Jasper—Birthstone for Kislev?

Jasper-Gemstone of the Tribe of Benjamin

Jasper-Gem of Benjamin

Each lunar month corresponds to one of the shevatim —the twelve tribes of Israel. Kislev is the month of Benjamin1 whose gemstone is ישפה—Jasper. 2 This multicolored stone represents the tribe that merited having the Beith Hamikdash built in his portion of Israel. Benyamin’s tribal banner included all the colors of the twelve tribes and his stone in the Hoshen Mishpat reflected that diversity.

Chanukah and Rededication

Chanukah begins on the 25th day of Kislev. The Hebrew root of this holiday is chinuch—initiation, dedication, and education. So this is the month to rededicate ourselves to educating future generations. 3

Benjamin—Eternal Child and 09_Benyamin_RGBSon

As the father of ten sons, Benjamin is the son of Jacob most associated with children because he had more of them than any of his siblings. Benjamin’s name contains the word “son” and, as the youngestof his brothers, he most represents the quality of being a child.4 Also, Benjamin’s month, Kislev, is called “the ninth month” alluding to the nine months of development before a child’s birth.

Jasper celebrates diversity

Jasper celebrates diversity

Jasper—Stone of Harmony and Quest

Each gemstone of the Hoshen Mishpat illuminates the qualities of its corresponding tribe.5 Because of this hidden correspondence, each stone emanates a particular kind of energy that can help us live healthier, happier lives.

Kislev’s keynote stone expresses deep concepts. For example, King Solomon taught: “Train a youth according to his way”. 6 Because a child is “one-of-a-kind” he’s best educated in a way best suited for his talent and nature. The rainbow-colored hues of jasper bring to mind the vast spectrum of educational diversity needed to build faithful, wise leaders of future generations.

Jasper’s diversity of color also relates to the human quest for spirituality and meaning.7  There is an ancient tradition discussed in the Talmud that the spiritual qualities of rebuilt Jerusalem contain the multicolored qualities of Jasper. 8

The Bow of Sagittarius

Kislev is the mazal of Sagittarius, the bowman. Just as education secures the future spiritually, so the bow signifies Hashem’s promise to secure the future physically, as “When…the bow will be seen in the cloud, I will remember My covenant.9 The rainbow-rich colors of jasper are a reminder of the Creator’s eternal pledge of His faith in mankind.


Thanks for visiting–if you’d like to be notified when my book on this topic is published, please comment below. Chodesh Tov!

Ashira Morgenstern
ג’ כסלו תשע”ו

Show 9 footnotes

  1. Bnei Yissachar, Maamarei Chodesh Tishrei 1:2.
  2. Bereishith Rabbah 71:5.
  3. R’ Zvi Ryzman, Wisdom in the Hebrew Months, Artscroll Publications.
  4. R’ Zvi Ryzman, Wisdom in the Hebrew Months, Artscroll Publications.
  5. Midrash Talpiot, Rabbeinu Behaye (1340-1255) רבינו בחיי.
  6. Mishlei (Proverbs) 22:6.
  7.  Likutei Torah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Devarim 25cff, relating to a discussion in Bava Batra 75a on Yeshaya (Isaiah) 54:12.
  8. Commentaries on “One said it is shoham (onyx) the other said it is yashfeh (jasper),Bava Batra 75a.
  9. Bereishith (Genesis) 9:14.
 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Onyx–Birthstone for Cheshvan?

Secrets of the Stones

Onyx-Gemstone of Yosef, Ephraim, and Menashe

Onyx-Gemstone of Yosef and his sons Ephraim and Menashe

The Bnei Yissachar explains how each month corresponds to one of the shvatim (twelve tribes of Israel). Cheshvan is the month of shevet Menashe.1 It is the month when the 40 days and nights of the flood began 2 and, one year later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, Noah and his family were able to leave the ark and begin life anew on earth.

The First Temple in Jerusalem–the Beith Hamikdash–was completed on the 17th day of Cheshvan 3 which emphasizes how this month is a time chosen by the Creator of the Universe for improving our relationship with our community and our daily interactions with the people around us.4

Menashe's tribal symbol was a wild ox.

Menashe’s tribal symbol was a wild ox.

The banner color of each tribe resembled the color of the gemstone representing it in the Hoshen worn by the Cohen Gadol during service in the Beith Hamikdash. Each jewel has specific beneficial properties and is given to a particular tribe of Israel in light of that tribe’s special talents and tasks in the world.5

Gemstones of the BreastplateAlthough they are hidden, every one of these stones contains secrets that can help us live healthier, happier lives. The stone for the tribe of Menashe is onyx, while some say it may be dark agate.

You can receive “Secrets of the Stones” and more seasonal news via my free newsletter.

