I am on a quest to experience the ebbs and flows of the Jewish spiritual calendar in direct and embodied connection to my lived experience in this part of the world. I live in a cool climate, mountain garden in south east Australia where seasonal conditions are precisely opposite those of the northern hemisphere where our traditions originated. Each Hebrew month, I create a mixed media collage as a visual diary exploring its qualities as they play out through the lived reality of this particular piece of land.
The month of Sivan marks the official start of winter in this part of the world. This Sivan, we experienced a cold snap at the beginning of the month with several days of frost, and one day of a dusting of snow. Towards the end of the month came the winter solstice. By 5.30pm, darkness had fallen.
Sivan also saw the end of the big wet. Finally, La Niña loosened its grip on the east coast of Australia and we returned to classic dry, sparklingly sunny, crispy cold days. After seven months of drenching, the water table finally started to fall and plants started to harden off for the on-coming winter season. Unencumbered by leaves, the trees cast long, clearly defined shadows, their structures revealed as sharp silhouettes against the cloudless blue sky. Such clarity in the glittering winter light! Stripped of distractions such as foliage and flower, stark outlines and their shadow twins, were startlingly revealed. How appropriate for this month of Sivan, the month of revelation of Torah, the month where we are given the opportunity to see what is really there.
The elements are as follows (counter clockwise from top right)
Quote from Me’or Einayim
Printed on transparency and adhered to patterned paper on which I stencilled angel wings in pearlescent paint.
Now the entire earth was of one language (Gen 11:1)
Our sages (J. Megillah 1:9) explain that they spoke in the Holy Tongue. The point is that the Blessed Holy One created the world through Torah, and guides the world through Torah.
And just as “there is no place vacant from Him” (Tikunei Zohar 57, 91b) for their Life Force and Divinity are everywhere, and the Torah and the Holy One are one, so all the world and all the peoples receive their vitality form the Torah.
And therefore Israel were exiled among the nations, so that they would clarify those holy letters of the Torah that are mixed among them, by their dealings and conversations with them. And Israel thereby raise these words up to their root, to Torah.
If Israel serves the Eternal with a wholesome consciousness we would quickly complete the Torah, and clarify everything that fell among the nations.
But because of our small mindedness, we need to endure this lengthy exile, until the Messiah comes, may it be speedily and in our days!
(R' Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730 – 1797) also known as Me’or Einayim on Parshat Noach (translation adapted form Arthur Green), from Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein’s Applied Jewish Spirituality Kabbalah through the Calendar course notes - Sivan II: The World of Love)
I love these words. They point to the faith that we can be lifted above our small mindedness, that we can be raised to wholesome consciousness, that we can all entrain to the sacred spiritual vibration of the letters of the holy tongue (themselves agents of creation now and now and now) and that we are all part of a greater purpose, even those of us who live in the exilic diaspora of the diaspora.
72 Letter name of God shiviti
Printed on transparency. Calligrapher unknown. Beautifully created in Torah script, the letters crowned with tag’im, this mandala reverberates with the secret creative potential of the letters of the Holy Tongue.
Photo of maple with its mirror image shadow
The image of the tree in outline, with its equal and opposite shadow which is both distinct from the tree and at the same time absolutely part of the tree, puts me in mind of the description of the month in Sefer Yetzirah.
According to Sefer Yetzirah, Sivan is the month of the twins - ti’umim. The month is ruled by the constellation of Gemini, the twins, equal and opposite, dark and light, two separate entities integrated into one/The One.
Quote from Zohar II 78b
Printed on patterned paper, over which is adhered a transparency with the black and white symbol of Gemini, the number seven and the Hebrew letter zayin - ז.
In the Third Month (when the Children of Israel left Egypt and arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah), a supernal and recondite light shines forth and that light is contained in two lights, which are one. The first light (chesed) is white, too bright for the eye to behold. The second light (gevurah) is one which gleams and sparkles in red. The two are united and become one…Because it is contained in two lights, it is called the twins (t’imim). Therefore, in the month in which the Torah was given (Sivan), the constellation of the twins (Gemini) rules, and from them issue lights of various grades below to illumine the world.
