Av

Rosh Chodesh Av/ New Moon of Av (AKA Menachem Av) begins this Thursday night, August 1st! It's a pretty wild month as it contains the saddest day on the Jewish calendar (Tisha b'Av) as well as one of the happiest days on the Jewish Calendar (Tu b'Av ). The first half of the month challenges us to dive into our sadness and grief, one of the most intimate and vulnerable ways to connect to the Divine. "Even when the gate of prayer is locked, the gate of tears is open (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzi'a 59A)." The second half of the month encourages us to feel the wave of awe and wonder that often follow periods of pain and darkness. If we are able to feel deeply into the broken world we currently inhabit, and even into our own brokenness we can acquire compassion and tools to slowly gather the pieces and put them back together, one of the fundamental purposes of existing as a Jew in this crazy world. We can also reconcile what it means to truly love. As Estelle Frankel writes, "Love and loss are inextricably bound together. We cannot love without risking heartbreak. And ultimately, in love's service, we must be willing to be shattered many times."

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Breastplate  by Nechama Shaina

Breastplate by Nechama Shaina

Tamuz

The name Tamuz comes from the name of an idol and a pagan practice. On the Solstice, the worshippers of Tamuz would heat the idol with fire to create an illusion of tears. This practice would cause the onlookers to cry for their own loss at the end of summer, a collective grief ritual. Though this ritual is not one that the Jewish people practice, on the 17th of Tamuz we begin our own 3 week period of mourning where we are encouraged to look inward and tap into our deepest suffering both individual and communal and maybe even shed some tears. We take on certain mourning practices and refrain from participating in joyous activities (no live music, no weddings, no travel etc) in order to create the space to feel pain. Sometimes it is helpful to make changes in the physical world in order to process changes in the emotional realm. And yet through all of the tears, we remember that just as the moon renews itself, so too will we be renewed. Just as the days get long again, so too will our days get brighter. Just as we once had a temple, so too will we witness another. As we read in Psalm 30, "You turn my mourning into dancing."

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Sivan

The Sefer Yetzirah (5:7), tells us that Sivan is the month of movement. This month we receive the Torah which contains the codes of law for living a Jewish Life. The Hebrew term for walking is HaLiKHAh (הליכה) which is closely related to the word HaLaKHAh (הלכה), the codes of law. What does walking have to do with laws? Of course, we can all walk with or without the Torah, but the idea here is not learning how to walk physically throughout the world but how to walk spiritually throughout the world: How to communicate and treat other humans, how to build a relationship with G!d and the Universe etc. It is not about running, hopping or skipping to some mind blowing understanding of what we are doing here, rather it is a day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath, relationship that takes time, lots of time. In the month of Nisan (two months ago), we were born (spiritually at least). In the month of Iyar (last month), we worked on ourselves (counting the Omer). During this month, we enter into a relationship, a relationship with G!d. In fact, on the morning of Shavuot in some Jewish cultures, a wedding contract is read before the Torah Service! On this day, we become co-creators with G!d and are given a tool, the Torah, to create a better, happier, world for all of existence. And the idea that Sivan is connected to the sense of motion suggests that our relationship to Torah is in motion. The changing currents of Torah are imagined as water. While we are destined to drink of her water, we are also destined to allow her to be in motion and flow alongside our present reality.

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Ruth/Eshet Chail/1/22 by  Nechama Shaina

