Chodesh Shvat

Ezra the Scribe divided the Five Books of Moses to be read weekly in a one year cycle.   By doing this, he enabled us to see amazing wonders, concerning both our spiritual growth and our physical health.   What I teach is the correlation we see between the Parshah of the Week and the time of the year that its read.

As we know, the tikun (fixing) for Chodesh Shvat according to the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) is achilah-eating, and more specifically the oneg-pleasure which comes with eating. Pleasure in eating does not mean to overeat or to eat foods which make a person feel heavy; on the contrary, pleasure in eating means to eat light just the amount you need so you can feel satisfied, and not end up feeling full and weighed down.

As we enter Chodesh Shvat, we see in this week’s Torah portion of Vaera, [Shmos 9:31-32] that the Torah goes out of its way to tell us that “The flax and barley have been destroyed, since the barley was ripe, and the flax had formed stalks. But the wheat and the spelt have not been destroyed, since they are late in sprouting.” Wheat (especially spring wheat) and spelt are considered to be light grains.  Especially at this time of year, it is best for us, as it was for them in Biblical times, to soak the wheat grains overnight in order to let them sprout. The sprouts are then ground and baked at a very low temperature to make what we call sprouted wheat bread, which in some countries is called “mana bread.” This heavenly bread, the mahn, is actually mentioned this time of year in the Torah just before Tu b’Shvat in Parshas Beshalach.

Barley is a heavier grain and is normally used as the basis for Cholents and thick soups because it is a long-cooking grain that fattens you up. As we approach Tu bShvat, however, we need to lighten up our diet and retune our bodies to be more active and outwardly expressive. By then, we should be removing barley and oats from our diet, to be replaced with cooked rice and sprouted wheat bread.

To make this light and sweet mana sprouted wheat bread, use only good quality water to soak the wheat (dont leave the container which the wheat is being soaked in overnight uncovered). Once the wheat is soaked for at least eight hours, this water becomes filled with healthy bacteria which are quite beneficial for your intestines, so go ahead and drink it!  In the health food world this water is called rejuvelac. Rejuvelac, rejuvenates our digestive system, thus lightening up our life.

Pools & Palms

Also in next weeks parshah of Beshalach, which we read just as we are approaching Tu bShvat, we are camped out by twelve pools of water and seventy date palms—sounds a bit like a Tu bShvat Seder!  Yes, now is the time to begin flushing out your system by drinking more and eating dates and other dried fruits of the land of Israel.  This will cause our bodies to begin cleansing.  The Torah assures us that this new cleansing will not be a harsh one, resulting in real sickness, G-d forbid.  As the Torah states in this parasha (Shmos 15:26), “If you obey G-d, your Lord and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully heeding all of His commandments and keeping all of His decrees, then I will not strike you with any of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt. I am G-d who heals you.”

We of course were also jumping into these cool pools of water, so now is also the time to wake ourselves up with cold mikvahs, showers, etc. During these three weeks, Manna sprouted wheat bread should be eaten, too, since it is very light and sweet, and therefore also helps to give us the feeling of new life and renewal. Since it is cooked at a very low temperature, it is still practically alive.

Shvat & Av

In Parshas Beshalach, we begin our new outward expression with “Az Yashir,” singing a new song from your new and deepest inside self. The opposite of outward expression is our “Mitzrayim/Meitzarim, meaning borders. These are the borders and limitations that we put on ourselves, which hold us back from being the best that we can be. Getting out of our Mitzrayim, is much easier when we stay away from animal products and other high protein foods, including beans.

As we read the three Parshiyos of our enslavement in Mitzrayim now, we are a bit held back, close to expressing our new, deep inside selves (which was developed when we read the Book of Bereishis until Chanukah), though not quite yet.  The three Parshiyos of Shmos, Vaera, and Bo, which we read between the 17th of Teves and the ninth of Shvat, parallel exactly the three weeks of “Bein HaMetzarim” – Between the Narrow Places from 17th of Tamuz until the Ninth of Av.  Tradition says that Mashiach will be born on the Ninth of Av, which is opposite the Ninth of Shvat in the Jewish calendar. We can understand this because we always read Parshas Bo around the Ninth of Shvat, which tells the story of our freedom from “Mitzrayim”, which also represents a birthing from our constricted state. This is accomplished by our leader Moshe Rabeinu, acting as our Mashiach/messenger of G-d.