In a discussion on Shavuot, the twins, duality and unity, Rabbi Simon Jacobson of the Meaningful Life Centre, discusses the opening to healing of duality that emerges every year at this time.
As history unfolded, two forces – which began in individual twins Esau and Jacob – magnified and multiplied into global confrontations. Before Sinai (the children of) Esau is offered the Torah, but he rejects it; he has separated himself and is not yet ready to be a true ‘twin.’ As the centuries rolled on, Esau’s children (the Romans) would destroy the Temple, and years later they would begin to embrace in their own way some of the Torah’s message.
Two millennia later much has transpired. The world of Esau has evolved and continues to refine itself, aligning itself more and more with the teachings that the original Esau learned from his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. The universe as well has evolved to a point where matter and spirit have become interchangeable and they continue to evolve to the point where we can now see that they soon may be synonymous, or better put – ‘twins.’ In physics, technology, communications, medicine, we are witnessing the convergence of a duality that has always been the staple of the universe. Yes, the twins Esau and Jacob are about to finally meet and join hands. After over three millennia they are finally ready to unite. The stage is set for the ‘twins’ to emerge – in science, medicine and politics. The final frontier is personal and psychological: to allow the ‘twins’ to emerge in our psyches. We now have the power to finally bring some peace to our fragmented (if not tortured) spirits, and by extension, to our ailing world. Two twins have been wandering for so long, isn’t it time to finally come home?
Sefer Yetzirah associates Sivan with zayin. Zayin is the seventh letter. Seven represents the natural cycle that underlies creation - seven days of the week, the seven months of the Omer, the seven years of shmitta, the Jubilee (the year following 7 shmittas) etc.
Seven is also understood to represent the seven lower attributes of the Tree of Life - the six radiating around Tiferet/sun/Hakodesh Baruch Hu plus the seventh, Malchut/moon/Shekhinah. Malchut is illuminated by Tiferet, in the same way that the waxing and waning moon is illuminated by the sun. An early midrash posits that the sun and the moon were originally created equal, two great luminaries in the sky, and that in fixing the brokenness of the world, we restore the brokenness of the moon to its primal place. Shavuot, the festival in Sivan which celebrates Matan Torah (the giving of Torah with love), represents the unification of Tiferet and Malchut, thus rectifying the Tree of Life. At the same time, it is understood as the loving twinning/marriage/unification of the Creator and the Creator’s people. On that note, it is interesting to me that the gematria of ti-umim / תומים and malchut / מלכות are the same.
Photo of Manchurian pear tree, its winter revealed shape outlined against the clear blue sky
Our blessed rabbis taught (Eiruvin 54a) that the Torah is given as a gift to someone who makes themselves like a wilderness, on which everyone tramples. And this is necessary to receive [the Torah] every Shavuot, to be like a wilderness and not to forget what one learns...And a person should request from the blessed G!d to ‘make my soul like dust to everyone’ (Amidah).
(R' Menachem Nachum Twersky of Chernobyl (1730 – 1797) also known as Me’or Einayim on Parshat Yitro from Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein’s Applied Jewish Spirituality Kabbalah oaf the Calendar course notes - Sivan I: Loving Integration ).
This image to me expresses the essence of Sivan. Taking our queue from the tree, we are invited to experience being ownerless, peeling back to our essence, looking beyond the distractions of abundance and addictions. (I believe that this is far easier to do in winter, so far from the hedonism of summer’s seductive fullness). This is the necessary precondition to the possibility of integration of the multiplicity of perspectives that comprise the unified structure of reality with a capital R.
