Cups, the Symbol of Shevat

May your cup runneth over...
May your cup runneth over...
May your cup runneth over…(Photo by Ketzirah. Taken at the Jefferson Courtyard, Georgetown, Washington DC

Shevat generally aligns with the months of January/February on the secular calendar

The month of Shevat, and Tu b’Shevat are our chance to rebalance ourselves and our energy before the season of real growing begins. ~ from Shevat 5769

I bet you expected this month’s symbol to be all about trees and planting of trees — but that’s so easy to find (and I’ll be writing about that for PunkTorah)! Here at Peeling a Pomegranate we’re going to talk about drinking and drinking vessels! How did I get to cups (כוסות) and the drinking of wine as the practice which symbolizes the month of Shevat. It was an easier leap than you might think. While the Tu B’Shevat seder may not be as ancient a practice as the Passover Seder, it has grown and grown in awareness and popularity. While both also have four cups of wine, the Tu b’Shevat seder is even more focused around the drinking of these cups than Passover is. It also aligns well with the astrological sign of the month, the bucket or vessel. So cups is our object for the month and the act of blessing and drinking a cup of wine, is our action.

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Candles: Symbol of Tevet

"We light the Sabbath candles...."
Ketzirah lighting Sabbath candle at SXSW in Austin, TX (2011)

Tevet 5772 begins at sundown on December 26th, 2011 and ends at sundown on January 24, 2012

Tevet, the Jewish month that falls during December and January, is a tough month to pick an object or spiritual practice to be its symbol.  Hanukkah does fall during Tevet, but only first couple of days.  The only other holiday is Asara b’Tevet, which is a minor fast.  When you look at the themes surrounding Tevet it’s all about vision,clear sight, and breaking through darkness. With this in mind, we turn to the practice of lighting candles in Judaism for our Tevet focus. We light a LOT of candles in Judaism.  In Tevet alone, if you take advantage of all the traditional opportunities to light candles you will light at least 27 candles.  This includes the last two days of Hanukkah, the Sabbath and Havdalah. Granted Hanukkah certainly raises the bar for volumes of candle lighting, but even in another month there are a lot of candles. So what’s with all the candles? Continue reading “Candles: Symbol of Tevet”

Hanukkiah: Symbol of Kislev

All alight
Photo by Rebecca (grongar) used by CC-A permission.

In thinking about Kislev, I went right to the dreidel and the Hanukkiah.  I decided that if I had to pick one, it’s the Hanukkiah (but I may explore the other dreidels later in the month!)  The Hanukkiah is the nine-branched menorah that we light on Hanukkah.  Even though we generally just call it a menorah, not all menorahs are for Hanukkah!  The menorah, which is an ancient symbol of the Jewish people is actually seven branched.

If the menorah is considered  “the most central role of all the sacred vessels, for it is the symbol of light,” and a symbol of spiritual illumination — then it’s safe to assume that this is also the role the Hanukkiah plays.  Hanukkah is a strange holiday because it’s not only post-biblical, but also two holidays smooshed together.  I guess we have a lot of holidays that are two smooshed together, though.  Most commonly Hanukkah is the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabbees over the Greeks, and the “miracle of the oil.”  It’s also a Winter Solstice (Tekufat Tevet) holiday, that acknowledges the darkness of the year and returning of the light.  That’s actually found in ancient midrash, it’s not just some modern “new agey” thing.  It’s even one of the stories I included in the Hanukkah Haggadah!

The lighting of the Hanukkah menorah offers wonderful opportunities for spiritual refreshment and renewal.  This year, toss away the annual debates over whether or not Hanukkah is important or just a reaction to Christmas.  Don’t worry about the ethics of celebrating the victory in a war (and that the Maccabees were total zealots, who probably would have killed many of us too…).  Embrace our own holiday of lights at its root level — light.

What do you want to light up?  What areas of your life, your heart, your soul need light?  Dedicate your entire Hanukkiah to bringing light into an area in your life.  Let each candle represent a step along the way, and watch the light grow over the eight days!  Take this time to rededicate yourself — to whatever you need to rededicate yourself.  Bring back the light in your own life, and rejoice in our very special holiday of lights!

 

 

Shevat: The Lesson of Asher

(Cross Posted to PunkTorah.org)

Asher was the eighth son of Jacob through Leah’s handmaid, Zilpah.  According to the Torah, midrash and rabbinical tradition Asher is a symbol of happiness.  There seems to be fairly strong consensus on this.   From his naming (Gen 30:13) to his final blessing from Yisrael (Gen 49:20) – Asher was blessed with happiness.

Asher Emblem - Original Design by Ketzirah
Asher Emblem – Original design I created for my nephew Asher’s bris kippah. My nephew Asher was supposed to be born in Shevat, but came a few days early last year!

“And Leah said: ‘Happy am I! for the daughters will call me happy.’ And she called his name Asher.”  (Gen 30:13)

 

Asher’s emblem is the olive tree, which makes sense since the tribe of Asher was situated in an area that had them responsible for the production of olives and olive oil in ancient Israel.  The tribe of Asher was known for having an abundance of male children and daughters so beautiful they were sought out by “princes and priests.” (Jewish Encyclopedia)   Asher is also known for his daughter, Serach whose goodness was rewarded with eternal life and is said to walk among us this day like Elijah.

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