Blessing for the New Month – Birkat Ha’Chodesh – בירכת החודש
May it be Your will, O Lord, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You inaugurate this month of Shevat upon us for goodness and for blessing.
May You give us long life
and a life of peace – Shalom,
a life of goodness – Tovah
a life of blessing – Bracha
a life of sustenance – Parnassa
a life of physical health – Hilutz Atzamot
a life in which there is a fear of heaven and fear of sin
– Yirat Shamayim ve’ Yirat Chet
a life in which there is no humiliation – Ein Busha u’Chlimah
a life of wealth and honor – Osher ve’Kavod
a life in which we will have love of Torah and awe and reverence of God
– Ahavat Torah ve’Yirat HaShem
a life in which Adonai, the Lord, fulfills our heartfelt requests for good.
During Shevat the fruit of one’s lips is offered in prayer and praise to God particularly for His provision of all the trees and their fruit and the harvests to come. Outwardly, it is still deep into winter and food may be scarce, therefore a very worthwhile custom has arisen of remembering the poor at this time and of giving to those in need that they might be fed. Shabbat Shira – the Sabbath of Song, falls during Shevat, when the Torah portion of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people from Egypt and Moses’ Song at the Sea is recorded. As birds, too, are beautiful instruments of song, we also remember to feed them at this time when food is scarce.
A significant element of the month of Shevat, and the celebration of Tu B’Shevat – 10th Shevat – is that it is a herald of Spring. The almond trees are the first that begin to burst forth in a profusion of beautiful blossoms, sometimes even surrounded by sparkling snow. Then the trees, which stood bare through the previous cold winter months, begin to sprout green leaves and buds as they bear the promise of the fruit harvest. We can happily anticipate the proclamation of the Beloved, as described in the Song of Songs (2:10-13):
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
In Jewish literature, an interesting connection is made between the 12 months of the year and the pattern of encampment and order of procession of the 12 tribes in the wilderness.
Based on the order of encampments, [Shevat] corresponds to the tribe of Asher, and [the stellar constellation associated with the month] is Aquarius [the water bearer].
(Bnei Yissachar, Maamarei Chodesh Shevat 1:8)
Shevat is the 11th month of the Hebrew calendar and Asher was 11th in the tribal formation. What do we know about Jacob’s son Asher, who was born to Leah’s maid Zilpah? At his birth Leah declared, “Happy and prosperous (b’osher) am I! For the women will call me happy” (Gen. 30:13). Asher, thus, is related to happiness. Other connotations of osher are: to be straight (yashar), honest, to go forward, to prosper.
Jacob’s deathbed blessing of Asher reads, “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies” (Genesis 49:20). This richness is attributed to the fact that his territory in the Land would be filled with an abundance of olive trees. The symbol on the standard of the tribe of Asher as they camped and traveled through the wilderness was a large, fruitful olive tree. When Moses later adds his blessing to the tribes, he says of Asher, “He will dip his feet in oil” (Deuteronomy 33:24). The harvest of olive oil would flow like a spring. Despite the abundance and prosperity, we may consider that Asher remained down to earth and humble of character as the stone on the breastplate of the High Priest representing the tribe was the agate. Its colors of green, black and brown reflect the olive tree and it is but a common gemstone.
In the science of Astronomy [and not, please, connected with Astrology] the constellation associated with Asher and the month of Shevat is Aquarius, known in English as the Water Bearer. The liquids of oil and water are not very similar. Water mixes easily with other liquids, whereas oil does not. Rather than mixing, oil floats to the top. How, then, can both these liquids be connected with Asher?
Regarding water, the prophet Isaiah proclaims: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation (Yeshuah)” (12:3). Of the restoration of the land and the people of Israel, he prophesies: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly” (35:1-2) and, speaking of God’s great salvation, he says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; …for waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (35:6).
We can see the effects of physical water in redeeming the dry land, but the water of revelation that brings sight to spiritually blind eyes and deaf ears is the water of the Word of God. The prophet Amos foretells of a famine in the earth that will not be for bread, nor “…a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). Here we find the link between water and oil. The symbol of the Torah, the Living Water of the Word of God, in the Holy Place of the Temple is the golden Menorah. The vital fuel that provides its light is pure olive oil. The Word of God and the illumination of the Spirit of God; Life and Light; water and oil – both are needed for the fullness of understanding and abundant joy (osher) to be found in His Presence.
The Hebrew name of the constellation Aquarius is Dli – דלי, which means ‘bucket.’ The purpose of a dli is to draw water from a well and to make it available for use. It is of interest to note that the day Moses began his last famous discourse to the Israelites, just five weeks before his death, was the first day of Shevat (Deut. 1:3,5). This underscored the fact that he, “the most humble of men,” saw himself as a mere vessel – a bucket – in the hands of the Lord. His purpose was solely to draw from the Source and to pour out the water of God’s Word to His people.
May the Garden of our lives abound this month with the fruit of the Spirit of Holiness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.
Tu B’Shevat tree – created by Debra Elfassy
1 Zvi Ryzman, The Wisdom of the Hebrew Months, Mesorah Publications Ltd., NY, 2009; 87.