Leave a comment below to receive my monthly newsletter delivered straight to your e-mail inbox, or to order my new book “A Time to Gather Stones”.

Thanks so much for visiting. I hope you’ll join me in exploring the lunar calendar and the true origin of birthstones.

Ashira Morgenstern

ג’ השון תשע”ו

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Bnei Yissachar, Maamarei Chodesh Tishrei 1:2
  2. Bereishith 7:11
  3. Melachim I,6:38
  4. R’ Zvi Ryzman, Wisdom in the Hebrew Months, Artscroll Publications
  5. Midrash Talpiot, Rabbeinu Behaye (1340-1255) רבינו בחיי.
 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Birthstones for Elul: Amethyst or Agate

Secrets of the Stones

Virgo Birthstone

Birthday in Elul? Amethyst!

The Bnei Yissachar explains how each month corresponds to one of the shvatim (twelve tribes of Israel). Elul is the month of shevet Gad. Elul is a time to recreate ourselves and to renew our relationships with one another and with the Creator of the Universe.

Flag Tribe of Dan

The Tribal Banner of Gad was “not black and not white” (Bamidbar Rabbah)

The banner color of each tribe resembled the color of the gemstone representing it in the Hoshen worn by the Cohen Gadol during service in the Beis Hamikdash. Each jewel has specific beneficial properties and is given to a particular tribe of Israel in light of that tribe’s special talents and tasks in the world.1

Gemstones of the BreastplateAlthough they are hidden, every one of these stones still exists and contains secrets that can help us live healthier, happier lives. The two top candidates for the tribe of Gad are amethyst and agate. I’ll be writing about these “Secrets of the Stones” via a newsletter.

Botswana Agate - Stone of Change

Agate—Another Possible Birthstone for Elul

Leave a comment below to receive my monthly newsletter delivered straight to your e-mail inbox.

Thanks so much for visiting. I hope you’ll join me in exploring the lunar calendar and the true origin of birthstones.

Ashira Morgenstern

ג’ אלול תשע”ה

Show 1 footnote

  1. Midrash Talpiot, Rabbeinu Behaye (1340-1255) רבינו בחיי.
 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

44. Devarim 5775

“Don’t Be Afraid…”

Shofar of Rebbe NachmanTo prepare them for entering the Land of Israel without him, Moshe Rabeynu’s simple, clarion advice was: “Don’t be afraid.”[1] After all, the last time he left us on our own, fear he might not return gave rise to the disastrous creation of the Golden Calf.

We’re approaching the final days of mourning for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash — an event rooted in the destruction of the first tablets of the Torah, and therefore a direct result of the Golden Calf.

How could Israel have substituted an idol for the Creator of the Universe, given all the miracles we had seen? The simplest maidservant saw what no prophet ever had[2] and even the youngest child was able to point heavenward and say, “This is my God…”[3]

The golden calf reminded us of something powerful, but fear made us forget what we were supposed to do with those visions, because fear saps a person’s strength and blocks the discerning powers of the heart.[4]

The sound of the shofar dispels the kind of fear that causes us to forget Hashem.[5] So, during Elul, we begin sounding the shofar — the instrument that awakens the soul, to get ready for our year’s ultimate  “Day of Memory”: Rosh HaShanah.[6]

“Today You Are As the Stars of Heaven…”

Moshe Rabeynu also reminds the People of Israel that they will exist permanently, like the stars.[7] Just as a star is constantly giving its light without fear of being diminished, our Sages advise us to do the same: “Don’t be ungrateful for Hashem’s goodness by appearing as though you are poor, but present yourselves as wealthy.[8]

Remembering who we are clears the pathways of courage in our heart so we can radiate the unique light with which each of us is blessed.

Good ShabbosShabbath Shalom!

[1] Deuteronomy 1:21; 1:29: 3:22

[2] Rashi on Exodus 15:2

[3] Rashi and Medrash on Exodus 15:2

[4] Sefer HaMidoth: Pachad A8; A31

[5] Lekutey Halachoth Orach Chayim, Hilchoth Brachoth Har’Iyah 5:17

[6] Lekutey Halachoth Orach Chayim, Hilchoth Brachoth Har’Iyah 5:18

[7] Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:10

[8] Rashi on Deuteronomy 2:7

 Mail this post

42. Mattos-Masei

The Maze

800px-Longleat-mazeIn a chassidic parable called  The Exchanged Children, a prince (our spirituality) and a slave’s son (our physicality) are lost in a forest. After much wandering, the prince merits to receive a powerful gift: the ability “to distinguish one thing from another (BINaH)”.1

When the comrades finally return to civilization, the prince is challenged to solve the mystery of a strange garden where anyone who enters runs out screaming in terror.

