Rosh Chodesh Shevat began at sundown, Jan. 13. We’ve just come out of the month in our history in which people strayed from belief and worship in one G-d. They began to worship idols because Moses hadn’t come back down the mountain quickly enough and so they lost their hope and faith.
Currently we enter a time in which we need to restore our faith in G-d, and each other, more than ever. Shevat has always been designated for the tithing of trees. I looked up the word in the dictionary to learn the origin, and it referenced the practice of taking or paying a tithe, which was considered to be one tenth of annual produce or earnings that were taxed for the support of clergy and the church. It further stated that, in England, tithing referred to “a group of ten householders who lived close together and were collectively responsible for each other’s behavior.” Imagine that. Also imagine this month, giving one tenth of your attention to someone with another view, one tenth of your patience to someone who needs it, or one tenth in support of your synagogue, not only in donations, but in efforts through your hand and heart.
Tu B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, is the New Year of the Trees. We plant trees in our yard and in Israel. Tithing, in this instance, means that we calculate the age of the trees from Tu B’Shevat. In Leviticus 19:23-25, we learn that the fruits from a tree may not be eaten during the first three years. The fourth year’s fruit is for G-d, and then, beginning in the fifth year, the fruit may be eaten. This cultivates patience and respect for the trees, with the sweetness as a reward. Each year on Tu B’Shevat, the tree has its birthday.
Kabbalists honor this month with a celebration seder that includes Torah, Talmud and mystical readings, four glasses of different wines to represent each season, and a sampling of foods from the seven species of native produce to Israel mentioned in the Torah. Those foods include wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey. Envision Hashem imbuing Divine essence into each of these foods for us to ingest.
The Zodiac sign of the month is Aquarius, the water carrier. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, when it is a dry season, the crescent moon tilts upward, as if holding water in a cup. When it’s rainy, the crescent moon faces down, as if pouring the water on to the land.
Tzadik is the Hebrew letter of the month. It means “righteous one” and focuses on justice. A righteous person, referred to as a tzadik, embodies the spiritual qualities of Divine energy and channels blessings that flow into the world.
According to Chabad Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, two planets rule Shevat: Saturn, the planet of judgment, order, responsibility, discipline and laws, and Uranus, which elevates us to new consciousness and concepts beyond limitation. He states: “This is why the Age of Aquarius and the month of Aquarius are considered times of change. Both are times of new knowledge, inventions, humanity, and charity.”
The tribe is Asher, which was granted the fertile land of Galilee. It prospered from the olive oil of that region.
Taste is the featured sense. It’s customary to try a new fruit this month or eat from the seven species.
The stomach is the controlling organ, digesting the food that’s been consumed. We can open ourselves to digesting holy foods with our bodies, but also our minds and souls, as we embody the Divine and then radiate that love, beauty, and wisdom to our families, our community, to the people of our nation, and the world.
Meditation Focus: These are the words of Renewal Rabbi Arthur Waskow: “We breathe, and the trees breathe. We breathe in what the trees breathe out. So we breathe each other into existence. We, and the galaxies, and the arrays of science and the codes of law and the plays of music, we are breathing each other into existence. And the breath, of course, goes in a cycle.” What intention can you put on this breath?