Tevet finally revealed itself to me in the afterglow of the full moon the night before. I had been looking for clues for the previous two weeks, but its secrets had remained allusive.
Tevet is traditionally thought of as the month of winter cold, the month with the chush of anger, the month that starts off with the glow of the miracle of Chanukah but then descends into the triple challenges of the destruction of the First Temple, Ezra’s death, and the translation of Torah into Greek. Tevet is associated with the tribe of Dan, the viper who strikes at the tail. From Dan we go to din/judgment, gevurah/severity and withholding.
In my garden however, Tevet occurs in summer and after several years of drought, fire and then two seasons of cold and wet, this year Tevet has heralded a warm and welcoming season reminiscent of my childhood before we began to experience weather as threat. This Tevet has been lush and abundant. As for Dan and striking vipers, while there are always scary snake sightings in January with most of the country on holidays either in the bush or on the beach, I haven’t encountered snakes in our garden for years. Was Tevet to be found in my garden?
On the evening of Tevet 16, I barely slept. I often have trouble sleeping on the full moon but my wakefulness was encouraged in anticipation of a 4am zoom commitment timed for people living on the other side of the planet. I studied through to dawn completely aware of the glisteningly bright and clear night sky. The sun rose, beckoning me outside into its warm embrace. Pretty soon I found myself with secateurs and pruning shears in hand. For a satisfying several hours I gave the garden its annual hair cut. Paths that were overgrown were opened up again, plants that had lost their shape were suddenly revealed in all their glorious form, shrubs that had been swallowed up by their neighbours were pruned back to their appropriate boundaries. Everything that was dangling dangerously, excessive and overblown was pruned back to showcase the inner beauty of both form and function.
It seemed to me that this seasonal (Tevet) cutting away reflects some of our foundation stories. It goes that “in the beginning” the universe was tohu/chaos. It was then separated and ordered in a series of “let there be’s”. Similarly Lurianic Kabbalah gives us the schema of tohu/chaos of the first competing vessels of creation, none of which could contain the egoistic exuberance of their own energy and so consequently shattered. That was replaced by a more orderly, inter-included and co-operative sefirotic system. In a ridiculously microcosmic way, this annual summer/Tevet judgmental, gevurah-like pruning tames the competition between plants into a system of independent and yet inter-inclusive garden elements. And just as Abrahamic circumcision, (and the exhortation towards the metaphoric circumcision of the lips, and of the heart), takes away what is unnecessary for the purpose of revealing the authentic and vulnerable inner essence, so too does seasonal purposeful, mindful and skilful pruning. If you hack away at it with mindless ego to prevail however, you do more damage than good, and harmony and order are undermined.
This mixed media piece was created from leftover scraps of patterned papers from the AB Studio Green Bubble Tea collection. I was attracted to these papers because of the contrast between the stark black and white and the more nuanced pinks and greens. There was something about the whimsy of the design which spoke to me - the prickliness of the cacti, and the presence of the heart motif that although hard to discern, peeks through. I loved the work boots and gardening gloves, both transformed from simply utilitarian to something beautiful.
Photo taken in the garden that day - the green recycling bins overflowing with pruned away, excessive growth.
Secateur embellishment - my creation.
Stream of consciousness text box created on Canva reads:
Tevet: cutting off what is unnecessary to reveal the inner truth - Dan: viper in the tail, judgment leading to rear guard action - Anger/laughter: quivering body state of excitement and arousal, despite contradictory underlying emotions - Capricorn: the mazal of leaping over the struggle between nefesh and gun - Ayin: two ways of seeing, good eye, evil eye, possibility to look through to reveal inner properties. Tevet: the tov/good within the source of tohu: Divine hester/hiddenness revealed by pruning back excess - Season of circumcision of excess in the garden : gan milah: how to discern light in the bright glare of summer: tikkun of ouroboric tohu/Esau
Here are my notes from the various sources that informed the work:
Rabbi Jill Hammer: Return to the Place: The Magic, Meditation and Mystery of Sefer Yetzirah
Discussion of faculty of rogez which is the faculty associated with Tevet. Rogez, which is most generally translated as anger, can also be translated as quivering, denoting agitation, excitement, rage, fear or disturbance, a body-state of excitement whose labelling depends on context. It seems that what kept me up all night in anticipation of that full moon class was body-state excitement that was rogez of the non-angry kind!
Zvi Ryzman - The Wisdom in the Hebrew Months
Interesting discussion of the importance of Dan, the serpent on the highway, the viper on the path, crucial for survival between exodus and entry into the land, powerful rear guard protective action.
Tevet as a time of hester/hiding, where the Divine presence is hard to discern (ie hidden under our addictions/way too much lush and sappy growth)
Sefer Yetzirah - Tevet is about both anger and laughter.
The letter Ayin which actually means eye, is the clue to receptive vision that permits us to interpret and appreciate at a deeper level. We can choose to focus on anger/rogez or laughter. In Tevet owe can transform concepts from one extreme to the other by using our ayin tovah/good eye.
Symbolism of the gedi/goat/Capricorn constellation - goat = unity of spiritual and material (from Jacob assuming Esau’s identity by covering his arms with goat hair to deceive his father to get the blessing). Pesach song chad gadya - struggle between the nefesh and the guy, the soul and the body. Goats leap up and out, and the mazal of the month is to leap from lower levers to inspiring heights (the Maccabees, Chanukah etc.)
