Published in the Jerusalem Post “In Jerusalem” Section – Shvat: The month of self-nurture

At this time of year, the nights are still longer than the days, but we have turned the corner on this. The darkness that prevails at night is beginning to lessen.

Every month brings a spiritual energy with it. Two key themes empowered by Shvat are 1) nurturing and 2) igniting our potential and realizing it.
First let’s look at nurturing. At this time of year, the nights are still longer than the days, but we have turned the corner on this. The darkness that prevails at night is beginning to lessen. “Darkness” is often compared to dark times in our lives or when things are not going according to plan for us. This could be on a personal or national level. Shvat is the month that brings us out of the darkness.

The zodiac sign for the month for Shvat is Aquarius. The symbol for Aquarius is the water carrier, who transports water in the simplest way possible: using an empty vessel. When there are no pipes bringing water, we resort to the old-fashioned bucket to transport it. Today we are the “bucket” in our daily activities in the way we give of ourselves to others. The problem that arises regardless of the age or stage of life we are at is that we are primarily givers. Beyond to our spouse, partners, siblings, parents, grandchildren and friends, we give of ourselves to our school, community, organizations or shuls.

IT is a beautiful thing to be a giver, but it is important to understand that when the bucket is empty, it needs to be refilled. We can’t keep pushing ourselves without replenishing. We need to find the balance here and know that it is essential to fill ourselves up, as well. You wouldn’t drive your car on empty, telling it, “Please just 10 more kilometers and then I will stop to fill up!” Yet, we do that constantly to ourselves. Eventually, we will be running on empty and be too depleted to give anymore if we don’t find the balance. Many people feel uncomfortable in a “give-and-take” relationship. I prefer to call it a “give-and-receive” relationship. “Receiving” has a different energy than “taking.” For me, receiving (whether from self or others) is actually a beautiful, beneficial and nurturing act of giving as well.

I enjoy helping people find this nurturing place and space of inner well-being, where life is something that nurtures them, where they are enjoying and actively participating in it. With Tu Bishvat coming up, the Mishna tells us that the sap begins to rise in the trees for new fruit to grow. Fruit is not really part of our staple diet, but it enhances our tastes and gives us pleasure. So, the message of fruit is that the journey is meant to be joyous as well. God has provided fruit for us, which is a message that life is not supposed to be just lived and survived; we are supposed to enjoy the ride and take pleasure in the gifts He has given us. We need to identify what the “fruit” in our lives is, what adds to or enhances our existence, and how we can start “bearing fruit” today.

treeThe Torah tells us (Deuteronomy 20:19) that humans are like the trees. We grow up out of our roots, branch out from our small family and create new branches. We also try to bear fruit and leave a mark on creation as well. Similar to trees, the process of renewal is now, in Shvat, when it is all happening within the tree. Remember that we have to fill ourselves up before we can pour out to others, so be creative in what you plan here. Take a moment to include something in your life that will nourish you. It can be big or small: walk on the beach, sit in nature, have a hobby, attend a lecture or meditate. Commit to something now and take action today. When we feel filled up or nourished, we have so much more to give others, and from a loving space as well.

Shvat encourages us to reach our potential. Michelangelo said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it!” People often think that they had potential only when they were in their 20s, and that the opportunity to change their habits has passed. That’s not true. The month of Shvat is when we look around at the trees and see them bare. They look old and dead. We can’t begin to imagine that a tree in this state could bear fruit. It looks impossible. The lesson of this is that just because it looks old and lifeless, it doesn’t mean that it is. All the magic is actually taking place beneath the surface. So, the month of Shvat is a time to see and nurture potential in ourselves and in others as well.

I heard a lecture by Rabbi Wallerstein where he discussed potential. Why do we spend so much money on a wedding? Why do we dance and get involved in the function for six hours? We have no guarantee that it will be a successful marriage, especially in today’s day and age. The same applies to a bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah. We make huge functions entailing so much expense. Why? It’s not a happy day for the boy or the girl; it is a serious day where they become accountable in the eyes of God for their actions. It is actually a daunting day! So, what are we really celebrating?

WE ARE celebrating the potential of what this boy or girl can become; what this young couple might become. Wallerstein says it would be easier to just make a minyan for a wedding and have the real party after 40 or 50 years of marriage because then there is something to celebrate. But no, it is the fact that there is so much potential that we want to encourage and inspire at that time in their lives that we celebrate with them.

Shvat is when the tree is at the height of its potential. It doesn’t look like it, because it is winter, it is cold and bare, but the potential for more is hidden inside and waiting for the right moment to burst forth and give off fruit. Nobody knows when the spark of potential is ignited within us. You don’t see on someone’s face when they have an idea or make a life decision. This is hidden within us, just like what is happening within the trees now. So, it is time to nurture exciting ideas or goals within us. Of course it is important to know that any good idea or good intention that just sits will simmer away. We have to take responsibility and take action. Now!

Shvat offers us an opportunity to look within ourselves, find our hidden potential and actualize it. It is also about nurturing ourselves and looking after ourselves so that we can be like the water carrier and pour goodness from ourselves because we are filled up and inspired. When we are in this place, we are able to inspire others and bring “fruit” into the world.

The writer runs an integrative wellness clinic offering reflexology, mental imagery for healing, logotherapy and bereavement counseling. She is passionate about supporting people through their illnesses and challenges and empowering them to ask, “What now?” instead of, “Why me?”,

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