Because through his traveling he gained the power of discernment, the prince calmly reasons out how to exit the maze in peace. By rearranging the garden just a bit here and there, order is restored within the maze and all the invisible terrors dissipate.

Through the divine gift of BINaH, the wandering of the prince ends and he assumes his true regal status.

Finding A Way

When Hashem commanded Israel to build the MiSHKaN, he filled Betzalel with Divine Inspiration “BeCHoKHMaH – through knowlege, UViTHVuNaH – through understanding and UVeDAaTH – through knowledge”.2

CHoKHMaH — knowledge — is received from others. BINaH – Understanding — is the ability to extract new information from previous knowledge, similar but superior to deduction.3 . It is “rearranging conceptual furniture” to facilitate DAaTH – true wisdom. 4

CHoKHMaH is received from the past. BINaH projects what we know into its application the future. Through the gift of BINaH, the prince was able to place the mysterious elements of the maze in their proper order. By rearranging the MiTaH, SHuLCHaN, KiSAy, NeR he creates a MiSHKaN – a place from which peace and harmony emanate into the world.

The story of the prince and the maze describes finding a way back to Hashem and thereby to our most essential self. At first we are terrified by invisible “demons” that chase us from the “garden” of our own potential.5

Only by empowering CHoKHMaH (Torah study) through BINaH (facilitated by tefilah – prayer) can we merit the ability to rearrange our priorities – the “furniture” of our lives – to create a MiSHKaN – a dwelling place for Hashem’s Presence.

“Not a Man was Missing…”

The tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted to settle on the far side of the Jordan, outside the border of Israel. They proposed building “pens for our cattle and cities for our children.”6

Moshe Rabeynu agrees to this, but notices through the wording of their request that concern for their wealth took subconscious precedence over the establishment of their children. He corrects their priorities gently, with compassion, simply by reversing their word order in his response: “Build cities for your children and pens for your cattle.”7

May Hashem provide us with leaders who have the wisdom and compassion of Moshe Rabeynu to help us navigate the “media maze” so not one of us falls “missing” in the war to establish priorities in Torah education, as in this week’s parasha:

 וְלֹא נִפְקַד מִמֶּנּוּ אִישׁ 

…not a man was missing from among us.”8

The Midianites numbered “as many as there are grains of sand” but only 12,000 Jewish soldiers were sent to fight against them.

Through Hashem’s miraculous protection, Israel was victorious even though greatly outnumbered and there was not a single Jewish casualty. So may it be His will now, in these confusing, maze-like times, omen v’omen.

Show 8 footnotes

  1. Chagigah 14a, Sanhedrin 93b, Rashi on Exodus 31:3
  2. Exodus 31:3
  3. Rashi on Exodus 31:3
  4. Sanhedrin 93b
  5. Rav Michel Dorfman,  12 Tammuz, 5763
  6. Rashi quoting Tanhuma on Numbers 32:16
  7. Numbers 32:24
  8. Numbers 31:49
 Mail this post

34. BeMidbar

The order of Israel’s tribal encampment while traveling in the wilderness is described in this week’s parsha: “Camping to the east shall be the divisions under the banner of Yehuda…1

With the tribe of Yehuda corresponding to the month of Nissan, the camps parallel each of the twelve lunar months and were ordered, by Hashem, in a counter-clockwise fashion around the tabernacle.2

Nissan=Yehuda, Iyar=Yissachar, Sivan=Zevulun

Tammuz=Reuven, Av=Shimeon, Elul=Gad

Tishrei=Ephraim, Cheshvan=Menashe, Kislev=Benyamin

Teves=Dan, Shevat=Asher, Adar=Naftali

Each family camped within the boundaries indicated by the colored banners signifying their tribe. The colors of these banners were deeply significant and corresponded to the colors of the gemstones worn by Aaron during service in the tabernacle. 3



The four sections of the encampment parallel the four letters of Hashem’s ineffable Name, the four aspects of Hashem’s throne, the four worlds (Atzilus, Briya, Yetzira, Asiya), and the four elements of creation: earth, air, fire, and water. 4

Show 4 footnotes

  1. BeMidbar (Numbers) 2:3
  2. Bnei Yissachar
  3. Midrash Rabba
  4. Lekutey Halachoth Choshen Mishpat 2, Hilchos Ganeyva, Halacha 5, Paragraph 19.
 Mail this post

31. Emor

“And you shall count seven complete weeks…”1

To make sure that the seven weeks of the Omer are “complete” the time set for counting is during the early evening hours.2 Performing this mitzvah as soon as possible after nightfall — when the new day begins — ensures that our seven weeks will be as “complete” as we can possibly make them.

