Rosh Chodesh Shevat Torah Essay
Rebecca Lana Steiner
Shevat: Month of Transition & Transformation
The winter months represent a time of hibernation when we become more insular and internally focused. Shevat is a month of transition, when we begin the process of blossoming, when we begin letting the work we’ve done give birth to something new. In this time, we shed our old leaves and selves, and allow the cycles of nature to reflect our internal changes. Tu B’Shevat in particular, the middle of this month, is a day of cognizance of new life and vitality, in the physical sense of the land and trees, and in our personal growth as well.
According to Sefer Yetzira, each month has a corresponding Hebrew letter. The letter for the month of Tevet is an Ayin, and the letter for the month of Shevat, is Tsadi. When conjugated, they spell – עץ (eitz), a tree, a symbol of growth. Similarly, the permutation of God’s name of this month according to the Ari Hakadosh is – hay yud vav hey- which represents transformation and the extension of holiness. Shevat is a time of transition in our religious and spiritual development. We begin to leave the dark nights of the winter, representing confusion and separation, and start to see the new light of spring, bringing clarity and change in consciousness. This is the secret of renewal. It is in these liminal spaces of time where we reconnect and make room for our relationships with self, with others, with the world around us, and ultimately with Hashem.
Perhaps this is why Moshe Rabbenu begins with his farewell address to B’nei Yisrael of Torah and mitzvot, lessons from our past, and trajectory for our future, on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, concluding shortly before his passing on the seventh of Adar. Moshe taught the Torah with 70 faces and facets and in 70 languages. He was revealing the “sod”, in gematria, also 70; he was sharing the secrets of Torah, the various possible interpretations through which as individuals, we understand and appreciate dvar Hashem. “Sod”, secret, or hidden meaning, lies deep within the Torah and ourselves. In order to reveal these deeper meanings, we must “water” and “sow” before they reach fruition and manifest themselves above ground. Shevat is the month of revealing “secrets”, our hidden potentials, perspectives and novel insights and interpretations of the Torah. This is the perfect time of the year to rediscover our dormant potential and divulge our ideas and dreams which have been percolating within us the past few months.
Yirmiyahu the prophet was implored by God, “What do you see?” (Yirmiyahu 1:11), to which the prophet answered, “I see a rod of an almond tree”. God wished for Yirmiyahu to observe and process the situation around him; and Yirmiyahu recognized that events were blossoming. The almond rod symbolizes the beginning of fruition as it is the first tree to blossom. This is the time of the year when we all have to ask ourselves, ‘What do we see?”, what are our hidden secrets and talents, thoughts and potential which have been germinating like the seeds in the ground, waiting to burst forth? What new fruit will we bring as we approach the new year of trees and selves?
Rabbi Nahman of Breslov states “Before any Jewish soul has a revelation of Torah or service, it is first tested and refined in exile…Before the Torah was revealed, it was in state of gestation, for it was concealed from the soul…For the shell precedes the fruit, and whoever wants to eat the fruit must break through the shell…” (LM #36) As the winter ends and we gradually prepare ourselves to enter the spring season of Nissan, we transition from cold darkness (“exile”) into warmer days. We understand that we are shifting and we are sensitive to this process of change. In order to eat the fruits of the upcoming season, we must first break through our shells which are impediments to personal and Torah growth. This is the season wherein we, at times uncomfortably, must recognize that like the ground, we must shift, and like the seed, we must shed our exterior to reveal our fruitful potential. When we allow ourselves to undergo this process of change and shedding, a new tree may be planted and a new fruit born. May we merit in this special month of Shevat to transition and transform, to see and process, and blossom and bloom with beautiful Torah insights and fruits of mitzvot!