top of page

Shevat - The Essence of the Spiritual Reflected in the Physical

Spiritual Essence in the Physical, by Chana-Toni Whitmont

This image was created during Shevat 5782, January 2022. In this corner of the globe, Shevat occurs in mid-summer. Typically the weather is hot, dry and sunny. Australia has clocked off for the summer, which overlaps with the end of year festive season which is marked with frenzied celebration. Schools are on their annual six week break. Universities close for much longer. Many small businesses shut up shop. Summer in Australia means coastal holidays, camping trips, BBQs, cricket tests and the first of the grand slam tennis tournaments. It is festival season. The days are long stretching well past 9pm in the southern states On slow news days, it’s all holiday emergency stories - snake bites, shark sightings, and sadly, increasingly often, horrendous bushfires.

This January, the entire eastern half of Australia continues to be in the grip of an uncharacteristically strong La Niña weather system, with cyclones coming in from the Coral Sea and record breaking flooding rains blowing in from the Tasman. In my mountain garden refuge, there have been seemingly endless days of mist and rain, and a massive amount of lush, green, sappy growth. I keep having to cut back the verdure to maintain access to the paths. Branches are drooping and breaking, heavy with moisture. True to their name, the hydrangeas are gloriously happy. The roses however are largely spoilt, their ruffled petals pocked with mould. Inside the house, it is like living inside a terrarium - everything is moist, green and dripping.

I live in the thrall of the Jewish spiritual calendar, and I have to tell you that the reality of the month of Shevat in this part of the world is absolutely nothing like what is described in the texts or the commentaries. No almond tree sap rising. Instead we are harvesting almonds. No waiting waiting in the cold and dark for the first thaw of spring. Here it is the full flourish of summer.

So how do I make meaning from the spiritual calendar when my experience of it is exactly the opposite of what is assumed in the largely northern hemisphere normative Jewish world? How do I bridge the gap between the particular (ie the cycles of nature experienced at this time in Israel) to the universal (ie the Shevat according to the genius loci wherever on the planet you happen to find yourself)? We southern hemisphere Jews are absolutely part of klal Israel, and it is understood that Torah was revealed in the 70 languages so it remained continual, ongoing and not place dependent. Afterall, in more contemporary secular language, representation matters!

Over the last several years, I have come to understand Shevat from my own embodied experience right here my cool climate country garden in the mountains of this otherwise hot and sunburnt land. I live in an exilic diaspora to the power of three - I live about as far away from Israel as you can be (except for the New Zealanders across the ditch), eons away from the rhythms of the northern hemisphere heartland, and in self-imposed isolation from the Sydney shtetl which is home to almost half of Australia’s 112,000 Jews. I have come to understand Shevat through the cycles of nature in my own garden, through observing my beloved trees and their growth above the surface, imagining the growth below, and through celebrating the miraculous bounty of interconnection whatever the particular conditions are at any one moment in time.

This Shevat I have made a mixed media collage as an expression of my lived experience of the month.

Collage elements - clockwise from top right

Garden photos taken 11/1/22 (Shevat 9) and printed out on patterned cardstock.

On the left, a magnificent oak branch in full leaf overhangs banks of azaleas and grafted Japanese maples. The branch always reminds me of an overhead fairy track, covered as it is in Pyrrosia rupestris