Inside Out – Three Months

To explain a little deeper, every year during these three weeks we reach the culmination of the deep inside development that we began back in the early winter months. This development began at the onset of the Book of Bereishis in Parshas Noach, where Noach is told by G-d to build an ark which is coated with Kopher-pitch from within and without. Rashi contrasts this with a similar incident.   Regarding the little ark in which Moshe was placed, it was enough to only put the pitch on the outside; since his ark was put in the calmer waters of the Nile, it didnt need to be pitched on the inside. Another reason which Rashi gives is so that Moshe, the (new inside) Tzadik, should not have to smell the bad odor of pitch. Kopher-pitch is the same word as Kopher-to deny, as in Kopher Hakol – denying everything or to be Kopher Bikar – denying the fundamentals (of Jewish belief).  For our purposes, it means in a sense to deny and leave everything, and to begin the year by completely starting over again, both inside and out.

The name of the next Parsha in Bereishis, Lech Lecha (as I heard from Rabbi Tom Meyers) means, Lech-go, Lecha-to you; go to a new and deeper you.  At that time of the year we had been eating a diet of those foods which keep us more inward and less expressive.  This week instead, we should greatly increase our intake of foods which help us to express outwards, such as wine and other juices, which have an expansive and cleansing effect on our body and on our emotions. When we reached Parshas Noach at the onset of the year, we were just entering the winter, so it wasnt yet time to eat foods which cause us to cleanse and express outwards. Today the world is a little crazy, because we see fresh fruits from the summer months of Chodesh Sivan and Tamuz, which cause rapid “cleansing”, being sold in the early and even deep winter months. Now, around Tu bShvat, we are in the deep winter months just after the half way mark of the winter, heading towards spring; Rosh Chodesh Nissan is only a month and a half away.

This time of year, which Rashi calls kor-cold as opposed to charef-winter, is often much colder, with even more wind and stormy weather. Nevertheless, we are approaching springtime, and it is time to expand out. We actually need three months in a row to do this.  We begin on the 15th of Shvat (the Tu of Tu bShvat has a numerical value of fifteen) with dried fruits; some who do a Tu bShvat Seder, increase the expanding effect with wine. Purim is a month later on the 14th/15th of Adar, and then of course Seder night is another month later, when there is an obligation for us to drink the four cups, ideally of wine.

Keep in mind that the theme for these next three months is all about what happens on Seder night: As we approach Tu bShvat, we read of our freedom from Mitzrayim in Parshas Bo and Beshalach, followed by the story of Purim which actually took place on Seder night.  Yes, Haman was hung in Chodesh Nissan on Seder night.

Moshe – Pulling Out, Drawing In

We are now after the completion of the book of Bereishis, and have thus completed the work of developing our new inside deeper selves. This is our new Mishkan-Sanctuary, the penimiyus-inner light of Chanukah.  Now, as we begin the second book of the Torah, the book of Shmos, we are presented with a new goal to bring this new inside self, our new Mishkan, to the outside, and to blossom into the new you. In order to do this we must be able to pull from our deep inside selves, from the beyond-this-world to this world.

This is little baby Moshe, who needs to be suckling-Yonek from the beyond this world. Moshe’s name, given to him by Paro’s daughter, means to pull; she was immersing herself in the water to convert to Judaism, and she pulled him out of the water. So too, as I heard from Moshe Shloss, the word  משיחmoshiach-savior, is loshon מושיך mosheech-to pull, since the Moshiach wants to pull to the outside the latent  Moshiach which lies within all of us.

As I understand it, this is to teach us how to pull from the beyond to this world. For this reason Moshe was only able to be Yonek-suckle from his Jewish mother Yocheved, who was not born in Mitzrayim but rather was born, just outside of the walls as we entered Mitzrayim.  The significance of this is that she was not too far away, but was still close enough for Moshe to be able to pull down and be nourished from the beyond this world.

This is the world of Atzilus, the world of the Avos Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.  They are mentioned in the beginning of this weeks Parshah Vaera: G-d said to Moses “I appeared to the Avos with the name שד-י-Shakai (pronouncing the actual d as a k out of respect) —the letters שד Shin Dalet form the word meaning breast, and the Yud, represents the beyond.  On this thought (as I heard from Rav Yitzchak Goldstein-Rav Goldstein’s son,) Rav Chaim Velogin explains in his book Nefesh HaChaim that the difference between a Jewish Neshamah and that of a non-Jew is that the Jewish Neshamah is Yonek from the world of Atzilus-beyond this world, whereas the non Jew suckles from this world of Assiyah-action.

