Av: From Devastation to Consolation
My exploration of the Kabbalah of the month continues in this late winter month of Av. The weather persists in being bleak - heavy skies and grey days, fierce southerly winds coming off snow, bare branched trees whose buds remain dormant.
Ten months of rain has taken its toll - many of the local bush walks are closed because landslips and slippery conditions render them dangerous, local authorities are unable to keep up with the repairs needed to close over potholes, train services are interrupted because rail embankments have collapsed. The outlook for spring and summer is for a warmer version of way too much water.
The great crumbling continues - and yet, it my garden, there is a turning towards the renewal of spring. Throughout the garden, late winter/early spring bulbs are pushing their way through the sodden subsoil. Daffodils, snow flakes, bluebells are all hinting at the possibility of growth, their bright colours a refreshing illumination against the grey/brown neutrals of the winter garden.
I have been thinking about “Menachem Av”, Av (Father the consoler/comforter). What is it that is consoling or comforting about Av? What is fatherly about the nature of the month?
Av is a month in two distinct halves. It brings us first to devastation (Tisha B’Av) and then to the promise of generation (Tu B’Av). In Av, we move from complete separation towards the possibility of teshuvah as we start our way back towards Elul and beyond. In Av, we descend for the purpose of ascent. We experience destruction for the purpose of re-activating our da’at/consciousness of the ultimate Av/Father/Source (in less gendered language). If we do the work in Av, we can imagine changing our minds about the circumstances of our lives (without having to change or control those outside circumstances). With effort and grace (the chein of menachem and nachamu) we can find comfort in this intense and punishing month. In Av, we are faced with a deep choice between life and death.
Sefer Yetzirah links the month with the letter tet, the tribe of Shimon, the quality of shmia/listening, a push-me pull-you letter combination of the Tetragrammatron and the mazal/constellation of the lion/Leo. Depicted in the collage, each of these can be understood to have qualities that are contradictory.
Tet is understood to be both tov/good/flow and tumah/the fracture caused by the sudden contrast between complete vitality and death. The letter represents hidden goodness, goodness to be revealed in the olam haba/world that is constantly coming. The word itself means clay - ie both the malleable physical material/gashmiyut from which God fashioned Adam, and the malleable heavenly spiritual material/rachmiyut with which we are inter included with the Divine.
Shimon represents severity and anger. His role with his sister Dina, and his brother Joseph, makes that amply clear. Consequently unblessed by his father Jacob, Shimon has the middah/quality of strict exacting justice. This is completely appropriate for this month of so many punishments, yet at the same time, strict justice often has a holy purpose that remains hidden.
Shimon was named for the words his mother Leah said at his birth - “for Hashem has heard”. Hence the quality of this month is about hearing. Shmia/hearing can imply both superficial hearing and much deeper listening, the kind of internalising that one can only open to when one is in the heart space rather than being distracted by surface noise.
The four letter name of God combination for the month is הויה. This month, the first two letters are backwards representing complete severity/gevurah, while the second two are in their natural order, representing the chesed which ultimately infuses all.
Av is also associated with the constellation of Leo and the mazal of the lion. The lion is the strongest and fiercest of the animals, the king (father) of all the other animals. Yet we know from both psalms and the Zohar that the father is merciful towards his children and that the hidden element of the lion is its essential kindness.
It was an easy decision to include in the collage the photo of the newly opened daffodils, so bright and hopeful in the otherwise bleak garden. I love the way the blooms dance and sway. They put me in mind of the women dancing in the fields on Tu b’Av, singling out their bashert (destiny) partners. I am also reminded that I can choose, to re-commit to my Ultimate Bashert, the partner who accompanies me through the harshest of separations regardless of the circumstances of my life, if only I listen.
The stencil of the wings alludes to the wings of the cherubs who faced each other on top of the Holy of Holies. It is in the space between that the underlying pulse of the world can be heard - the ahava raba (great love) that infuses everything, sanctifying the union of the physical into the spiritual.