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Kabbalistic Insights into Shvat

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

Each month of the Hebrew calendar contains mystical meaning. Shvat teaches us about the wellsprings of wisdom.

The word shvat is related to the Hebrew word for a staff or rod. A staff can be used as a symbol of power, or as a cane to lean on. It serves a master. This is an underlying theme of the month.

The constellation associated with Shvat is the water bucket. This symbol also represents an object that serves someone. It draws water. In secular astrology, the symbol is not the bucket but the carrier. (This is one of two out of 12 signs of the zodiac that differ slightly from secular astrology signs.)

The symbolism of the water bucket is very important. A bucket has but one function, design, and purpose: to draw and carry water. That is, to be a vessel of transmission. Its whole essence is one of serving. It is not an end unto itself. It is meant to be a vehicle for something else.

Water, in many places throughout Jewish thought, is a metaphor for the wisdom of Torah. There are a number of qualities that water has, which are conceptually parallel to Torah.

One of the qualities of water is that it always flows to the lowest spot. How is this parallel to Torah? The out-pouring of wisdom that comes from God rests on the most humble personality. The more selfless a person is, the more wisdom flows toward him. If a person devotes himself to ideals, to living truth, to helping others... then he becomes a vessel fitting to receive the Torah's wisdom.

This sign, known as Aquarius, is the sign of the Jewish people. Just as a person is designated by a sign of the zodiac, so to nations also have a sign designated to them.

The natural element is associated with Shvat is wind. Out of the four elements (wind, earth, water, and fire), wind is the least tangible. It often acts as a conduit for other things. It transports moisture, and brings seedlings and other particles of nature from one location to another. Earth, fire and water are more important for what they are, than for what they do.

The tribe of Asher is kabbalistically associated with Shvat. Asher in Hebrew grammar connects the subject of a sentence to a verb. It supports the subject. This is another example of Shvat's relationship to being subordinate to a master.


All of these points suggest that the month of Shvat is prone to be a conduit for us. A stepping-stone to the next step in our lives.

Many things in a person's life can be looked at from two viewpoints. One view looks at the act itself. The other view is how the act is a means to an end. For example, I may enjoy playing tennis once a week for the pure enjoyment of the game, the exercise, or the company of my playing partner. However, I can also use my weekly tennis game as a means to keep me physically healthy, which gives my whole life more enjoyment, which allows me to serve God with more vigor and joy.

That second viewpoint is not a contradiction to the first view. It's an added, more elevated outlook that makes my tennis playing a more powerful spiritual experience.

The letter kabbalistically associated with Shvat is the tzadi, otherwise known as the tzaddik. That word in Hebrew also means righteous one. One of the qualities of the tzaddik is that he uses all of his activities for a higher purpose. When he eats, it is not just to enjoy the food. He eats in order to better serve his creator. The Talmud says, A righteous person eats to satisfy his soul.

Coincidentally, the human attribute kabbalistically associated with Shvat is eating. This daily experience is connected with the first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve -- not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Through eating, we have a daily opportunity to correct a part of our soul, so deep and intrinsic that it reaches back into the Garden of Eden.

Shvat is a month to focus on this idea of using your normal daily behavior as a medium for spirituality. This month, think through your work, play, exercise, eating, reading, etc. -- and focus on the spiritual side of them.

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