Ruth/Eshet Chail/1/22 by Nechama Shaina

Iyar

A month that both represents mourning and healing, Iyar is a time of deep introspection and maturity. It is a time of mourning because it is said that in this month 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students were stricken with a plague because of their religious disagreements and their lack of kavod/respect for one another. During this time many Jews abstain from weddings and other celebrations. Yet, this is also a month of healing. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov notes, the word Iyar stands for the letters of the phrase "ani adonai rofecha" or "I am Adonai your healer." Rabbi Nachman also recommended healing herbs to be harvested this month! "At this season...fruits ripen and all healing plants increase in power, for the earth puts her strength into them at this time... (Likutei Maharan I:277)." As we dive into the characteristics of this month, take note of what you are mourning and what could use a little more light in your life. Try and see if it is possible to make space for both the constriction of darkness and the expansion of light. Just as we struggle through our own wilderness to make way to our promise land so too did our ancestors wandering the desert, "Why was the Torah given in the wilderness? This teaches that if you do not make yourself as free as the wilderness, you will not merit the words of Torah. And as the wilderness has no end, so too Torah has no end, as it says, "Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea (Pesikta De- Rav Kahana 12:20)." The mitzvah, or commandment, to count the Omer during this month is a type of alternative medicine (yes, I see ritual as medicine) for bridging that which we mourn with that which we long for - being in a place of darkness while simultaneously, slowly and steadily, making room for eternal light. 

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She is a Tree of Life    by Nechama Shaina 

She is a Tree of Life by Nechama Shaina 

Nisan

ניסן, meaning miraculous, is related to the Hebrew word for miracle נס and the Hebrew word for test/challenge נסיון. This speaks to the difficulty that can arise when even good things, miracles in fact, happen to us. Would I have left Egypt? Would I have walked through the parted sea? Even when miracles happen, it takes courage to accept and step into them (and sometimes they come in all sorts of disguises). This month is also referred to in the Torah as חודש האביב, the moon of Spring or of the Renewal of the Grain Crop. Originally it was called חודש הראשון, the first month. This is because the Jews were given the commandment to celebrate Rosh Chodesh upon leaving Egypt, which was in Nisan. Counting began from the month where the Jews were not only granted freedom but where they embraced the challenge of where that freedom might lead them, which is in large part what we celebrate on Passover. 

According to some, the 1st of Nisan celebrates the moon, the seasons and time itself! In fact on this very day, the Shekhinah, G!d's presence, descended into the tabernacle for the first time. According to Midrash Tadshe 2, "The tabernacle represents the whole world. The altar represents the earth. The sacrifices on the alter represent the fruits of the earth. The twelve loaves of showbread represent the twelve months. The two pillars represent the sun and the moon. The washbasin of the priests represents the the sea." This month, we celebrate the unification between creation and emanation, earth and sky, us and G!d. We relive our Exodus from Egypt: from slavery, narrowness and silence towards true freedom, expansiveness and expression.

Nisan by    Meirav Ong

Nisan by Meirav Ong

Adar ב

The function of Adar ב is to keep the Hebrew Calendar in sync with both the sun and the moon. Because the lunar year is shorter than a solar year by several days, every few years we need to add another month. This adjustment guarantees that all of the months fall in their proper seasons. A year that contains a second Adar is called me'uberet- pregnant! 

Roses are the quintessential flower of Persia, the location of our Purim story. They are held to the highest regard in Jewish texts. In Vayikra Rabbah 23:1 we read, "... A king had an orchard planted with one row of fig trees, one of vines, one of pomegranates, and one of apples. He entrusted it to a tenant and went away. After a time, the king came and looked in at the orchard...He found it full of thorns and briars... He looked closely and noticed among them a single rose-colored flower. He smelled it, and his spirits calmed down (It's no wonder that medicinally rose petals are used to comfort and calm the heart). The king said: "The whole orchard shall be saved because of this flower." In a similar manner, the world was created for the sake of Torah. G!d saw a single rose-colored flower, Israel. When God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, God's spirits were calmed when they said, We will do, and we will hear (Exodus 24:7). Said the Holy One, "The orchard shall be saved on account of this flower. For the sake of the Torah and of Israel the world shall be saved." 

It's amazing that one flower had the power to save the world (#flowerpower)!  How often in our own lives does just one beautiful sound, taste or smell pull us out of the hole that we seem to be buried in and save us? Sometimes it just takes one small thing to transform our entire reality. This total reversal is called nahafoch hu "to completely turn around." In the story of Purim the fate of the Jewish people is turned around! All throughout our history, the Jewish people have faced seemingly insurmountable odds and circumstances but again and again - nahafoch hu. Thanks to the brave acts of so many people and the blessings of G!d, we have the power to literally transform reality! What in your life could use some nahafoch hu? Where can you find a rose among the thorns to inspire that change?

