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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chodesh Iyar and Chodesh Cheshvan: “Incepted” Mysteries and Midrashic Insights

Iyar and Cheshvan, opposite each other in the Zodiac and the Jewish Year, are both “incepted” months. Iyar is incepted by the Sefirot haOmer period, which begins on the 15th of Nissan and ends on the 5th of Sivan. Energetically, Iyar is encompassed by the Sefirot haOmer. 

Cheshvan is “incepted” by the holiday and festival cycle. Notable for being “the only month without a holiday”, Cheshvan is incepted by the Chaggim of Tishrei, specifically the final holiday of Simchat Torah, after which there are no holidays, feasts or fasts until Chanukkah on 25 Kislev. 
"Issachar" by Lynette Joel

Iyar is associated with the Tribe of Issachar and the Zodiac Sign (“Mazal”) of Taurus, the Bull. Taurus is the Fixed Earth (Establishing Manifestation) Sign, whose energetic task is to take the great passion and love and freedom of Nissan and establish it, laying the groundwork of manifestation by deep thought and discernment. 

Opposite Iyar in the Jewish Year is Chesvan, associated with the Tribe of Menashe, and Scorpio. Scorpio is the Fixed Water (Establishing Emotion) Sign, whose energetic task is to take the love and intimacy initiated in Tishrei during the Chaggim (Rosh HaShanah through Simchas Torah) and establish it, manifesting it through hidden, secret, powerful, mysterious and sexual means. 

The birth of Issachar was a “supernatural” birth, as was the birth of Menashe, in an opposite and yet complimentary way. In Parshat Vayeitzei, Leah had left off bearing children after already giving birth to Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehuda. Her handmaiden Zilpah had also given birth to Gad and Asher on her behalf. At that point, Leah’s sister Rachel had not yet given birth to any children herself; only her handmaiden Bilhah had born Dan and Naftali. 

Bereshit (Genesis) 30:14-18 reads:
Reuven went out in the days of the wheat harvest; he found dudaim in the field and brought them to Leah his mother; Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s dudaim” But she said to her, “Was your taking my husband insignificant? – And now to take even my son’s dudaim!” Rachel said, “Therefore, he shall like with you tonight in return for your son’s dudaim.”
When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said: “It is to me that you must come for I have clearly hired you with my son’s dudaim.” She he lay with her that night.
God hearkened to Leah; and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. And Leah declared: “God has granted me my reward because I gave my maidservant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.”

Issachar was conceived “supernaturally”, in that his birth was the result of a trade or exchange – Reuven’s dudaim (which were fertility herbs) went to Rachel, to help her conceive Joseph – in exchange for Issachar’s birth, which was “supernatural” in that Leah had left off bearing. Her eldest son Reuven’s intention in gathering the dudaim was to give it to his mother to help her bear more children. Instead, the dudaim went to Rachel, and Leah was assisted “supernaturally” in conceiving Issachar by G*d, who “hearkened to Leah” (v. 17), granting her another son.

The birth of Menashe, Joseph’s firstborn, also has “supernatural” undertones, understanding it in the context of Joseph’s great efforts to resist Potiphar’s wife and to guard his sexual purity, even to anguishing lengths. The Midrash relates that the difficulty of resisting the sexual lure of Potiphar’s wife was so intense that Joseph plunged his fingers, out of which came semen, into the very earth itself of Egypt itself, rather than succumb to the powerful, overwhelming sexual urge with Potiphar’s wife. 

When at last Joseph was married to Asnat, his first :permitted" or sanctified seminal emission brought about the conception and birth of Menashe, his first-born. 

From Midrash Rabah:
"Rabbi Isaac states: ‘His seed is scattered and leaves his body through his fingernails, as it is written, 'and the arms of his hands were made supple,' which could also be interpreted as 'and the arms were spread.'" Rabbi Isaac, also citing Jacob's blessing, says that Joseph's sexual desire is liberated not sexually, but rather via his fingertips. Thus, in this view, Joseph is prevented from relations with Potiphar's wife not because of impotence, but rather because of the wondrous sublimation of his sexual power that is forced upon him.”