Moshe is Yonek but how far is he Yonek? The name משה Moshe has in it the letters of the word נשמה Neshamah except for the Nun. The Nun is with Yehoshua Bin Nun, who brings us into the actual physical land, bringing the light of Am Yisrael, the new light within you developed during Sefer Bereishis, all the way to our Nefesh-physical and emotional selves. We see this in the shape of the Nun, which is a straight line from top to bottom, representing the bringing of the light of our heavenly soul all the way down to this world, to our Nefesh.  This is what we call “Tikun HaNefesh”, to conquer our most base, physical selves.

Yehoshua – Potential to Actual

So we see that Moshe is the Spiritual Visionary who brings us out of our Mitzrayim, with the clear vision of reaching the Promised Land. The actual physical entry into the land however, was only by Yehoshua Bin Nun. Yehoshua is from Tribe of Ephraim the son of Yoseph, who represents the Vav-Yesod.  “Tikun Yesod” goes together with “Tikun HaNefesh.” Both Yoseph and Yehoshua are called a “Naar” – a young lad. In the progression of the Jewish Year, the Nun stretches farther than the Vav all the way to this physical world.

The 17th of Tamuz at the opposite time of the year is when the light of Yehoshua mamash begins to shine.  We are then reading Parshas Pinchas, where Moshe Rabeinu actually gives Smicha to Yehoshua, so that he can lead Am Yisrael into the Land.  Moshe transfers some of his Hod onto Yehoshua. Back here on this side of the year on the 17th of Teves, we begin the Book of Shmos and a time period called “Shovivim” שובבים -the first letters of the first six Parshiyos of the book of Shmos.  This is a time of Tikun Yesod, represented by the light of Yoseph HaTzadik. Moshe Rabeinu must then find and bring the Atzmos Yoseph-bones of Yoseph together with him and Am Yisrael, out of Mitzrayim.  “Atzmos” also means your true Etzem self. Having and being in touch with your true, inside, deepest self is true freedom, like “Yom Atzmaut” Israel’s Independence Day in its deepest essence.

Three Weeks:  Shvat –vs- Av

I mentioned that both words “Mitzrayim” and “Bein HaMitzorim” share the exact same letters for the word which means borders and limitations.  For three weeks from the seventeenth of Teves until the ninth of Shvat Tu bShvat, we are within borders. This is when we enter the slavery of “Mitzrayim”- Parshiyos Shmos, Vaera, and Bo. It is a time to stay a bit locked in, to tune up and to get more in touch with your new Mishkan, the new you. This is because though the Holy Mishkan was completed on the 25th of Kislev-Chanukah, it was not erected and functioning in the “doing mode”, represented by Mitzvah/Matzah, until Rosh Chodesh Nissan the month in which we get out of our Mitzrayim.

So before we begin to express ourselves out in the world, we should be getting our intentions straight to be very clear about who you are, what you are, and how you as an individual plan to connect your heaven to your earth.

In Chodesh Shvat, Moshe Rabeinu began to teach a review of the entire Torah. This is called “Mishneh Torah, which is comprised of the Book of Devorim.  We begin reading it on Rosh Chodesh Av which, in the light of parallel months, is exactly opposite Rosh Chodesh Shvat. The Torah is our life. Now that we are in Shvat as your new light begins to reach this world, we have a review in a sense of your life here in this world. So stay centered and connected to your true self at this time, especially during these first nine days of the month.

In diet we stay contained and do not eat so much of those foods which cause outward expression, such as fruits and juices especially tropical ones and tropical veggies such as (don’t be mad at me)—tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant (the list goes on, but thats not for now).  Potatoes are tropical; Columbus brought them to the western world from South America.  These three plant foods are never mentioned even once in all of the Talmud).  We also shouldnt eat those foods which can cause us to be overly constricted, tight and too grounded, such as meat, chicken, tuna and eggs.   We should instead stay very “centered” between these two extremes by eating mainly good quality grains, beans and especially lots of good quality veggies that are in season now.   Veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, which are high in vitamin C and which cleanse your blood from the more heavy winter diet (the list goes on here also).

