCAR resolution, March 2000)



For Assiyah, we eat nuts and fruits with a tough skin to remind us of the protection the earth gives. Through this act, we acknowledge that we need protection in life, both physical and emotional. We bless our defense systems. [EB]

Say one of these brachot [blessings] over fruit:

 Traditional brachah  over the fruit: “Ba‑ruch ata A‑do‑nai El‑o‑hay‑nu mel‑ech ha‑olam bo-ray pree ha‑etz.  Blessed are You, Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.”

      Reinterpretive  translation: “Blessed are You, Eternal One, the Majesty of the World, creating the fruit of the tree.”

 Transformative brachah  over the fruit:  “Brucha aht Yahhhh, El‑o‑hay‑nu ru’ach ha‑olam bo‑rate pree ha‑etz.  Blessed are You our God, Interbreathing-Spirit of the world, Who creates the fruitfulness of the tree.” [AW]

 Eat the fruits with hard shells on the outside and soft fruit on the inside. (e.g. walnuts, oranges)

 Our first cup of wine is white. In winter, when nature is asleep, the earth is barren, sometimes covered with snow. [EB]

 Say one of the brachot over wine:

 Traditional brachah  over the wine:  Ba‑ruch ata A‑do‑nai El‑o‑hay‑nu mel‑ech ha‑olam bo‑ray pree ha‑gafen.Blessed are You,  Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

      Reinterpretive  translation: “Blessed are You, Eternal One, the Majesty of the World, creating the fruit of the vine.”

 Transformative bracha  over the wine: “N’varekh et eyn ha’khayim, matzmikhat pri hagafen. Let us bless the Wellspring of Life, that ripens fruit on the vine.” [Marcia Falk]

 Drink the first cup.

 II. YETZIRAH (Formation, Relationship, Ethics, Emotion): The World of Water

Yetzirah is the world of formation and birth. Water, the fluid element, gives shape to all matter. We honor the rain and rivers, the water table and the oceans that must be healed from the poisons that afflict them. [EB]

 SONG: “Ushavtem Mayim”


 “Water is the place of birthing and rebirthing. ‘Mayim” shares the same root as the word for What, ‘Mah.’ A person who immerses in water is nullifying her/his ego and asking “What am I?” Ego is the essence of permanence while water is the essence of impermanence. When a person is ready to replace his ego with a question, then s/he is also ready to be reborn with its answer.”(Aryeh Kaplan, The Waters of Eden)

 “From the forested headwaters to the agricultural midstream valleys to the commercial and industrial centers at the river’s mouth, good and bad news travels by way of water. Did my toilet flushing give downstream swimmers a gastrointestinal disease? Did the headwaters clear-cut kill the salmon industry at the river’s mouth? Did my city’s need for water drain off a river and close upriver farmland that fed me fresh vegetables? Did a toxic waste dump leak into the groundwater table and poison people in the next county? Watershed consciousness is, in part, a promotional campaign to advertise the mutual concerns and needs that bind upstream and downstream, instream and offstream peoples together.

 “This journey is right out your window ‑ among the hills and valleys that surround you. It is the first excursion of thought into the place you live. It focuses on where your water comes from when you turn on the faucet; where it goes when you flush; what soils produce your food; who shares your water supply, including the fish and other non-human creatures. The watershed way is a middle way, singing a local song, somewhere close by, between Mind and Planet.”  (Peter Warshall, The Whole Earth Catalogue)

“>… <“>… < · Studies into hydrofracking impacts, including impacts on groundwater sources, surface water sources, air quality, human and animal health, infrastructure and ecosystems, should be continued and conducted with urgency by federal and state regulatory agencies. Appropriate safeguards to protect public health and the environment should be adopted and enforced based on the identification of impacts. …

· States should require safeguards for protecting underground water sources and adequate setbacks to keep drilling sites a safe distance away from residences, schools, healthcare facilities, creeks, lakes, rivers, and sources of public-drinking-water supplies, as well from other areas of high ecological value. …

· The drilling industry must identify all chemicals used in the fracking process, stop using any that are banned by appropriate regulation, and should be strongly urged to find and use non-hazardous substitutes for hazardous chemicals used in the fracking process. Drillers should be encouraged to recycle and/or ensure proper disposal of all wastewater.