Menashe is the Tribe associated with Scorpio and Chodesh Cheshvan. Scorpio is legendary for being the most sexual of all the Zodiac signs. Scorpios energetically “Establish Emotion” (Fixed Water) through sexual intimacy. Menashe was the product of permitted and therefore holy sexual union between Joseph and Asnat, but his father Joseph’s initial seminal emission (through his fingers into the earth of Egypt) carried with it an energetic charge as well. This tremendous effort to "do the right thing" is the universally cited reason Joseph is called "Yosef haTzadik", the righteous one, who overcame overpowering sexual urge and therefore elevated the "Yesod" (foundation), symbolized by the Sefirot "Yesod" in Sefirot haOmer and personified by Yosef (as the Tzadik and the Ushpizin of Sukkot's "Yesod" night).

Menashe is, in this sense, the “exchange” or “reward” or “trade” Joseph received for his great effort in sublimating his sexual desire, just as Issachar is to Leah the result of her great effort to increase her portion of the Tribes of Israel. The dudaim which Leah exchanged for Jacob’s company were the fertility herbs that helped Rachel eventually give birth to Joseph, who would become the father of Menashe. The linking of Issachar, the son Leah bore as a result of the exchange of her son’s dudaim for the right to lay with her husband and conceive, to Menashe, the son Joseph bore in exchange for guarding his sexual purity, even to the point of excruciating anguish, is one of the deepest secrets of Torah. 

An even more subtle and powerful level of this linking exists in the person of Asnat, the wife of Joseph and the mother of Menashe and Ephraim. Asnat was the daughter of Dinah and Shechem ben Hamor, the product of Dinah’s abduction and rape. After Dinah gave birth to Asnat, the child was left under the shade of a bush by the roadside (“Asnat” is a version of the word for “bush”), wearing a bracelet which identified her as the grandchild of Jacob. The child was rescued and adopted by Potiphar and his wife, and raised in the royal palace of Egypt. 

Some years after the incident with Potiphar’s wife, after Joseph had risen from a prisoner to Pharoah’s Prime Minister, he was walking through the streets of Egypt and women were throwing tokens at him  - jewelry and such – begging for his attention, for he was very handsome (the son of the beautiful Rachel and the image of his father Jacob). Asnat was watching him from the rooftop of her home, and threw her token to him in the street – the very bracelet which had been with her since birth, signifying her as a grand-daughter of Jacob, and in fact, Joseph’s niece, the daughter of his sister Dinah. Joseph recognized the token, and married Asnat, bringing her back into the family of Jacob by marriage. 

Menashe then, the Tribe related to Scorpio and Cheshvan, comes from the deepest and most mysterious strain of the personal histories of the sons of Jacob and his wives. Joseph, who guarded his powerful sexuality, was able to “redeem” his niece Asnat and complete the tikkun which began when Joseph’s soul and Dinah’s soul were prenatally “switched” between their mothers, Rachel and Leah, and the consequences of that “switch” – one of which was the taking on of seeming sexual impurity in the event of Dinah’s kidnapping, rape and impregnation by Shechem ben Hamor. The birth of Menashe was the manifestation of that tikkun.

Similarly, Issachar, the son of Leah and Jacob, related to Taurus and Iyar, comes from the most hidden convolutions of the personal histories of Jacob and his wives, the mothers of the 12 Tribes. The conception of Issachar was a supernatural exchange in the same way the conception of Menashe was a supernatural exchange.

Both Issachar (Iyar) and Menashe (Cheshvan) are related to the “incepted” months. The Sefirot haOmer which surrounds Iyar (Chessed Sh’b’Tiferet through Gevurah Sh’b’Malchut) reflect the qualities of Joseph haTzadik, and the “lack” of holidays from Simchat Torah/Isru Chag through Chanukkah which “incept” Cheshvan is prophetically speaking, the “placeholder” for what will become the biggest holiday of them all: the dedication (Chanukat haBayit) of the third, final and Messianic Holy Temple in Jerusalem. 

Midrash Yalkut Melachim 184 as cited in Bnei Yissaschar:
“The Tabernacle of the desert was completed by Moshe in the month of Kislev, however the Holy One, blessed be He commanded him to wait until the following Nisan to inaugurate it. The month of Kislev was embarrassed, and so G-d rewarded her with the rededication of the Second Temple, during the era of Chanukah.
The First Temple built by King Solomon was completed during the month of Mar Cheshvan (the month known as ‘bul;’ see I Kings 6:38) however through Divine Inspiration, King Solomon knew that he was not to dedicate it until the following Tishrei. So, the month of Mar Cheshvan was embarrassed... and G-d promised to repay it in the future, with the dedication ceremony of the Third Temple.”

