BLESSING OF THE NEW MONTH – BIRKAT HA’CHODESH
May it be Your will, O Lord, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You inaugurate this month of Iyyar upon us for goodness and for blessing.
May You give us long life:
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.
IYYAR (pronounced ee’yar) is the month of the ripening harvest and of counting the Omer in anticipation of Shavuot, the festival of Revelation.
The Independence of the modern State of Israel was officially proclaimed on the 5th of this month in 1948 – a wondrous, historic reconnection of God’s people with His Land. Yom Ha’Atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day – is celebrated this year, 2023, on April 26th.
A distinguishing feature of the month of Iyyar is that the entire month falls within the time of the Counting of the Omer – Sefirat ha’Omer; the seven-week connection between Passover and Shavuot. Similarly, Iyyar is like a bridge that connects the month of our Salvation (Nissan) and the month of the Revelation of God’s Word and Spirit (Sivan). In fact, this season recognizes and celebrates the connection of one thing to another. The evidence of the Kingship of God is presented at Passover, in Nissan, and the establishment of His Kingdom with its laws, statutes and ordinances is accomplished at Shavuot, in Sivan.
The central and deepest connection is that of relationship between God and His people. He delivered the Israelites from Egypt in order to bring them to Himself. Passover marks the time of the Bridegroom’s choosing of His beloved and their betrothal (kiddushin) when they are set apart uniquely, one unto the other. Shavuot marks the occasion of their marriage (nissuin) when the ketubah, marriage document, is presented by the bridegroom, and the relationship is sealed by the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. The interim period serves an important purpose in that it provides valuable time to bring to completion what was begun. The betrothal is brought to completion by the marriage; salvation is brought to fullness by revelation and transformation.
Sight and Sound
Another connection to consider is that of sight and sound. At the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites witnessed the mighty miracles of God. They saw the wonders with their own eyes, and Moses instructed them,
“…you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out…” (Exodus 7:18-19).
At Mount Sinai, however, at Pentecost the emphasis is on hearing God. The people are rallied by the loud, piercing sound of a divine shofar. When they are assembled at the base of the mountain the Presence of God, concealed in a thick cloud that covers the peak, is signaled by the increasing volume of the sound.
“And as the sound of the trumpet (shofar) grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. And the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain…”
Then God’s voice thundered the Ten Words. These were His first words of instruction to His newly formed people. The powerful sounds they heard were overwhelming and “…the people were afraid and trembled; and they stood afar off, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19).
Moses, the great prophet and teacher of God’s people, knew the vital importance of hearing – the practice of listening in order to understand with the intention to act upon what is heard. When he eventually gathers the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land, he addresses them for the last time before his death. The keynote of his address is:
“Shema Yisrael! Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).
In every Torah scroll the final letter ayin of the word shema is enlarged. Interestingly, ayin means ‘eye’; so although shema means ‘hear’ it implies, “Hear with the eyes of your understanding!” The final letter dalet of the word echad also is enlarged. This is the last word of the proclamation, “Hear O Israel! YHVH is our God, YHVH is Echad/One”.
The two enlarged letters, ayin and dalet, together form the word ed, meaning ‘witness’! To be a true witness of the truth of God we need first to hear and to understand His Word. Then, once we “see” it, we can share it!
I am the LORD, your Healer!
The Hebrew letters that spell Iyyar are aleph–yod–resh – א י ר. They are an acronym for: “Ani YHVH Rofecha” – “I am the LORD your Healer!”
God proclaims this powerful promise to His children during this month, shortly after the redemption from Egypt:
“If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give heed to His commandments and keep all His statutes,
I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians;
for I am the LORD, your healer” (Exodus 15:26).
Iyyar was a month of healing for the newly redeemed slaves. While they were being prepared spiritually to meet with God, they received healing of physical ailments. They would all stand strong and well in body at Mount Sinai, where they would receive the means to gain spiritual health and strength. An important ingredient of this physical healing was the manna that first fell during this month. This indicates the important role of the stomach and of eating foods that are compatible with the bodies God created. The manna, provided supernaturally by God, was a “spiritual food in physical form, and therefore did not need to be naturally processed by the body.” The weakened bodies of the slaves were restored to the good health intended for them by God.
The Tribe of Issachar
According to the order of encampments, Iyyar corresponds to the tribe of Issachar.
“Issachar is a strong ass, crouching between the sheepfolds (or burdens); he saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant; so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant of tribute (labor).” (Genesis 49:14-15)
Rashi, the renowned medieval Torah commentator, describes that Issachar, like a strong donkey that carries a heavy burden, bears the yoke of Torah and carries it to his brothers. This fits the theme of connection associated with Iyyar. A donkey serves to transport goods, or a rider, from one place to another. Issachar, as a teacher of Torah, commits his life to the study of God’s Word and to share it with others. He thus serves to connect people with their God and unites them in an understanding of God’s will.
The precious stone on the High Priest’s breastplate that represented Issachar was the sapphire (sapir). The word sapir is formed with the same letters found in s’fira – counting, as in S’firat ha’Omer, the Counting of the Omer; providing another connection with the month.
The beautiful blue of the sapphire, which reflects flashes of light, is comparable with the time of day that connects day and night – the deep blue of twilight or early dawn. It is therefore a fitting stone for this tribe who carry the truth of God to others, allowing light to penetrate the darkness and to restore the connection between the sheep who are lost and have gone astray with the Good Shepherd of their souls.
During this month of Iyyar, and the Counting of the Omer, may we strengthen our connection with God’s Word and grow richly in spirit. May we also trust our faithful Healer for physical health and full restoration, for ourselves and for all Israel.