Learning how to cook correctly and how to check for bugs is essential. As far as bugs go, I have found that even broccoli is very clean until Tu bShvat (though it still must be carefully checked until then) Cauliflower is more of a problem, although until Tu bShvat it is also much cleaner from bugs than at other times of the year. The reason for this is because in nature, more male energy begins to go out after TubShvat.  We then begin a new balancing strategy by doing more action while simultaneously beginning to consume dried fruits high in sugar as opposed to vegetables.

(At Tu b’Av on the opposite side of the year, the more female energy of going in begins. At that time we are coming out of Bein HaMitzarim, not with dried fruits but rather with fresh white grapes the woman would not be dancing in vineyards of red grapes with white dresses!  We eat these grapes for only a short period, because the real goal is to crush them to make wine.  We are at that time heading in in to our Succah, as opposed to heading out of Mitzrayim now in Shvat.)

Approaching TubShvat

Nature knows that now after Tu bShvat is not time for people to be consuming veggies like broccoli, so the bugs and worms begin to feast instead.  Whereas after Parshas Vaera, as we reach Parshas Bo after the first half of the three weeks, we are already heading out of our Mitzrayim-constricted state.  At this time barley and oats are a bit too heavy of a food, because they bring one to more of a state of complacency and less movement.

Now however, as we are getting out of our Mitzrayim and are approaching Tu bShvat, it is a time to begin more outward action (male energy versus the female energy of Tu b’Av). Alhough in the first half of bein Hamitzorim, we still need these more satisfying and heavy foods.

I have noticed an interesting pattern, wherever the Torah hints to us something referring to food.  Before we come to the Parsha and the Aliyah where the hint is found – even if its shortly before that place, like in our case with the last aliyah of Parshas Vaera it is actually time to be doing quite the opposite of what is about to come.  In this case, that means eating creamy barley in the form of cholents and soups along with creamy oatmeal.  This is exactly the food we need at this time of late Teves at the onset of Chodesh Shvat, in the exact middle of what we call “The Parshiyos of Mitzraiyim or on the other side of the year-“Bain HaMitzorim”- which we will G-d willing explain.   In short whole grains such as barley and oats (cooked correctly) keep us locked in to a balanced state, not too contractive and not too expansive (as long as we are also not eating animal products and fruits).

Our sages tell us that Oats/oatmeal is in the category of Barley, which we see in the verse which gives praise to the Land of Israel (Devarim 8:8) It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives, and honey-dates.” The verse does not mention oats, spelt, or rye, which are also grains for which are the Land of Israel is praised. Our Sages therefore tell us that oats are in the category of barley, and that both spelt and rye are in the category of wheat.  Now as we are approaching Tu bShvat, we need to lighten up our diet and retune our bodies to more action and outward expression. Barley and oats are foods that are a bit too heavy, that bring one more to of a state of complacency and less movement.

New Year, New Head

Another hint that tells us that this diet change should occur just as we reach Tu bShvat is that, as we know, Tu bShvat is the “New Year for the trees”.  We see the destruction of every tree in the fields only five verses earlier, just before the mentioning of the barley being destroyed.  Not only that, but we read in the following week in Parshas Bo that the locusts consumed all of the plants on the ground and all of the fruit on the trees whatever had been spared by the hail. Nothing green remained on the trees and plants throughout all of Egypt.  Parshas Bo, which is read during the week of the ninth of Shvat, is also the parshah in which we get out of Mitzrayim.  As weve already explained, the getting out of Mitzrayim corresponds to one getting out of one’s own “Mitzrayim.”  Therefore, it is quite fitting that the New Year for the trees begins now.

We were enslaved by the children of חם Cham, which are the same letters as the word מח Moach-our brain.  Not only does Parshas Bo include the complete destruction of the trees and even the fruits of the trees, but in this Parshah we also receive a new head! As the verse states: (ibid. 12:1,2) “This month shall be the Rosh Chodesh to you literally, Rosh-head, Chodesh-new New Head.  This is found immediately after Moshe Rabeinu tells Paro in G-d’s name about the final plague of the killing of the first born.  The Ball Shem Tov tells us that this is the killing of your main thought, your Daas all that they thought.

The process of getting out of our old Mitzrayim and getting this new head does not happen all at once. It is a progression that takes place during three calendar months, from the 15th of Shvat when we read Parshas Bo and Beshalach/Az Yasheer, continuing through Purim at the 14th/15thof the following month of Adar with the story of Haman being hung.  The actual hanging of Haman was on Pesach Seder night. The Gemorah in Sotah tells us that there is a hint to Haman in the Torah. This is where the Torah refers to the Aitz HaDaas-Tree of Knowledge using the words “Hamin HaAitz Hazeh” where G-d asks Adam, “did you eat from that tree?  This progression culminates with the Pesach Seder, the actual date/time when Haman, representing ones Daas, was hung.