Masks of Divinity by    Alyssa Elbogen 

Masks of Divinity by Alyssa Elbogen 

Adar א

As it says in our holy books, " Mishenichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha." This means, "When Adar begins let joy increase! (Babylonian Talmud)" Now you might be thinking, "How can I just turn on the joy switch? I'm not a machine!" I'm with you. According to Rabbi Jill Hammer, "The message of Adar is not to cover up our true feelings with forced merriment but to recognize the double edge that lies under all reality." Life is full of good and bad times, but Adar is here to remind us that even then, happiness is possible. Kierkegaard once wrote: “It takes moral courage to grieve; it takes religious courage to rejoice.” Part of what makes the Jewish people the Jewish people is our ability to find joy despite communal and personal tragedy. It's the greatest medicine that G!d has given us. Let's take it! 

The organ of the month is the spleen, in Hebrew t'chol, which is considered "cold and dry" as is the element of Earth (chol in Hebrew means sand), the lowest and densest of the elements. As such, an imbalance of earth can lead to depression. The sadder one is, the more one's personality is dominated by inner inertia which is rooted in the element of Earth giving rise to laziness, indifference and depression. And yet.... even in the darkness of the spleen, which produces black bile, there is a seed of hope! The letters of black humor , מרה שחורה, permute to spell happy thought, הרהור שמח. This month we are encouraged to find holiness in the mundane... though with caution and not in excess. As we read in Yoma, " You shall live--- and not die --- by them (them being mitzvahs)." Sometimes when we get excited about something, we dive deep without taking the time to swim on the surface. This holds true for work, relationships, and our commitment to Judaism. As we learn from Rebbe Nachman, " Over stringency in lifestyle, in devotion, and indeed all areas of life, leads to depression...." Our spleens get exhausted!! This Adar let's turn our attention towards our spleen and move slowly- the way she likes it- so that we can transform that which drowns us into that which may save us!!! 

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Adar Moon |  Meirav Ong

Adar Moon | Meirav Ong

Shevat

All the trees...are conversing...All the trees...are conversing with creatures...

All the prayers of the creatures are about nothing except the land...

All the prayers of Israel are about nothing except the Temple (Breishit Raba 13:2)

Take a moment to imagine the conversations of the creatures and another moment to consider our conversations. What would it be like if all of our conversations were directed towards holiness? This month, we learn from the best example out there, the trees. Even Moses took notes from the trees. As he said, "There is a man whose years are as numerous as that of a tree and who protects his generation like a tree protects its branches (Ein Yaakov, Bava Batra 1:28)." This Shevat let's try to learn from one of our greatest teachers, Mother Earth. 

The sense of this month is Taste. In Devarim it is written, "For not by bread alone will man live, rather from the word of G!d." How often are our physical needs satisfied but our spiritual appetite is still thirsty? We're doing wonderful things but the taste of satisfaction just isn't present. This month, we are reminded that just bread or just a job or just a partner is not what fills us. Rather it is the meaning, or taste, of those things. Our spiritual taste buds need to be exercised in order for us to uncover what our soul likes. This month, consider what flavors you are attracted to (learning, praying, doing acts of kindness) and maybe try new ones! 

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Meirav Ong    |  The Tree that Stands Beyond Space |  Intaglio print on paper 

Meirav Ong | The Tree that Stands Beyond Space | Intaglio print on paper 

Tevet

Isn't it ironic that the word Tevet is related to the Hebrew word for Good, Tov? It brings to mind the Hebrew saying, "This too is for the good." The keyword in this saying is too. Frequently, we are quick to judge something as good if the immediate outcome is something that brings us joy. How often do we see the good when something unfortunate happens that then leads to something even better? This saying, though at times the last thing we want to hear when we are in a hard spot, is also a reminder of our place in this world and our inability to comprehend the Divine workings of it all. Who are we to understand if something is good or bad in the greater story of the Universe? Who are we to judge the game of cosmic dominos of which we are all a part?  

