Leshem- A Stone Like Sapphire

Today I wanted to discuss more regarding the month of Tevet. Specifically, I wanted to discuss the month in relation to the tribe of Dan,  astrology, and gemology. I thought this might lead to an interesting recurring theme over this year. I began by looking up the gems that correspond to each month and tribe. I couldn’t find anything specific to the months but did find plenty of sites regarding the gems that correspond with the 12 Tribes of Israel. 

Anyone who knows anything about biblical history has heard of the Breastplate of the High Priest. The breastplate was set with 12 stones, each one corresponding to a particular tribe. In fact, the tribal name was inscribed on the corresponding stone. With each tribe corresponding to a month, the tribal stone would also correspond to the month. 

Easy enough, right? Well, not quite. You see, the names of the stones, as recorded in the Bible, are not the same names we use today. There are all kinds of thoughts on what the stones are/were. The stone associated with Dan was called Leshem. I have seen it said that Leshem is opal. I’ve also seen it said that it is jacinth, amber, and lapis. That’s a pretty broad spectrum in terms of gems! I decided to look to the Jewish sages to see if I could find anything out. 

According to Midrash- Numbers Rabbah, each tribe was set up with a standard, the color of which corresponded to the color of the stone. Numbers Rabbah goes on to list the colors of each tribe’s standard. For Dan, it says, “Dan’s banner had the color of sapphire, and an image of a serpent in its center.” Can we say, then, that Dan’s color is sapphire and that Leshem is sapphire? Not really because sapphire is traditionally seen as being the stone of Issachar. Numbers Rabbah says, “Issachar’s banner was blackish, and had in the center the picture of the sun and the moon.” Notice, it doesn’t say black, but blackish. Sapphire is said to be bluish-black. It is the stone from which the tablets were carved, and due to Issachar’s renown for Torah study, that gem has been associated with that tribe.  

What else can we glean from the sages? Dan’s banner (and therefore stone) was the color of sapphire. It’s not sapphire itself, but it’s the same color- blue. That rules out some of the speculations already. We are looking for a blue stone. Lapis fits, but so do many other stones. What other information can we find? In other reading, I learned that Leshem has streaks in the stone. Lapis does. Sodalite, which is similar in appearance to lapis, does as well. I decided to look at various blue stones and see if anything spoke to me. One stone that I personally never saw as a possibility for Leshem stood out. Kyanite is a blue stone with white streaking throughout. One sentence I came across really struck me. “The most desirable kyanite gemstones exhibit a sapphire-like blue color, but most stones will display noticeable light and dark color zoning, along with some white streaks or blotches.” Wow! Sapphire like blue color. Color of sapphire. 

I’ve narrowed my thoughts down to Leshem being one of three stones: lapis lazuli, sodalite, or kyanite. I turned to what I know of the spiritual and metaphysical properties of each stone to see if any of them resonate with the month of Tevet (since Dan corresponds to Tevet). 

Lapis Lazuli- known for wisdom and truth; corresponds to throat and third eye chakras

Sodalite- intuition; corresponds to the third eye and throat chakras 

Kyanite- corresponds to and aligns all seven chakras; strengthens will and vision

The month of Tevet is a month of anger and change. Last week I wrote about Tevet and change. Tevet is ruled by the liver which is seen as representing anger. Dan is seen as angry and immature but grows up to a man of maturity. Dan means “to judge”. Judgment corresponds to the evil eye, but when Dan grows up, the evil eye changes into the ayin tov. Speaking of ayin: the letter ayin means “eye”. You can read more about the meaning of Tevet here.

You could say that either any of these three stones are the biblical Leshem. After my research, I believe it to be kyanite specifically. Kyanite is a blue that looks like sapphire. It has white streaks in it. Kyanite balances all chakras (immaturity to maturity). But one last characteristic makes me think of Leshem as kyanite. Kyanite forms in blades. With Tevet being a month of hostility and change, and with Dan meaning judgment, it’s only fitting that Dan is represented by a blade. 

So there you have it. My opinion is that kyanite is the stone corresponding to Leshem. It is the stone of Dan- the stone of Tevet. With my birthday falling during Tevet, you could say that it is my birthstone. I’m ok with that. Kyanite has always been one of my favorites. 

Image attribution: By Dr. Avishai Teicher Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31148605 — Image size changed.

 

The Month of Tevet- Darkness to Light

We are currently in the Hebrew month of Tevet and the Gregorian month of January. Tevet began at the new moon in December and will end at the new moon in January. The lights of the last days of Chanukah are the brightest spot during Tevet, with the long, dark nights of winter making up the remainder of the month. Aside from those waning days of the Festival of Lights, there are no holidays during Tevet. 

