Seventh Month: Mental Sharpness, Humility and Joy

Somewhat strangely, the Jewish calendar marks a new year in its seventh month. Tishrei is sated with holidays mentioned in the Torah: Yom Zikaron-Taru’ah, Yom haKippurim, Sh’vuot and Sh’mini Atseret. The other holidays mentioned in the Torah appear to be similarly joined together, occurring six months before in what is designated the first month: Pesach and the counting of the Omer which provides a bridge, culminating in Sh’vuot. Notwithstanding Shabbat, all other Torah holiday’s are rooted either in the first or the seventh month.

In Hebrew, all words for numbers have metaphorical significance. Nevertheless, when considering the dates associated with Torah holidays, the numbers for first, seven, tenth and fifteen are repeating themes. Although there is some variation to be found between these two groupings of holidays, there is a skeleton or scaffolding of numbers and dates that they share. Specifically, the Torah states that Pesach occurs in the first month and Yom Zikaron-Taru’ah (Rosh haShanah) occurs on the first day of the seventh month. On the tenth of the first month, a Seh must be acquired for the Pesach offering, whereas Yom haKippurim occurs on the tenth of the seventh month. Next, there is a seven day festival beginning on the fifteenth day of both months. In the first month, it is Chag haMatsot and Sukkot is in the seventh month. Although, it is commonly understood that a seven day holiday of Pesach begins on the fourteenth, twice the Torah specifically states that there is a pesach for haShem between the evenings on the fourteenth and that the seven day festival of Chag haMatsot begins on the fifteenth day (Lev23:5)(Num28:16). In a manner somewhat analogous to Pesach’s being prefixed to Chag haMatsot, Sh’mini Atseret is added on the eighth day, after Sukkot in the seventh month. Thus there is a pattern of events in both months utilizing the metaphors associated with the first, tenth and fifteenth and lasting for seven days.

The holidays prescribed in the Torah commemorate dates in the annual cycle of historical and/or agricultural significance. However, allegorically Torah holidays serve to focus and ultimately propel each individual toward engaging with the opportunities that can be found in life experience. After all, the purpose of life is to live it and to strive to live it to the fullest. For other animals, this basically entails finding and creating shelter, acquiring food, reproducing and defending oneself from threats. In addition to these basic needs, human beings have the opportunity to develop emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. As is true throughout the Hebrew language, the quintessential characteristic that distinguishes us from all other creatures forms the basis of our name, b’nai adam (בני אדם). This name, after the first archetype, Adam, evolved from the verb DaMaH (דמה) meaning to think, plan and make comparisons. This ability to mentally process requires an input of external stimuli. More than any other sense, our ability to see tends to be the dominant source, often serving as a motivator and a navigator of our ability to engage existence.

One of the earliest commandments in the Torah is the designation of the month of Aviv, the month of Pesach, as the first month of the year. The Hebrew word for first, rishon (ראשון), is derived from the word for head (Rosh – ראש). The silent aleph is vestigial, suggesting that the biliteral root from which it evolved was Ra/aH (ראה) to see, thus making the word for head (Rosh – ראש) to literally mean “the place of seeing.” So the first month represents a time of seeing. It is in the first month that haShem catapults us into a metaphor for living, initiated through the act of seeing. Allegorically, Pesach symbolizes our taking a leap (pasach – פסח) to G-d’s bringing forth of existence (ליהוה). Traditionally, we think of the holiday as beginning on the fourteenth day of Nissan. But for allegorical purposes, it is important to remember that it occurs in the month of Aviv (אביב), a word derived from the verb /aBhaH (אבה), to willingly give forth of oneself, thus representing our springing forth into action.