Then, at the end of the week of Parshas Bo, we reach Tu bShvat. This means that just as Tu bShvat, which is the New Year for the trees, we ourselves begin as a new tree mamash!  We can now better understand the custom in many communities all around the world of people planting a new tree on Tu bShvat. This is the aspect of you as a tree (as the Torah tells us “a man/woman is a tree in the field), giving and sharing your fruits with the world.

Orlah – Eitz & Peh

Now let us G-d willing try to understand even a bit deeper.

The word “Mitzrayim” actually means borders, where one is locked in. What we are talking about is being locked in to a particular mind set and consciousness, where one cannot think beyond the thoughts of their brain and the limitations they put on themselves.  Allow yourself to become the new you.  Plant a new tree.  Focus on the tree itself—your middot, and not your fruits. Work on your roots first which is deep down inside of you, way beyond this surface world. This is your Nitzchi aspect, the aspect of Moshe Rabeinu in you, while your expression to the outside world is Hod, represented by Aharon HaCohain.  A tree before the world can eat from the fruits of a tree, it must left alone to grow for three years.  This law is called Orlah.  So too we see in last weeks Parshah of VaEra that Moshe Rabeinu tells Hashem that he is not able to speak to Paro because he is “Orlah Sifasayim”-having an uncircumcised lips/not ready yet (6:12), and Rashi comments on this referring to the fruits of trees, that “for three years it is Orla, forbidden for you to eat of it”.

The Torah repeats this subject in verse 6:30 and continues with Hashem reassuring Moshe that his brother Aharon will be his prophet, and that Aharon (who is Hod-outwards expression) will speak for him. Then in verse 7:7 (interestingly, seven = Malchut Peh) the Torah goes out of its way to tell us that “Moshe was eighty years old (the gematria of the letter Peh, which means mouth, like uncircumcised lips), and Aharon was eighty three years old (the three year difference representing having passed through the prohibition of Orlah!).  The Torah of course is not just a history book, and is obviously speaking about the Moshe Rabbeinu-Netzach and Aharon-Hod within each of us.  Less meat and protein foods make one more able to change and express outwardly the new you.   As my Rebbi, the Mount Zion Rebbi Rav Goldstein would put it, its the ability to jump out of your box.”

Tree & Fruit

Keep in mind that Tu bShvat is not the New Year for the fruits of the trees; it is rather the New Year for the tree itself.  The New Year for the fruits is at Chag Hashevuos, as it says in Gemorrah Megillah 31, where Reish Lakish explains that Chag HaShevuos is called a “Rosh Hashanah” because Shevuos is the day in which the fruits of the trees are judged.

Rev Matis Weinberg explains that the Esrog which we pray for on Tu b’Shvat (there is a tradition to pray for a beautiful Esrog for Chag HaSuccot  on Tub’Shvat) is truly a message for all of us, that the Esrog is a tree whose bark (the tree itself) has the same exact taste as its fruit. For us, as we are about to express outwards to begin to give of our fruits, our outward accomplishments to the world, we should take to heart at this time the work that we have to do on ourselves – on our middot-character traits and ask ourselves “Am I as sweet as the fruits that I put in to the world?”

In the month of Shvat, the day time is expanding, so we need foods which allow us to expand. So too little children their bodies are compact, and as they grow they need the freedom to expand. The worse foods for them are the “contractive” foods such as eggs and meat and excessive salt, for if they eat them they will remain so compact that they will crave super expansive foods like sugar and tropical fruit juices in order to balance out.

As our intestines clean out from the heavy winter diet, you may feel lower back pains. This is also only one of the symptoms of cleansing.  Realize that this is only happening because you are eating lighter. Massage will help, and the more you eat in the correct manner, the less you will feel these pains. Stay tuned for more about diet and cooking.

Expanding Outward

So in short, as we entered this time of Bein Hamitzarim at the 17th of Tammuz and the three Parshiyos of Mitzrayim, both we and the day begin to expand. The days begin to get longer, expanding with later sunsets.  Today as we are reaching the ninth of Shvat the sun sets even earlier! Allow yourself to Expand outwards-from inside out!  Happy Tu bShvat!