During the month of Shevat, we have a special Shabbat — Shabbat Shirah, which the Shabbat where we read Parsha Beshalach (Ex 13:17-17:16). There are many named Shabbatot during the year, Shabbat Gadol, Shabbat Shuvah, etc. etc. Shabbat Shirah is more than just a Shabbat where we read a “special” Torah portion, I mean — aren’t all Parshot special? Ostensibly, Shabbat Shirah, Sabbath of Song, is called this because we read the “Song at the Sea” (Exodus 15). But like in so much of Jewish life, we’ve built and built on that.
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.
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.
“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.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel
The inside might be as black as the night
But at the end of the tunnel there’s a light.” (Starlight Express)
Shevat (שְׁבָט) is a breath of fresh air. We may have a way to go, but we can see the light at the end tunnel. We are released from the bonds of Tevet (טֵבֵת) and get our first promise of the spring to come with the holiday of Tu b’Shevat (ט״ו בשבט). Even if the earth is still frozen around us, this holiday represents the turning of the wheel; the gate between the seasons between Fire within Water and Earth within Air (as explained in the Jewish Book of Days). Even in the frozen north, sap begins to flow in the trees during this time of the year.