Wooden number 70
The number 70 is understood to be the fullest expansion of seven, the natural cycle of time. Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein explains that in our tradition, the number seventy denotes integration of diverse components into a holistic synergy, where each individual part retains its identity, and whose individual potential is maximized by the whole it joins. Thus seventy nations were created at Bavel/Babel, seventy souls went down into Egypt and the seventy languages of Torah at Sinai (in the month of Sivan). Each of those seventy languages, the languages of exile, one of which I speak here in this corner of the globe, has its place and role in the integration of the world.
The Torah was given in seventy languages, clearly elucidated (Deut. 27:8) but not Aramaic which is used to translate the Torah. All the rest of the languages are commentaries on the Holy Tongue. For the holy Torah is in essence, sacred letters, and its primary garb is the Holy Tongue. And the limbs of the Messiah are prepared only with the languages of the nations…For the revelation of the Messiah will be through the returning and integration of all seventy languages form the seventy angels (to G!d)”.
R’ Israel Dov Ber of Vilna (1789 - 1850) also known as She’erit Yisrael on Shavuot, ch 3 as quoted by Rabbi Daniel Raphael Silverstein’s Kabbalah of the Calendar class notes for Sivan II - The World of Love.
Photo of Gan Otiot with fallen leaves
Gan Otiot (The Garden of Letters/Signs) is an installation laid out in the pattern of 22 paths connecting ten disc sefirot, following the opening verses of Sefer Yetzirah. As already mentioned, there is much about the properties of the letters and the sefirot that reverberates through Sivan.
Sivan—סיון - opening to the letters
Because individual Hebrew letters convey meaning and experience, I often understand Hebrew words as the resultant expressions of the spiritual vibration of their composite letters. Thus Sivan, to me, is a description of the the experience of the endless cycle of support (samech ס) when we glimpse the hidden power of the Infinite within the finite (yud י) which connects and integrates multiplicity into unity (vav ו) from the lived experience of the faithful undivided servant (final nun ן).
Song of Songs 5:16- zeh Dodi v’zeh rayee/This is my Beloved, this is my friend
I created this collage while chanting this pasuk following Rabbi Shefa Gold’s beautiful melody. Her Love at the Centre practice of twinning each consecutive Torah portion with its equivalent Shir ha Shirim pasuk, entwines this particular verse with one of the Sivan portions, Behaalotecha.
The Torah of Behaalotecha reminds us that we journey forth in stages. At each stage and with each step of the journey, we are offered the light of the golden Menorah to infuse our consciousness, open our eyes and illuminate the way forward. And at each stage we are commanded to hear the beautiful clear sounds of the silver trumpets that call us together. Despite the troubles of the wilderness — the rebellions and complaints…. We keep setting forth, newly inspired. The Song of Songs encourages us on this arduous journey by reminding us to delight in the beauty before us and in the majesty of love.
Meditation is the practice of opening to “this” — this very moment, this very place. Ordinarily I may have my judgements — things about this that I like or not. But in meditation I just say yes to whatever is before me. I accept it fully. I may not like it, but I surrender to “this” whatever it is. I fall in love, each moment, again and again. I make this moment my friend.
My friend and teacher Sylvia Boorstein has taught me a phrase of intention, “I greet this moment in friendship with an undefended heart.”
This phrase from the Song of Songs helps me to enter into meditation with a clear and vital intention of making each moment my Beloved. I ask myself, can I fall in love with “THIS” (this moment in all its amazing complexity)? Can I simply befriend this moment?
Green Tara paper flowers, Solid Oak leather book with metal heart charm, painted silver chipboard plinth with sun dial from 3Quarter Designs Antique Relic collection, Stamperia laser cut carved wooden shapes - “love letter” tab and hand holding foundation pen, metal studs and beaded drop earring from my stash.
Chana-Toni Whitmont is a collage artist, crystal sound practitioner, creative, teacher and student whose practice and passions are born from her spiritual connection to her Jewish lineage and the ebbs and flows in the annual calendar cycle. She lives with her husband close to nature in magnificent Dharug and Gundungurra country (also known as the Blue Mountains of eastern Australia).