The names of the months in current use come from the Babylonian calendar. However, the name Aviv comes from the original Hebrew calendar. From this calendar, only four months are mentioned in the TaNaKh: Aviv (1st), Zeew (2nd), Aetanim (7th) and Bul (8th). Even though the ancient name for the seventh month is not utilized in the Torah text, ironically it has the same metaphorical value as the Hebrew word for seven. Both Aetanim (איתנים) and Sh’vi’i (שביעי) represent a perpetually overflowing and satiating amount of experience. The Hebrew word for seven (Sheva\ – שבע) is etymologically related to a similar root that differs only in its initial sibilant consonant, (Sava\ – שבע) meaning to be bloated, full and satiated by what is bubbling (בעה) and by extension by what is startling (בעת).1

Shabbat, which occurs on the seventh day of the week, epitomizes this symbolism. Although the Torah emphasizes that Shabbat is a day of rest, a day of spurning the performance of m’lakhot (מלאכות), acts of going off to do unrelated tasks2, metaphorically it symbolizes a full embrace of G-d’s bringing forth of existence. After all, Shabbat is a day of emulating haShem and the Torah specifically says, “ויכל אלהים ביום השביעי מלאכתו“. Before stating that G-d rested on the seventh day, the text specifically says that Elohim was completing his task on the seventh day, the day that was full and satiating. HaShem’s task is of creating existence, of creating the experiences of our existence. The allegory of the text specifies that it was being finished on, and metaphorically, through a satiating bubbling up of experience on the seventh day. Although the word Shabbat does mean to cease and rest, literally it means “to settle back into something.” It is related to the words Sh.W.Bh. (שוב – to settle back > to return, return to); ShaBhaH (שבה – to settle back > to take captive); YaShaBh (ישב – to settle back > to sit, settle into); ShaBhaBh (שבב – to settle back > turn back > wander around); and ShaBhaHh (שבח – to settle back > to settle down, to still). As a metaphor, Shabbat is very much more about settling into the satiating amount of experience made to bubble up by G-d, then that of ceasing.

While the first month is a month of seeing and a month of springing forth into what is seen, the seventh month is one of becoming bloated by what bubbles up in experience. Although the Torah could refer to the first day of the seventh month as the rishon, the day of seeing all of the options bubbling up before us. Instead, in a manner similar to the first day of creation, the Torah utilizes the word for one, echad (אחד). The Hebrew words ChooWD (חוד) and ChaDaD (חדד) are etymologically related to one another with both essentially meaning “to sharpen.” Whereas, ChaDaD (חדד) means to sharpen a knife or sword, ChooWD (חוד) means to sharpen the mind through riddle and enigma. The word for one, echad (אחד), while derived from the former, meaning one sharp point, metaphorically means to be mentally sharp. Rosh haShanah, occurring on day one of the seventh month, is a day of being mentally sharp in being confronted by a bubbling up of what is bloating and satiating in experience. Therefore, the Torah calls it a day of Zikaron (זכרון), of being clear minded. It is a day requiring us to be awake and attentive to all that haShem offers us. To this end, a teru’ah note is blown on the shofar and the day is equally referred to as a day of Teru’ah. This word teru’ah is derived from the root Rua\ (רוע) literally meaning to scatter about. For it is on this day that we scatter ourselves into the numerous options found in experience for which we have been awakened, made mentally sharp and clear minded. One could assume that the rabbis of old were also aware of this allegory, since metaphorically Teqi’ah (תקיעה) means “driving directly in” and shevarim (שברים), although meaning broken, literally means “going clear through.”3

Moving on to the next date that provides the scaffolding for the holidays, the word for tenth, (עשר – \aSoR) metaphorically means “what bears down (upon a person).” This Semitic root consists of two etymologically unrelated homonyms. The word for the number ten evolved from the root that means “to be well supported.” But the other homonym means to urge, force, compel, bear down, plight, and predicament in Arabic; and to put pressure on, demand, exact payment, constrict, enclose, and confine in Akkadian. Thus the tenth day of both months represents a day of being born down upon by experience. On the tenth of the first month, the Torah instructs us to acquire a youngling for the Pesach offering, referred to as a Seh (שה). From Arabic, the metaphorical meaning of the word Seh means “one’s longing for something.” The Torah further describes the Seh as a mishmeret (משמרת), as something to be observed. So allegorically we are to maintain this Seh, this longing for experience, something to be observed of what bears down of experience until such time as is required by haShem, G-d’s bringing forth of existence.

