Kislev – A Study in Opposites

Kislev 5769 begins at sundown on Thursday, November 27, 2008

This is the season of Fire within Water, according to Rabbi Jill Hammer in the The Jewish Book of Days .  The fire of the season is easy to see with the lighting of Hanukkah candles and in the way our Christian neighbors light up the nights with decorative lights.  The water, for many of us, appears in the form of snow or rain.  The astrological symbol of the month, the keshet (archer’s bow), is often seen as the rainbow, which is the result of the blending of fire of the sun and water from rain, and is the symbol of G!(d)dess’s promise to humanity that the world will never again be destroyed through a flood.

In the traditional images of the Temperance card you will see irises, and some say the Angel in on the card is intended to be Iris: the Greek goddess who personified the rainbow1.  In this month where the triumph over the Greeks and Hellenized Jews is celebrated with the holiday of Hanukkah, it is synchronicitious that Greek goddess should hidden in plain site on the tarot card associated with the month.

Kislev and its holiday, Hanukkah, are studies in contrast.  Both are personified by the Temperance card, in that it blends to to opposites to create a stronger whole (i.e. tempering steel).  It also requires moderation or a temperate disposition when looking at the different sides of the holiday.  For some it is a victory story and for others a solstice story, but the truth is more complicated once you begin to peel back the layers.  Hanukkah is the only holiday to span two months: Kislev and Tevet.  Hanukkah and the months of Kislev/Tevet is a test of our ability to hold two opposing ideas in each hand and make them work together.

Items Featured in the Kislev Rosh Chodesh Guide

The Tribe of Benjamin, the tribe associated with Kislev, is also symbol of opposites having to work together. Benjamin’s mother, Rachel, names him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) as she dies giving birth to him. His father immediately renames him Ben Yamin (son of good luck).  Benjamin must contain these two opposing ideas.

The Ba’alat Ov, the Shamaness, which is the Kohenet Netivah of the month of Kislev fits well here too.  The Ba’alat Ov, the Spirit Vessel, is a blender of worlds. A shamaness must be able to walk between the worlds to do her work, but always be anchored to this — or she may be lost.  It is easy to look at many versions of the Temperance card and see a Shamaness at work.

The Havdalah ritual is a true Jewish expression of the idea of creating a whole from opposites.  This ritual celebrates light/dark, silence/sound, shabbat/week, sacred/secular and culminates in the dipping of a candle in a cup of wine and the hiss of the steam in the silence. The image is very evocative of the angel on the Temperance card combining fire and water.  This year when Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice coincide the Havdalah correspondence is stronger than ever.  The first night of Hanukkah falls on the Winter Solstice this year.

The monthly Parshiyot for Kislev echo this theme of opposites.  Along with this, they bring in another important theme of the month: dreams. From the “dream” where Yaakov battles the angel and becomes Yisrael, the God-wrestler to the dreams of Yoseph.  Dreams, the tool of the Ba’alat Ov, play an important role in the month of Kislev.


1.  This is a fairly common correspondence for Temperance cards that are derivative of the traditional Rider-Waite deck.  Information about this ccan be found in many locations, including

[tags]rosh chodesh, jewish, judaism, wheel of the year, hanukkah, chanukah, kislev, solstice[/tags]

Response to the Recall

The recent US cattle recall, which was the largest in U.S. history, has clearly set my course for the next several months.  I had already determined that Rosh Chodesh Elul would be the next seder that I would write, but I had been wavering.  The first of Elul is considered to be one of the four Jewish new years, but it is the least recognized now.  Many do use Elul to prepare for the High Holidays, but the connection to the tithing of cattle has been lost.  When the news about the cattle recall and the fact that it was strictly due to the treatment of these animals, and not to reports of e.coli or other bacteria — my course was set.

It is more imperative now than ever before that we change our thinking about the animals we sacrifice for our own survival.  This is a Jewish issue, if ever there was one.  Even the kosher meat industry has been guilty of the same types of crimes.  We should be able to trust that kosher meat is from animals that are treated humanely.  Because we lose our humanity when we mistreat these animals and act as though they are not made of flesh and blood.

One of the struggles I’ve been having with crafting an Elul seder is do we eat meat or not?  That was clarified on my walk to work this morning.  The answer is it depends on the individual.  I’ve decided that the hostess/host will be called to account by the guests for the meal.  The hostess/host will be asked by the guests, “who keeps your cattle.”  Depending on whether or not meat is served there will be different answers.  If meat is served, the hostess/host will tell the story of the cattle that will be served that night by recounting:

  • the name of the person who keeps the cattle;
  • the name and location of the farm;
  • how many head of cattle are on the farm; and
  • what the cattle eat.

If the person does not serve meat there will be a different answer explaining why they chose not to serve meat.  I also realized that if the person is vegetarian or vegan there should be a totally different response.  In that case it will not be because they couldn’t trace the source of the meat, but because they always choose not to eat meat.

I hope that everyone will use Elul to think more about the choices they make about the food they consume.  I really think that we are losing are basic humanity when we allow ourselves to turn animals into a complete commodity.  Of course, considering how we seem to treat our fellow human beings these days I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.  There is an opportunity to act in the face of this recall.  Each time one other person thinks twice about purchasing factory farmed meat — that’s a mitzvah.

Simple Tu B’shvat Ritual

It’s hard to get in the mood of Tu B’shvat when there’s snow on the ground and it’s freezing cold outside. But when you think about it, isn’t this when we need to believe that the sap is rising and spring WILL come back?

Simple Tu B’shvat Ritual
Please modify this however you like. I kept it very simple to allow people to play with it and add pieces that would speak to them. Consider ideas like using a bonsai or lucky bamboo instead of a bulb.


Intent: Coaxing Spring Back

Begin by taking three slow deliberate breaths to change your mindset from ordinary to sacred. Prepare your space by casting a circle in what ever technique you are most comfortable. Take your pot with soil or water and hold it between your hands. Focus on it and reach down into the dormant earth, drawing the energy into your body. Let this energy flow from your hands into the soil.

Say, “Blessed be the Source of Life, source of beginnings and endings, source of life and death, source of sleep and rebirth. May Spring come again in its time, and with it abundance for all.”

Take the bulb into your hands. Draw up Earth energy and feed it into the bulb.

Say, “Blessed be the Source of Life through whom we receive fruit and flowering trees. May the flowers return in their time, for the benefit of all.”

Place the bulb into the soil. Hold both together. Focus one by one on the elements of nature that the bulb will need to grow both the physical and the metaphysical. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. As you move through each, symbolically sprinkle that element on the bulb. (Careful with the fire!)

Imagine the bulb growing and flowering and with it the Spring returning.

Kein Yehi Razton

Sit quietly for a moment, and release your circle. Finish by taking three more deliberate breaths to return to ordinary space. Be sure to keep your bulb where you can easily care for it and watch it grow.

Eighth Day of Chanukah

“On the seventh day YHWH rested. . . .”

But on Chanukah, the miracle lasted for eight days. It lasted longer than creating the universe and all its inhabitants? Granted, making oil last for eight days seems far less complex than the act of creation. But still, it lasted eight days. A day longer than creation. Does humanity really need such a reminder of the ongoing work of creation?

What do you think?