The sense of this month is anger. In Pirkei Avot, we read, "slowness to anger is better than a mighty person..." According to the Rambam, "Someone who gets angry is like one who worships idols." Wow, right?! Why is it that anger is seen as such a destructive emotion and that it is compared to worshiping idols? Perhaps it is implying that just as an idol separates us from the oneness of creation so too can our anger separate us from others. One of the goals of Judaism is to see that in every single thing there is a spark of G!d. When we feel angry, that spark goes out and we may do or say things that we regret. How can we feel our anger without letting it separate us from one another? I think, first and foremost, it could help us to be with our anger instead of act with our anger. Perhaps by just doing that some of the fumes might settle creating space for understanding, empathy and kindness. 

Image by artist:  Meirav Ong

Image by artist: Meirav Ong

Kislev

The name Kislev derives from the Hebrew word, kesel (כֶּסֶל), which means trust. Being one of the darkest months of the year, it makes sense that in it's name there would be a spark of hope. Whether it be trusting others, trusting ourselves or trusting G!d, this month challenges us to tap into that space so that we can let go of fear and follow are dreams with courage and confidence. 

The zodiac of Kislev is often translated as both Bow and Rainbow because the Hebrew word Keshet means both! What is the Hebrew language trying to communicate by using the same word to represent both war and peace? To answer this question, we have to look back at the first time a rainbow is mentioned in the Torah. After Noah's Flood (that happened last month), G!d made a rainbow (this month) appear in the sky and promised to never flood the earth again. This rainbow, or bow, was pointed away from humanity protecting them from destruction. The bow, our symbol of war, transformed into a rainbow, a symbol of peace. How can we transform certain traits or actions of ours into instruments of peace? 

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Cheshvan

While this month is known as Bitter Cheshvan (Mar Cheshvan), I find it to be one of my favorites for it tasks us to turn inwards, build boundaries and stick to them! Of course the funny thing about being human is getting confused and not always knowing how to set boundaries and how to seperate good from bad. Or perhaps we feel like we just cant set that boundary and are torn between our head and our heart. Ultimately, according to Jewish practice, the heart should be our guide- but in the world we live in, brains have taken over and thus we follow suit.

Perhaps to gain some inspiration whilst stuggling, we can look towards the organ of this month, the intestines (as defined in Kabbalah, Chinese medicine, Western Astrology and more)! 💜

Thank G!d for our intestines! They do the vital work of absorbing the good stuff and eliminating the toxic stuff. It is what they were made to do and thus, if all is running smoothly, can do it 24/7. 
While we may never work as efficiently as our intestines, we can most certainly try our best to bring in what is positive for us and leave out what harms us. Even if it's just one small change, observe how much it can transform you. The confidence and strength that we gain from defining our lines is super empowering, especially as women.

If you need a plant ally to help with building up some physical, emotional, and spiritual protection, yarrow is your go to!

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Tishrei

No matter how many times this month comes and goes, it never gets old. We start with Rosh Hashanah, which marks the creation of man and woman, followed by Yom Kippur, a day of inward reflection, followed by Sukkot, a time of coming together in community, and end with Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, a holiday of unbridled joy for the Torah, the book of the Jewish people. Needless to say, it's a jam packed month that takes us from the creation of a person to the celebration of a people and finally to the ecstatic gratitude of the glue that holds us all together, the 5 books of Moses. Each year, we are encouraged and empowered to re-create ourselves and re-connect with our crazy Jewish Family . According to the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic Movement, G!d is continually creating the world, every second is an act of creation. The same is true for us. At any moment, we have the power to create, to bring something new into existence, pretty amazing, right? This time of year is a reminder and call for all of us to dig as deeply as we can to uncover our unique creat-ivity and to use the support of our community to contribute one more spark, no matter how small, to the healing of this broken world. And perhaps, the reason why we end by celebrating the Torah itself is because it is the foundation from which growth, both personal and communal, is possible. It's our family heirloom! I thank my ancestors and my community for continuing to commit to the Jewish Journey because without them, the impact and meaning of these incredible rituals would be far less.

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