In the absence of a temple offering, the tenth day of the first month is of much less significance. However, in the seventh month, the tenth day, the day of what bears down from experience, is of prime importance. Although the first month was a month of mere seeing, the seventh month, the month of becoming bloated by what bubbles up in experience requires us to be mentally sharp. What bears down on the tenth day of the month of becoming bloated by experience by its nature must be much more intense. Allegorically, it is a day when haShem covers us over with experience, a day when haShem pounces upon us with experience, a day of being completely overwhelmed by experience. Where the Torah tells us to afflict our souls, the rabbinic tradition recognizes this intensity of experience as the ultimate decider of our fate. The Semitic root KaPhaR (כפר), meaning to cover over, to line > to wipe away, atone, deny, denounce and pacify; evolved from the root KaPhaH (כפה) to bend > to bend over. The root is related to the word KaPh (כף) meaning palm. In Hebrew, a kaphir (כפיר) is a lion cub, quite possibly because of its tendency to pounce upon things with its paws in play. Yom haKippurim is a metaphor for haShem’s covering us over and pouncing upon us, with an intense amount of experience on the tenth day, the day that bears down upon a person. Our afflicting ourselves is a metaphor for our taking on this intensity of experience. To use a contemporary phrase, this is a do or die situation.

When life experience is bearing down – overwhelming and afflicting (ענה), covering over and pouncing (כפר); it is indeed very difficult to know which of the many things that are bubbling up in experience are to be engaged. Perhaps a throwing of lots could help to determine the best course of action? The allegorical meaning of the Torah reading for Yom haKippurim is precisely about this. Two goats, S’irim (שעירים), are taken up. Metaphorically, they represent two acts of taking notice of things in being stirred up by experience. This word for goat most probably comes from the word for hairy Sae\aR (שער), but the word for hair literally means “what is stirred up (stands up) when becoming excited.” The verb from which is derived, Sa\aR (שער), means to stir up / agitate (Ps58:10). The metaphor for this verb is related to the Arabic cognate Sa\aR (שער) meaning to be aware, conscious, and to notice. In the allegory of this story, only one aspect of experience can be dealt with at a time. Lots must be thrown – גורל אחד ליהוה וגורל אחד לעזאזל – one lot for haShem and one lot for Az’azel. Stated allegorically: “a way of drawing in, one of being mentally sharp (אחד), for G-d’s bringing forth of existence,” to be dealt with now; “a way of drawing in, one of being mentally sharp, for the thing of intensity (עז) that (temporarily) goes away (אזל),” to be dealt with later. The first goat, representing an act of taking notice of something in experience, is leaned into > slaughtered (שחט < חטה), then the second goat, act of taking notice of something else in experience, can be sent into the midbar, the flash floods of experience driving directly forward.4

Moving to the next number which forms the framework of the festival schedule. The metaphor for the number five (חמש) is one of taking something in hand or a handling of an event, derived from the word MoowSh (מוש) meaning to grope and handle, and related to the word ChaMooSh (חמוש) meaning armed. Thus the fifteenth day is a day of handling what bears down in experience. Here begins the seven day holidays of Chag haMatsot and Chag haSukkot. The word chag (חג) literally means an event of drawing in, a pilgrimage. Since Matsah (מצה) literally means what is wrung out or striven with, it represents an act of drawing into the experiences created for us by G-d with which one strives. Sukkot is named for the protective hut or Sukkah made of S’khakh (סכך), or covering of thatch. These words are related to the verbs SooKh (סוך) meaning to hedge in, to shelter and defend and SaKhaKh (סכך) to cover over snugly and to knit together. There is, however, another similar yet unrelated root, SaKhaH (סכה) that means to squint, look out at, hope for, foresee, and gaze. The allegorical meaning of a sukkah comes from the combination: it is a hopeful act of squinting and gazing through an intertwined and entangled experience. Which is what one must do if they are to be successful in taking hold of what bears down in experience when a satiating amount of experience is bubbling up.