The energetic reciprocity between Taurus and Scorpio, Issachar and Menashe, Iyar and Cheshvan is evident by these examples. Each month of the Jewish Year is a particular manifestation of the cycle of sacred time, and with the coming of each new month, opportunity arises to apprehend that particular energy and apply it to our own lives and spiritual development.

Issachar has been associated with Torah scholars, “Talmudim Chochamim” and those whose lives revolve around and draw their sustenance from the study of Torah.  There are some (myself included with such great company as Rashbam and Ibn Ezra) which see Issachar as the archetypical Taurus personality – solid, thoughtful, earthy, loving the soil and the land, hard-working, steadfast (stubborn, certainly “fixed” as his sign indicates), a lover of beauty and order (ruled by Venus (“Noga”) and concerned with the sensual (Earth) delights and rewards of a well-lived life. This too, may be “Torah”.

In David S. Zimburg’s “Re-Imagining Issachar”, the author writes:
“Orthodox Judaism promotes neither a single religious archetype, nor an ideal “Torah personality,” nor a monolithic economic theory. Over the centuries, our religion has accommodated multiple paradigms for all aspects of life. There are many great and varied figures in our history and in our literature from whom we can draw inspiration. The Issachar most of us know -- the full-time scholar -- was never held up by our Torah or our Sages as the one and only model of authentic Jewish living. His image has taken on other, no less ideal, forms in biblical and rabbinic tradition, including that of a man who loves to work the soil under his feet and returns home daily soaked in the sweat of physical labor. That Issachar is no less a ben Torah than the one who has never left the beit midrash. With a sense of responsibility stretching beyond his own borders, the Issachar we have described is the one the Jewish people can look to for support and for leadership, on and off the battlefield. It is time to rethink our fixation on the two-dimensional Issachar, to the exclusion of all others. The others, on closer examination, may be even more inspiring.”

The symbols and archetypes of Jewish Astrology are rich and varied. Each of the 12 Tribes, as well as the months, the “Mazalot” (Zodiac signs), the Planets associated with them, and the various other “characters” that inhabit both the pantheon of symbolic imagery and Jewish history, both literal and figurative, imbue particular qualities and characteristics which exist to help us understand ourselves, our world and our spiritual destinies in a deeper and more profound way. Just as Avraham is both the human progenitor of the Jewish people as an historical figure AND the embodiment of the Sefirotic archetype of “Chessed”,  the Planets themselves are both physical objects made of identifiable matter with observable and predictable behavior, AND energetic lenses through which particular archetypes are channeled and focused “as above, so below”. Jupiter is both the largest Planet in our Solar System, AND the “great beneficent” of the Zodiac, acting as an energetic lens for expansive generosity.

With this foundational understanding, we can see the beautiful function of Issachar and Chodesh Iyar in the cycle of sacred time which is the Jewish Year. Iyar’s “incepted” position allows it to gather, refine, establish and lay a foundation for the Spring-like rush of spontaneous growth, newness and rebirth that characterizes the Month of Nissan which precedes it. The Rashbam and Ibn Ezra’s Issachar as the powerful, physical, earthy and wholesome “farmer”, sowing his land corresponds to the classical description of Taurus, the bull, who derives great joy from his physicality and the work that a healthy, well-developed and balanced body might do with the land he is given, bringing forth abundance and “shefah” to share with his brethren.

Of course it’s widely known that Torah study is compared to a field in which the laborer toils and brings forth abundant fruit as well. Not that one need be exclusive of the other, and in a way, it’s the balance between the mental and the physical where Taurus and Issachar reaches his perfection. A Talmud Chocham was never meant to be a pale, sickly, emaciated scholar, bent over an open book for 70 years, his frame distorted and bent from study, his limbs wasted from ignoring exercise in favor of “learning”. A true Torah scholar must find his balance and his physical strength by connection to the Land, and sow not only in the field of Torah but in the literal field itself, by his very labor. True vitality, true health, true beauty lies in the art of bringing heaven to earth, and earth to heaven – and Chodesh Iyar, which begins on Chessed Sh’b’Tiferet (Generosity/Kindness in Beauty/Balance – the “Venus” manifestation in Taurus) and ends on Gevurah Sh’b’Malcut (Strength of Manifestation  – “Establishing Manifestation” function of Taurus, the “Fixed Earth” Sign ) opens the energetic doorway to be able to access the strength, wisdom and endurance to be able to access this potentiality and fulfill it.

1 comment:

Keli Leeba said...

Beautiful. Thank you. I will need to read this again as it is very deep.