 

Tevet is a month of spiritual darkness as well. The fast day, Asara B’Tevet (10th of Tevet), commemorates the beginning of the Babylonian exile when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem during the First Temple period. This was the beginning of an exile that still continues today despite the fact of the Second Temple period. Just like today, not all Jews live there and call it home. 

 

This month also marks the finality of the Septuagint- the translation of Torah into Greek ordered by Ptolemy. This 70-man translation was completed on the 8th of Tevet. We might ask why translating a holy book into a common language is a bad thing. As with everything else in life, the issue lies with intent. There would have been no problem had Ptolemy’s intention been to provide a translation so that more people could learn from the Holy Book. Instead, the sole purpose was to treat Jewish scripture as any other book- instead of elevating humanity to the scripture, he wanted to lower scripture to humanity. It doesn’t matter what scripture, if any, you follow. All scripture exists to bring humans to a loftier purpose far beyond our mere capacities. 

 

It’s all about change. Tevet marks a month of change. Change, however, doesn’t have to be bad. It can be, as we see from the 8th and 10th of Tevet. It’s also a catalyst for good. Tevet coincides with January which is a time of change. Many people use this time of the new year to make positive changes in their lives. The month is one of darkness, but we can transform that darkness into light. We can be aware of how change can create turmoil, but we can take that turmoil and chaos and transmute it for our good. 

 

Solstice Lights

My favorite part of the winter holiday season is the importance placed on lights. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is, or what the religious connections are, each celebration this time of year revolves around light and, ultimately, the winter solstice. 

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. For several days the sun rises to the same point and appears to stop. After the solstice, the sun begins to gradually creep higher in the sky each day, and the amount of light grows during the winter season. For someone who thrives in light, the short, dark days are hard for me. 

My two favorite ways to celebrate the return of light at this time is to kindle the Chanukah lights and to have a Yule Log. During Chanukah I am able to see the light grow each day as we light one light on the first night and add one more each day to culminate with eight on the final night. When I create a Yule Log I end up burning it after my Yule meal. I will write my wishes for the new year on paper and then add them to the log. Then, burn the entire log. I really enjoy watching my hopes being consumed by the light. 

Planning for the December Dilemma

December can be a dilemma for those of us who live in multi faith families. Christmas is everywhere! Literally, everywhere. And everyone just assumes that everyone else celebrates Christmas. Well, not everyone does. And, some people who do celebrate Christmas also celebrate other holidays as well. 

So, what’s a person to do when Christmas literally shouts from every direction? First, pause and breathe. Yes. Simply take a few moments to slow down and breathe. This simple tip works to cultivate calm and serenity in any stressful moment. You may have to do it over and over, but it does work. 

Now, the best thing you can do when it comes to celebrating multiple holidays is to know what you want. It doesn’t matter if you live in a multi-faith family, or if you are a multi-faith individual. Different faiths have different celebrations and traditions. And those differences come to a head in December. Knowing what you want is the first step. Know what celebrations and traditions are part of your faith and those that are part of your extended family. If they are the same then you don’t really have to worry about a dilemma (except for explaining to your children why you are seemingly the only ones who don’t celebrate Christmas- if you don’t). If your traditions differ from those of your family, things tend to get a little sticky. But, it doesn’t have to be. When you know what the traditions of both groups are you can formulate a plan. And that plan is key. 

Here is what my answer to the December dilemma looks like. My husband and I are both Jewish, so Chanukah plays a central role in our household. We light at least one menorah each night of the 8 nights- usually we have two. We eat latkes and jelly donuts and tons of fried foods over the 8 days of Chanukah. We play with dreidels and eat our little chocolate coin winnings. We were both raised Christian so we have a relationship to Christmas. While I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore, my family and friends do. I will celebrate with them at parties and gatherings. I enjoy their trees and caroling. My husband and I both enjoy looking at all the Christmas lights around town. They are so pretty. I personally also celebrate Yule. My favorite aspect of this is creating my Yule altar. I craft a “yule log” with candles and wood. I never leave the candles burning near the log unattended, though! Poinsettias, greenery, and nuts are a gorgeous addition to my altar. I don’t always create a Yule altar, but the times when I do seem just a little more special. 

Having a plan is key to getting through December no matter what celebrations you choose to keep. Honoring yourself within your family is important. Knowing what is important to you and why will help you to develop holiday traditions that are most meaningful for you. 

Sukkot and Ancestor Veneration

Now that we have passed the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we are embarking upon another 7 day Jewish festival- the harvest festival Sukkot. Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei- at the time of the full moon. Sukkot is a time to build huts and decorate them with fruits. It’s the time we dwell in these huts to remind ourselves of our agrarian roots and the temporary nature of the dwellings we lived in in the desert after the Exodus. 