The slaughtering of the pesach offering occurred between the evenings, on the fourteenth (ארבע עשר) day of the first month. Metaphorically, this represents an act of leaning in (שחט < חטה) for the sake of leaping into G-d’s bringing forth of existence (פסח ליהוה). The fourteenth represents a spreading out and magnification (רבע) of what began to bear down on the tenth, that was longed for (שה) and observed (משמרת). However, with seeing there is a potential for fear. In fact, the evolution for the Hebrew words for seeing and being afraid are intimately connected. It begins with the root YaRaH (ירה) which means to throw into the light, aim, and to penetrate. This root evolved by changing the final consonant to an aleph, thus forming the verb YaRa/ (ירא) which literally means to be (visually) penetrated, but whose connotation is to be in awe, and to be afraid. From there, the initial yod was elided creating Ra/aH (ראה), to see. The act of seeing carries with it, the potential for fear as well as awe. This too is reflected in the story of Pesach. After slaughtering the Pesach offering (representing a leaning and leaping into experience), our ancestors were instructed to place the blood on the door posts (m’zuzot – מזוזת) and the lintel (maShQoPh – משקוף). Although the word m’zuzot (מזוזת) comes from the root ZuZ (זוז) meaning a “coupled pair,” the word could potentially come from the root MaZaZ (מזז), meaning to be afraid. Coincidentally, the verb related to maShQoPh (lintelמשקוף) means to look out (Hebrew) and to feel afflicted (Syriac). Once again, the act of seeing is coupled with fear and affliction. Nevertheless, a metaphorical solution is provided. The word for blood (דם – DaM) evolved from the verb DaWaH (דוה) meaning to flow forth. Thus the Hebrew word for blood literally means what flows forth, allegorically representing what flows forth in experience. Coincidentally, there is an unrelated root DooWM (דום) meaning to still and silence. Therefore, the placing of blood on the lintel and door posts, represents a silencing and stilling of our fears. As a result of our engaging with that which flows forth in experience, our fears and our feeling afflicted are overpowered, stilled and silenced.

Sukkot, beginning on the fifteenth of the seventh month, is described as yom simhhataenu – a day of our joy. This root (שמח – joy) evolved from the root MaChaH (מחה) meaning to spread about, extend toward, strike up against > to dissolve, dilute > to rub, wipe and erase. In Akkadian, MaChaH means to rave and become frenzied. In Ugaritic,, it means “with exuberance.” Thus a day of our joy is not merely a day of feeling content or happy, but rather a frenzied act of exuberantly spreading about experience, a midst the many entangled opportunities that were initially seen when scattering about (teru’ah) and clear minded (zikaron) on the first day (אחד) of the month, that bore down on the tenth, and was taken in hand on the fifteenth.

On that first day (ראשון) of Sukkot, the day of seeing, we are to take up:

Metaphorical meaning

Pashat meaning

Torah text

an act of scattering about experience, an act of striving to go around in search of things

fruit of a visually appealing tree

פרי עץ הדר

acts of forcing oneself to firmly stand over experience, covering it with observations

Palm leaves of date trees

כפת תמרים

and an act of swinging back and forth, striving to envelope experience

And a branch of thick trees

וענף עץ עבת

and many acts of bravely intermingling with experience of leaning into experience

And willows of the brook

וערבי נחל

Finally, on the eighth day after the commencement of Sukkot, the Torah decrees an atseret, a detaining of oneself, understood as an act of restraining oneself from returning home after the Chag. Here again there are two meanings to this root, while one means to restrain or detain, the other means to press, squeeze, coerce and muster. So while the pashat means to detain, the metaphor means to muster oneself, to make an extreme effort. This is consistent with the allegorical meaning of this holiday. Additionally, it is consistent with the metaphor for the number eight, (שמונה – Sh’moneh). This word comes from the same root for the word for oil, SheMeN (שמן). Both of these words mean to exude outward, derived from the root MaNaH (מנה), to distribute (evenly). To understand why this is the source of the number eight, place your hands, palms down, adjacent to one another with the thumbs withdrawn beneath the palms, with the remaining eight fingers splayed out evenly. Many of the metaphors associated with Sukkot involve spreading oneself out into experience – being joyful, scattering about experience as fruit scatters from a tree, swinging oneself back and forth in experience as a branch swings back and forth in a tree, intermingling with experience as a willow intermingles its branches.