Rabbi Michael L. Monk: The Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet
Ayin = 70. 70 faces of Torah etc. Word play with Hebrew for wine - “when wine goes in, a secret comes out”. Wine and secret/sod have same gematria. Sod = innermost essence, unrevealed inner meaning. Wine = inner qualities of a grape, its buried essence that can be extracted, fermented, transformed (pruned????) into wine. Breaking loose from the innermost concealment, losing restraints that safeguards inner strength.
Rivka Cremisi - Splendeur des Lettres: Splendeur de l’Être: Corps, Kabbale et médecine énergétique
Ayin nous demande de ne pas prendre les vessies pour des lanternes! Il nous oblige à nous défocaliser de la forme pour nous défaire peu à peu de nos illusions. Ne restons pas à la surface. Nous quittons alors la vue superficielle au profit d’une perception directe. Dans nos plus grandes ténèbres pour y toucher notre source: Utilisons le troisième oeil pour voir le chemin.
Miriam Cohen. Live Kabbalah Tevet women’s circle 29/12/22
Etymology - tevet from the root word tov/good - (God saw the light and it was good) and Deuteronomy - (Aaron kindles the menorah - lehativtah lenerot) - positive illumination possible in entire month of Tevet.
Tribe of Dan - din/gevurah side of soul powers. Gevurah rooted in the highest source of chesed - sweetening of judgements. Using the ayin hatov/good eye to rectify judgments and transform gevurah to its source. Rectification of anger - using the energy of anger to propel us to grow. Hamtaka hadin - sweetening the judgements. Dan energy - settling the boundaries to step into our potential. “Only one from the tribe of Dan can kill the evil snake. One like him killed him.” Snakes are considered the primordial source of the yetzer hara. Both snake (Nachash) and Moshiach share the same gematria of 358, which suggests a strong relationship between the two. The holy spark of Dan is the holy spark of moshiach.
Tevet is the time of boundaries/discipline (me - pruning????). Kabbalistically, boundaries are the highest expression of love. Gevurah connected to Yitzach. Root of his name is tzoch/laughter. Time of the moshiach will be called the time of gevurah. Moshiach energy is time of gevurah - living from very inward place, doing that work now, facing ourselves, transforms ourselves coming into own geulah. Divine soul within knows our worth and value. Having boundaries is the greatest expression of our self love. We can really only love another person when we have appropriate boundaries. Core of healthy relationships are boundaries.
Rabbi Dovber Pinson - The Month of Tevet
Tikkun of procreation/intimacy. Shallow pleasure/excessiveness/ego/anger/possessiveness intimacy or refining and balancing towards health and holiness as a model for rectifying our relationship with the physical world and the Divine.
Tevet and tohu - Both very physical existential immediate and even impatient or angry qualities, exemplified by Esau. Tohu - each of the ten attributes sensed its own self importance and therefore remained aloof and apart, resulting in cacophony, all aspects of creation working at cross purposes. Paradigm of competition rather than collaboration. As creation process matures, tohu gives way to the deeper world of tikkun where each of the ten attributes grow beyond themselves to form meaningful bonds, integrating the self within the context of a larger community. Tohu is raw energy of children needing instant gratification. It is the physical instincts of the body. Unbridled passion and desire. At the same time, there is something very sincere and innocent about tohu energy. Just needs to be harnessed for positive ends.
Teves = Akkadian tov bas - bas in the talmud = physical intimacy. Good month to create a tikkun for this. Physical intimacy can be the holiest and purest action in the world, can embody genuine unity, taste of world to come unity. Hashem’s presence is the essence of yichud oneness resting on the couple which honours holiness of intimacy
Tes beis tav - first three words of Torah with those letters are tov/good, bereishit/in the beginning/in the head, tohu/chaos
Teves means “there is good within the head/source of tohu
Tohu is the source of all physical reality including ego and energy of brute force. Spiritual reality includes word of tikkun. Tohu came before the world as we know it so it is exceptionally exalted because it is closer to the source of emanation. The purpose of creation is tikkun but Tohu emerged first so is higher. Tikkun appears after the vessels of the world of tohu have been broken the sparks of which require our gathering and elevation within the new vessels of tikkun. Beyond the soulful orderliness of tikkun is the head/root of tohu with its potential for tremendous goodness.
Number - Tevet starts with Tet, the 9th letter. Coiled in on itself, least common letter in the Torah, most concealed letter, the only letter not used in the 10 Commandments. 9 is a mysterious number. 9th verse of a parsha has a much deeper meaning than appears on the surface. In a Torah scroll there is an empty space of 9 letters between one portion and the next. 9 = empty space between the fullness of the words of Torah, the white space, the ayin/no-thingness. Ayin is the unmoving state of transcendent non-being (vs yesh/separate existence moving ascending or descending. 9 = ayin of no stimulation of thought or sensation, attention drawn inward toward our experience of ayin, inner stillness and silence, timeless and emptiness. Can be disorienting but if we let go of narratives and activities bleak emptiness is transformed into fertile sweetened void of intimacy. Tevet can be ayin of klipah/negative emptiness, source and beginning of all destruction or ayin of kedusha, holy no-thingness, unflinching presence for genuine self encounter. Including beingness and non-beingness = shift into etzem cutting off what is unnecessary to reveal the inner truth consciousness, essence, infinite context transcending and inter including both yesh and ayin, where our I is intimately united and included within the ultimate essential I of Hashem, one to One body to Body, self to Self.
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).