I am taking a class from Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Institute. Kohenet is reclaiming Judaism as earth-centered, woman-centered, and embodied theology and ritual.
The class is Wheel of the Year*, and it covers a year in the Jewish calendar from this perspective. In the secular world, we think of time as linear, with a past, present, and future that are distinct and one follows the other. In the sacred realm, time is different. Past, present, and future are all known to God in the moment rather than sequentially.
Our human minds cannot know in this way, but we can know sacred time as it manifests in the world. To do this requires a spiritual discipline and a commitment to learning and personal growth. It requires gratitude for the blessings of nature and our world, an attunement to its seasons and cycles, and a willingness to be open to the teachings of the past even as we live our truth.
In order to wrap our minds around sacred time, we impose patterns on it by dividing the year in different ways.
The first division of the year is into halves, the biblical days of rain which correspond to our fall and winter, and the days of sun, spring and summer.
The holidays that fall during the shorter, darker, days of rain are individual and focused on our inner growth and those during the longer, brighter, days of sun are communal and focused on putting that growth to work in the world. Autumn and Winter bring us Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holidays of annual reckoning; Sukkot, gratitude for the harvest; Hannukah and Purim, commemorating individual stands for faith. The holidays of sun are: Passover, we celebrate the freedom of our people; Shavuot, we relive the giving of Torah to all of us; and Tisha b’Av, we share our mourning for what we as a people have lost.
The second division of the year is into thirds, marked by the three holidays which traditionally required pilgrimage to Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The sages connected these to the three realms of the world, Passover to the sea, Shavuot to the earth, and Sukkot to the sky.
There are two divisions into fourths: each season is associated with the four elements, one inner element and one outer. Autumn’s outer element is earth and its inner element air. Winter is associated with water for its outer element and fire for inner. Spring breezes make air its outer element and earth its inner. Summer manifests fire externally and water internally. Issac Luria the great 16th century kabbalist, linked earth to action, water to emotion, air to intellect, and fire to spirit. You might remember these four worlds from our kabbalah study: Assiyah, Yetzirah, Beriah, and Atzilut.
- The year is also mapped in eighths, corresponding to the growth of a tree.
- The seed, corresponding to seedtime.
- The root, buried in the darkness of the soil.
- The branch, laid bare in winter.
- The sap, beginning to run in the cold season.
- The bud, emerging to be harvested in its time.
- The leaf, drawing in light during the long days.
- The flower, beginning to fade in the summer sun.
- The fruit, ripening in the heat of summer.
And of course, the division into the 12 months, the easiest to understand and map.
So where are we now, at the beginning of Iyar? We are between Passover and Shavuot, so we are in the Days of Sun, the time of communal holidays and taking our personal growth into the world for good.
As Passover is associated with the realm of the ocean, we observe this time as one of birth and rebirth, of the ebbing and flowing of the tides and of time itself, as we count the omer every day in Iyar.
In these days, our outer element is air and our inner element is earth. The air brings us stories. We hear the stories of our tradition, the stories told in nature, and the stories by and of our bodies. We translate these stories into action on the earth, grounded action that transforms both us and the earth.
In the life of the tree, we are in the time of budding. We are ready to receive the Torah at Shavuot and burst forth with its flowering into the world.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the letters that make up the name of the month, “Iyar,” also stand for Ani Adonai Rofecha,“ in English, “I am Adonai your healer.” Thus, for this day, Rosh Chodesh Iyar, we read a verse from Exodus (EXODUS 15:26-27):
“If you will heed the Eternal One diligently, doing what is upright in the sight of the Eternal … then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am Adonai your healer.”
Iyar is therefore a month for healing, for our selves and for our world. At Passover, we came out of the narrow places, Mitzrayim. In Iyar, our work in the world is to be sure we have left behind the shackles the restrict our growth in all four realms and to be healed and healing.
* For information on this and other Kohenet courses, visit the Kohenet Virtual Temple. To read more about the Wheel of the Year, I recommend Jill Hammer’s book, The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons (Jewish Publication Society, 2006).