In summary, excluding Shabbat, all Torah holidays are rooted in the first and seventh months of the calendar. Allegorically, they are meant to make us look out toward G-d’s bringing forth of existence. So that we might perceive the opportunities that haShem creates and propels toward us, that we might in turn propel ourselves toward G-d and those experiences provided for us by G-d. However, where the first month involves a specific aspect of experience bearing down, the seventh month bears down with a full tapestry of possibilities, with its mesh like complexity that resembles the thatched roof of a sukkah. However, everything cannot be dealt with at once. There must be a release, a sh’mitah. Therefore Moshe instructs us to read the entire Torah in the year of sh’mitah on Sukkot:

מקץ שבע שנים במעד שנת השמטה בחג הסכות בבוא כל ישראל לראות את פני יהוה אלהיך במקום אשר יבחר תקרא את התורה הזאת נגד כל ישראל באזניהם

At the end of seven years, in the time of assembling together, the year of release, during the pilgrimage of Sukkot, in all of Israel’s coming in to appear in alignment with the faces of haShem, your G-d, in the place that He shall choose, you shall recite this teaching-Torah, opposite all of Israel in their ears.

Allegorical translation:

As a result of the cutting back of the satiating amount of what bubbles up of repetitive impositions, with an act of being enduringly (mentally) present, will be A REPETITIVE ACT OF RELEASING THINGS, with the act of drawing into the hopeful act of squinting and gazing through an intertwined and entangled experience, with the coming in of all of one’s focusing upon the many things advancing forward in experience, in order to appear aligned with the many presentations of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, G-d’s Guidance being presented in experience, with the situation arising that He shall choose – CALL CLOSER THAT WHICH IS THROWN INTO THE LIGHT, the one that is apparent – drawn off of all of one’s focusing upon the many things advancing forward in experience, with their acts of flailing about.

Chag Samae’ach!

1- In Sabaic, three different phonemes are described as S1, S2, and S3 roughly corresponding to the phonemes represented separately by the Hebrew letters Shin, Sin and Samech. To make matters even more complicated, as the languages evolved there was some fluidity between these sounds (and even with the fricative (th) and plosive (t) phonemes associated with them). For example, the two roots Sava\ and Shava\ (שבע), one with a shin and the other with a sin, are not etymologically related. The one utilizing the Hebrew letter sin roughly means full, satiated and bloated (bubbling). Nevertheless, the word for the number seven, Sheva\ (שבע) is etymologically related to it, but begins with a shin.

2 – from the Semitic root לאך to send forth, not attested in Hebrew in verb form

3 – Most of the roots with BaR (בר) literally mean to make a clearing, to clear away, or to go clear through, hence בור (clearing > pit), באר (clearing > well, to clearly elucidate), בער (to clear away > clear a field, burn), ברר (to clear away > sift), ברא (to clear away > to sculpt, create, carve, cut down), ברח (to go clear through > escape, bar), ברך (to go clear through > to excel, be / declare excellent; to make a clearing > kneel, pool), ברק (to go clear through > lightening)

4 – the word midbar (מדבר) evolved from the root DaBaR. This root literally means to drive directly forward. Therefore in Hebrew > (piel) to drive over, barrel down, to kill (CrII22:10); Syriac > to act with force, drive, lead; Arabic > to make impudent remarks, declare, talk, accuse, speak, aggressive, calamity, to conduct, to direct, devise, ponder; turn (flow) of fate; Ugaritic > guide, force to walk, drive away, be carried off, turn the back, say, declare; matter, thing, chapel, plague, pestilence;

Francis Brown, S.R.Driver, Charles A. Briggs (1906 /2000) The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Ernest Klein (1987) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

J. Payne Smith’s (1999) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Published by Wipf and Stock

David Kantrowitz (1991 – 2009) Judaic Classics version 3.4. Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp., and/or Judaica Press, Inc.

About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
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