Sukkot is so much more than this, however. It is also the time to venerate our ancestors. Just like the Celtic Samhain and the Mexican Day of the Dead, Sukkot is a time to honor and remember our ancestors. Building a sukkah and engaging in everyday activities within it is not enough. We also welcome ushpizin or guests, into our sukkah. Those guests are friends and relatives, but also, our ancestors.

Traditionally speaking we invite one of the seven patriarchs and matriarchs to dine with us each night of the festival. It is often common to also welcome our own ancestors to dwell with us as well. In order to welcome the ancestors it is customary to decorate the walls of the sukkah with photographs and other objects. We also place empty chairs for the spiritual ushpizin to sit in. Special prayers and blessings are recited for welcoming the souls of our departed ushpizin. When we decorate the sukkah and welcome our spiritual guests, we are basically building an ancestor altar (although modern Judaism would not even be aware of this). 

The custom of welcoming guests into our sukkah goes all the way back to our patriarch Abraham. It is well known that he would sit in his tent and welcome guests. His tent is said to have been open on all sides so that he could see travelers from whatever direction they came. When Abraham saw a traveler, that person would become his guest for a welcoming meal and respite from the road. 

Let us be like Abraham and make this Sukkot a lovely time of welcoming our ancestors as guests. They have been travelling a long and hard road after their passing. Let us welcome them into the cool shade of our sukkah for rest and a meal.  

Yom Kippur- A Day of Perfect Balance

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. It is the crown jewel of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur is a day of personal and communal reflection. This year (2019), Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Tuesday October 8 and ends at sundown on Wednesday October 9. 

Like Rosh HaShanah 10 days earlier, the central themes of Yom Kippur are teshuva (turning from wrong) and repentance. Both holy days along with the time in between is a magical time of restoring order and balance to our lives. It is no wonder that Yom Kippur falls during the month ruled by Libra. Traditionally speaking, this is the day when G-d weighs our souls in the balance and determines our fate for the year. It is a solemn time, yes, but it is also a joyous time. If we properly prepare ourselves and observe the day,we will merit favor for another year. 

If done correctly, Yom Kippur is the conclusion of 40 days of soulful reflection. The month of Elul (the month preceding Tishrei when the High Holy Days occur) is a month of introspection and reflection. This is intensified on Rosh HaShanah when we come together as a community and publicly for prayer and introspection. Ten days later on Yom Kippur we come together once more for a final day of admitting our wrongdoings and seeking forgiveness. On this day, after 40 days of reflection, we again find balance in our lives. Our wrongs from the previous year break us, but on Yom Kippur we are able to be merged together again in wholeness. 

 

The Symbolism of Rosh Hashanah

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh HaShanah. Known as the Jewish new year, the words literally translate to “head of the year.” Tonight we will flip our Hebrew calendars from 5779 to 5780. As we celebrate this holiday we undertake a number of symbolic rituals, prayers, and foods. 

Head of the Year

New moon. New month. New year. Rosh HaShanah is all this and more. The significance of the name “head of the year” is not without meaning. Like the head of our body, the head of the year directs everything else. Our year is determined by Rosh HaShanah. If we have a healthy and symbolic head of the year, the remainder of the year will fall into place. If, on the other hand, we don’t then we risk the remainder of the year not being up to where we want it to be. 

Crowning G-d King

During the Rosh HaShanah liturgy we hear about and pray for the coming messianic age. It doesn’t matter whether you view this as a time of a literal messiah or an age of perfection. We all yearn for the time when creation and humanity will be in harmony. We view Rosh HaShanah as a time to crown G-d as king. It is a time when our hope in the goodness of humanity is restored. 

Creation of Adam & Eve

Rosh HaShanah has been said to be the birthday of the world- the day of creation. In reality, the earth was created six days ago, and humans were created on this day. Why the distinction? The creation of earth is wonderful and nice, but it doesn’t mean much if there are no people here to enjoy it. The Divine- in all glory- created man and woman in it’s image. With the creation of humanity we find meaning in the creation of the earth. 

Apples & Honey

One of the traditions related to Rosh HaShanah is to eat apples dipped in honey. The reason behind this is to set the intention for a good sweet new year. This is also the reason our challah is raisin studded for the holiday. Lots of sweet fruits are eaten to bring in a sweet new year. 

Tashlich

On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah tashlich is observed. This ritual is performed by going to a body of water and throwing our “sins” away as we toss bread crumbs into the water. This is a symbolic ritual only. We are not literally throwing our sins away, and atonement does not come from the ritual. The symbolic act takes place through reading passages from Psalms and the prophet Micah (remembering that G-d will cast our sins into the depths of the sea) and tossing the bread as a symbol of our sins. This is one of my favorite Rosh HaShanah rituals. You can read more about it here

Shofar

The central commandment of Rosh HaShanah is to hear the Shofar blowing. If you can’t make it to services or don’t want to participate in any other rituals, this is the one to do. Hearing the blast of the ram’s horn is rather haunting. It is a shout of jubilation, a cry out to G-d, and a war cry. Despite all it’s usages, the sound is haunting. It stirs something deep within the soul. You feel it in your kishkes. The reasoning behind the command for a shofar is unclear (you can read about it here), but to be sure, this is the one thing you don’t want to miss. Want to hear it yourself? Take a listen below. 