· An increase in the natural-gas supply should not result in reduced investment in research and development of alternative and renewable energy sources.” (Adopted by JCPA plenum in 2012.“>> )



For Yetzirah, we eat fruits with a tough inner core and a soft outer. Through this act we acknowledge the need to fortify our hearts. With a strong heart and a pure vision we can pull down the protective outer shell. Our lives grow richer and deeper as we become available to the miracle of nature which surrounds us. [EB]

[In some streams of Judaism, as directed by Peri Eytz Hadar, the brachot over the second, third, and fourth courses of fruit and wine are said by someone who has not eaten the previous fruit or wine.}  Say one of the brachot over fruit. (See above.)

Eat the fruits which are soft on the outside and have hard pits on the inside (e. g. peaches).

As spring approaches, the sun’s rays begin to thaw the frozen earth. Gradually, the land changes its colors from white to red, as the first flowers appear on the hillsides. So, our second cup will be a bit darker. We pour a little red wine into the white. [EB]

Say one of the brachot over wine. (See above.)

Drink the second cup.

 BRIYAH (Creative Intellect): The World of Air

How can we pronounce the Unpronounceable Name of God, “YHWH”? By breathing YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh – the “still silent voice” Elijah heard.

“>> <“> <“>> <“>> ” “>> )

“The Central Conference of American Rabbis:

1. Reaffirms our 1975 resolution supporting the development of a national energy policy centered on conservation and development of alternative energy sources.

2. Calls upon governments at all levels to enforce existing legislation and policies to achieve these goals.

3. Calls upon the oil, automobile, and other industries which produce energy or contribute to its use to develop policies.

 4. Opposes off shore oil-drilling, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and drilling in any environmentally sensitive area.

5. Calls upon the federal, state and local government to enact legislation that would mandate energy efficiency and develop safe and renewable energy sources.” (Adopted by the 103rd Annual Convention of  CCAR, April, 1992)



As summer turns to fall, plants are preparing seed for the next cycle of nature. We too must nourish the world for the coming generation. Just as the natural world goes through changes to achieve its full potential, we also need to change: we need to get rid of anger, envy and greed so that we can be free to grow. When we do this, we will become very strong, healthy trees, with solid roots in the ground and our arms open to the love that is all around us. Many of our trees become red. We will drink the fourth cup full-strength red. [EB]

 Say one of the brachot  over wine.

Drink the fourth cup.

At the level of Being, the Fruit is fully potential, expressing the Will to create, and is not itself a creation. Therefore we pause to say the blessing over life renewed and ever-growing, with no physical fruit:

Traditional brachah: Ba‑ruch ata A‑do‑nai El‑o‑hay‑nu mel‑ech ha‑olam sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v;higianu lazman hazeh..  Blessed are You, Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who fills us with life, lifts us up, and carries us to this moment.

 Transformative brachah:  “Brucha aht Yahhhh, El‑o‑hay‑nu ruach ha‑olam olam sheh’hekhiatnu v’kimatnu v’higiatnu lazman hazeh.  Blessed are You our God, Interbreathing-spirit of the world, Who fills us with life, lifts us up, and carries us to the moment of THIS.”

 SONG: Debbie Friedman or Shefa Gold versions of the blessing.

[After the seder, a fuller meal using the foods that are mentioned in Deuteronomy 8: 7-9:  “…a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil, and honey; a land in which you shall eat bread without scarceness,” can be eaten. ]

This version of the Haggadah for Tu B’Shvat has been greatly adapted from a Haggadah shaped by Ellen Bernstein, as published in Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology (Jewish Publ. Soc., 1999, ed. by Elon, Hyman, & Waskow).  Bernstein wrote introductory remarks to sections of that Haggadah, many of which have been included or adapted for this one. They are indicated in the text by the initials “EB.” *

Bernstein created “The Tree’s Birthday,” the first Tu B’Shvat Haggadah widely used in the US, and founded the first Jewish organization focused entirely on protection of the Earth, Shomrei Adamah, in 1988. For her continuing work, see “>>The desire for this Haggadah  grew from discussions of the Green Hevra, a network of Jewish environmental organizations. With especially deep thanks to Ellen Bernstein and the Green Hevra, I note that neither bears responsibility for this version.  —  AW