Growing up, I bragged that I got two birthdays, and honestly, I still do. Being Jewish means that you are privy to two calendars, the Gregorian and the Jewish (Hebrew), meaning that you get double the birthdays, though tragically, not double the gifts.
The Gregorian calendar, which is named after Pope Gregory XIII and began being used in 1582, is a purely solar calendar. This means that it plots the place of the sun in the sky to count a year.
The Jewish calendar, alternatively called the Hebrew calendar, is a lunisolar calendar.
Lunisolar calendars plot both the position of the sun and moon. This means that in order for a full year to pass, the sun and moon must go back to the same position in the sky.
This is why, according to the Gregorian calendar, the Jewish holidays appear to be on different days every year.
Chodesh, which means month in Hebrew, actually means 'new'. However, the actual names of the months are derived from the Babylonian names and are a leftover of the evolution of Caananites to Jews.
Like the Gregorian calendar, there are twelve months in the Hebrew year. However, unlike the Gregorian calendar, each of these months has significant spiritual meaning. As we move through the year, we move through different spiritual energies that impact what we do and why we do it. Each month also has its own affiliated Zodiac (which is different from traditional astrology), angels (listed below is the primary angel), and quality, to name a few.
Fun fact: Jewish calendar knows only one period: a 13th month is added to the year seven times during 19 years.
image by coffeeshoprabbi
Primary Angel: Uriel
Associated with Aries, the symbol of Nissan is that of the lamb. As spring arrives, so does the sense of renewal and rejuvenation. This is a time for beginning new projects, starting new phases of life. We celebrate Pessach in Nissan as well as other holidays. Nissan is the month of weighing judgment and loving-kindness. This can manifest in re-evaluating relationships and your interactions with the world. This is also a time to look out and evaluate where you stand in regards to what is happening in the greater world at large. Where are you ignoring injustice? The quality of speech encourages you to use your voice and speak up.
Primary Angel: Lahatiel
The month of the bull, Iyar is the stage of infancy in the year. We also begin counting the omer, the only time of year when each day has a specific mitzvah. The quality of the month is thought or thinking. This is a time for introspection and acknowledgment of one's thoughts. While most people see meditation as a time for an empty mind, it can also be a time for quiet contemplation of one's own inner workings. Observe your thoughts and give them name. Iyar is also considered to be an astrological important time for healing, especially through the elimination of toxicity from one's life (emotional and physical).
Primary Angel: Lahatiel
The third month of the year, the month of Sivan honors the symbolism of three within Judaism: three tribes (Kohen, Levi & Israelite), Moshe as the third child in the family, the three days we prepare, and so on. Sivan is a time of moving forward. We think of the story of Ruth, who abandoned all she knew in the pursuit of HaShem. Sivan encourages action after introspection. Iyar allows for taking stock, while Sivan is the time to act upon that deep thought.
Primary Angel: Zuriel
With the quality of sight, Tamuz is a month of extremes. The most intense versions of positive and negative are exposed during this time, providing the opportunity for Teshuvah, or return. Marking the beginning of summer, Tamuz is a time of confrontation and challenge, which can push people into action, even prematurely. While Sivan is a time of action, Tamuz is a time of acknowledgment and challenge.
Primary Angel: Barakiel
For nine days of the month, we mourn, but on the 15th day, we celebrate rebirth, rebuilding, and redemption, which is symbolized by the lion. Av is categorized by the need for pause. The quality of hearing calls for time to be taken to evaluate and listen, but also to listen to one's heart. To feel and acknowledge both the highest highs of human emotion and the lowest pains of mourning.
Primary Angel: Chaniel
Elul is a month of introspection. As we approach the High Holidays and the Days of Awe, we take stock of who we are and who we have been for the last year. During the month of Elul, we focus heavily on taking stock in our lives and seeing where each of ourselves is in the process of Teshuvah on an external and internal level in preparation for the holy days to come. My blog, "10 Questions to Ask Yourself This Elul?" focuses on getting started on doing the work, though you can (and should!) do the work every day.
Primary Angel: Tzuriel
The first month of the Hebrew year. It begins with Rosh HaShanah and continues with a month of festivals and holidays. Libra, which is categorized by the scales, is apropos of the judgment that is passed down for the new year. As we write our names in the book of life, HaShem chooses the next year of our lives. Coition, the quality of the month, focuses on fertility, bounty, and merging. It is a month of balance, and new beginnings, as seen by the element of air.
Primary Angel: Gabriel
Cheshvan (also known as Hesvan, Heshvan, Mar Cheshvan) is considered the most negative month of the year. Following directly after a month of celebration and new beginnings, this is often considered a month of hardship that culminates in growth. Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan is traditionally two days long, and during this month many Jews begin to pray for rain. The hardship of the month is categorized by water, which can be considered extremely destructive. Cheshvan is a month for perseverance and maintaining faith, dedication, and gratitude during times of stress.
Primary Angel: Maduniel
Trust, perseverance, optimism: these are all qualities of the month. During Kislev, we celebrate Channukah (and yes, that is the best way to spell it!). Channukah is etymologically related to the word "chinuch" which means renewal. This is in line with the quality of the month: sleep. This sleep can represent a number of things: rest, rejuvenation, dreaming (literally and symbolically), but also the ignoring of spiritual callings. Because of this, Kislev can be a time for spiritual awakening and actively choosing to pursue the spiritual. Dream big and work to attain those goals.
Primary Angel: Shaniel
The quality of Tevet is anger, which is most frequently coupled with negativity. However, this is not always the case. Like many things, anger can be a sign of healing and a requirement along a journey. Tevet encourages us to refrain and hold ourselves, to be one with ourselves, including the parts of us that we so often choose to ignore. The refrain for spiritual success is often discussed as well as the intentional removal of blockages from one's spiritual path moving forward.
Primary Angel: Gabriel
The new year of the trees, Shevat is a month of knowledge, abundance, and awareness. According to Bereishit, it is a month of abundant blessings. It is believed that during Shevat, Moshe translated the Torah into all commonly spoken languages at the time, as the Torah belongs to all Jews, regardless of the language spoken. The month denotes a wellspring of knowledge, spiritual and practical. It also is a month well suited to taking care of one another. It acknowledges the importance of community and neighbours. How can you uplift your community this month?
Primary Angel: Rumiel
Adar, which has the same root as the word "adir", denotes strength. As I mentioned earlier, every 19 years, there are two months of Adar for the leap year. The month of Adar is one of fortune for Jews. While we know the tenous relationship between choosing auspicious days by astrology, the Talmud tells us the Adar is a month of fortune and joy for Jews.
These are all short summaries of the months. Each are rich with their own qualities and correspondences, and just because a month may be best for something does not mean that it is the only time it can be done. We should do Teshuvah year-round. We should speak out against injustice year-round. We should be in tune with our thoughts and emotions year-round.
Take each month as you go and treat yourself, and others, with kindness.
EDIT: for those asking, you can calculate your Hebrew birthday by clicking here!
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For qualities, elements, astrology & angels: The Sefer Yetzirah
Above the Zodiac, Matityahu Glazerson