 

Asherah Rising

Queen of Heaven beside her King

Sacred Tree beside the Temple

Female with Male

Two are One in Divine Harmony.

 

Raisin cakes baked for her

Libations of wine poured out

Women worshipped her

Knowing they were created in her image.

 

But man feared woman’s power

Afraid she would deny him

Could not let her shine

Refused to share the spotlight.

 

He tore down the Sacred Trees

Named her as an idol

Banished her name

Denied her very existence.

 

In all the years since

Woman has been subjugated

A plaything for man to control

Not even her own person.

 

Now Asherah is rising

Air, Fire, Water, Earth

Cyclones, fires, floods, quakes

The Elements are raging.

 

Divinity is broken

We are able to correct it

Restore the Queen to her King

For in this day, Asherah is rising!
~Chaya Levana

The Mezuzah as Amulet

Have you ever noticed that Jewish homes have a little box attached to the doorpost? It’s a slanted box on the outside of the home (and sometimes on doorposts of interior rooms).  This little box is called a mezuzah, and it’s one of the amulets that Jews have used throughout history to bring protection to themselves. (I have also written about another Jewish amulet- demon bowls.)

A mezuzah is a small box affixed to the doorpost of the home. It contains a scroll with text from the Torah, specifically Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21:

Hear, O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.

You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L‑rd Your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L‑rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L‑rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates-so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L‑rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

 

The outside of the mezuzah is usually affixed with the Hebrew letter shin which stands for Shaddai- one of the names of G-d. The name Shaddai is often on the reverse of the scroll. Sometimes, other names and charms were written on the scroll as well- names of angels, kabbalistic imagery, etc

Historically speaking, the mezuzah was used as an amulet and talisman, both warding off evil and attracting blessings to those within the home. As you can see from the text, having the scroll affixed to the doorpost was seen as a method for ensuring prosperity, fertility, and long life. Traditionally, the belief was that the scroll had to be deemed kosher for the the mezuzah to be effective. At various times, when negative things would happen, it would be blamed on the person not having a mezuzah on their doorpost, or that the mezuzah was ineffective due to its non-kosher status. Many times, a person was urged to have their mezuzah checked to ensure it remained kosher after negative things happened.  

Many people claim that the mezuzah is not an amulet or talisman, but is simply an object used to fulfill a divine commandment. But, it can’t be argued that at times throughout history the object has been seen as having magical or mystical properties. The same goes for today- some do still view the mezuzah as an amulet. Whether or not a Jew believes the object has magical properties, the object is often placed, just as prescribed, kosher and on the doorpost. If the reason is to follow a divine commandment, I question why it is important to obey that command. Surely, a person gets something out of following an instruction- even if it is just feeling good about oneself. No matter how you look at it, the mezuzah does serve as an amulet in some way.

 

Demon Bowls

 

Magic bowls. Demon bowls. Incantation bowls. These bowls have gone by many names throughout the ages, but despite the various names, they all boil down to this: Judaism has a long history of magical practice (no matter how much some people want to deny it).

 

Magic bowls are pretty simple. They are a pottery bowl with an incantation written on them. The spell would generally start at the rim of the bowl and be written in a spiral around the outside of the bowl although sometimes the script was on the inside . Traditionally they were written in Hebrew or Aramaic and crafted by rabbis or magicians for their community members. But, they weren’t only crafted by or for Jews. Zoroastrians/Persians and Christians (as well as others) were customers for magic bowls

 

These bowls had many purposes. They could be used for healing or repelling demons. Lilith was a favorite for this. Many Jewish women would have a magic bowl for guarding against Lilith stealing her babies. Incantation bowls were also frequently used to call upon a deity for protection or guidance. In addition to the names of deities, the names of rabbis were also used within the incantations written on magic bowls. Many such bowls also included scripture as well as the names of angelic beings.

 

Once a person had commissioned and received a demon bowl, it was often buried, upside down, inside their home. The reason for burying the amulet upside down was to trap or bind the demon inside. Bowls were sometimes also buried right side up in order to attract something to the owner.

 

Magic bowls are just one example of magic in ancient Judaism. It’s easy to believe today that such things never existed, but they did. Magic has long been part of the history of Judaism.

Note: Image By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011), CC BY 2.5