The Zohar Hakadosh teaches that counting the Omer similar in importance to the Shemoneh Esrei prayer and should therefore be recited standing3 as hinted through the word 4 בקמה  — read as בקומה, “standing”.5

If a person lost the count and can no longer say the blessing, counting the day still elevates our soul, especially if we count joyfully and in a way that we can hear our voice!6

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Vayikra 23:15
  2. Menachoth 66a
  3. Zohar: Tetzaveh
  4. Devarim 16:9
  5. R’ Asher, end of Pesachim
  6. Oral Tradition, heard from Rav Yehiel Michel Dorfman ז”ל
 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tu b’Shevat

In Mishnah Rosh HaShana 1:1, Tu b’Shevat is called “the New Year for the tree” — Rosh HaShana la’ilan. It occurs each year on the fifteenth of Shevat, and fruit that ripens before this day is considered harvest from the previous year for the purposes of tithing.

“The tree” referred to in the Mishnah is the Tree of Life — the conduit for divine blessing that emanates from Hashem to every level of His creation. “The tree” therefore is the Torah, as in “She is a tree of life for all who cling to her…” (Mishlei-Proverbs).

Tu b’Shevat is a day for directing our attention and speech to all the aspects of miraculous good found only the Land of Israel. We praise the Land through tasting its fruits in appreciation for Hashem’s kindness in renewing, each year on this day, the strength of the Land.

The entire month of Shevat is a time of renewal for us, as well… a season when our capacity for understanding the Torah is at its fullest and new insights abound. Moshe Rabeynu began his review of the entire Torah on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, revealing secrets not previously known to the People of Israel.

May Hashem bless us all with success in using every day wisely. For more about this special day: Seder for Tu b’Shevat. Enjoy!

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Nissan – Blessing on Fruit Trees


Peach Blossom in Jerusalem

Nature is an allegory and springtime says it all: renewal! Right in the middle of Pesach cleaning, the Torah encourages us to take a break from the cabinets and crumbles, walk outdoors, find some blossoming fruit trees, and say the blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹּא חִסַּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כלום
וּבָרָא בוֹ בְּרִיוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבִים לְהַנּוֹת בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם

Baruch ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech HaOlam, shelo chisar baolamo klum, uvara vo beriyot tovot v’ilanot tovim lehanot bahem benei adam.

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Master of the universe, Whose world lacks nothing, and Who created within it beneficial creatures and beneficial trees to bring pleasure to human beings.”

Apple Blossom in Jerusalem

The Hebrew word for blossoms, nitzanim, is related to the name for the first month of spring: Nissan, and to netz (sunrise), since all three fulfill Hashem’s eternal promise that the natural cycles of life will continue, even after the coldest winter or the darkest night.

According to most authorities, this blessing is made during the month of Nissan (Sdei Chemed – Berachos 2:1 and Kaf ha-Chayim 126:1). It is best recited on two or more trees in blossom (Chida, Moreh b’Etzba 198) and the more trees the better (Teshuvos Halachos Ketanos 2:28). We do not recite the blessing on Shabbos or Yom Tov. We also do not say it on trees have been grafted or less than three years old.

Ever since Adam and Eve, fruit trees have been an integral part of our lives. We’re even compared to them, as in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 20: “Man is a tree of the field.” We are rooted, we have seasons of productivity, we need light, nurturing and, most of all, our purpose is to bear fruit!

The Chida taught that saying this blessing releases souls incarnated in the plant kingdom, making it possible for them to complete their soul’s journey. Some people donate 3 coins to charity immediately after making the blessing, corresponding to the nefesh, ruach, neshama levels of the soul. The Ben Ish Hai advises giving 4 coins if one’s parents are no longer in this world, the fourth coin being in honor of the departed souls.

Women also say this annual blessing. Similar to our obligation to bring first fruits — bikurim — to the Holy Temple, this commandment is not considered “time-bound”. It is a “season-bound” break from our daily routine, so that we can take a deep breath, open our senses to the natural processes around us, and draw strength from their renewal.

Sources: Berachos 43b, Rambam (Berachos 10:13); Rokei’ach pg. 235; Ohr Zarua 1:179; Avudraham (Berachos); Tur and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 226; Siddur Rav Yaakov Emden; Chayei Adam 63:2.

Below: Almond branches in early spring, nachalath Binyamin, north of Jerusalem.

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Seder Tu B’Shevat

IMG_2466-Figs“Taste and see that Hashem is good…” advises King David (Tehillim-Psalms 34:9) but we might wonder: what does the sense of taste have to do with the ability to see? The experience of Tu B’Shevat is a perfect example of how spiritual insight can actually be enhanced and strengthened through developing our sense of taste.

Once a year, on Tu B’Shevat, we are invited back into the Garden of Eden to restore the integrity of humanity and repair all that was destroyed by Adam and Chava (Eve) when they ate the fruit of the primordial ILaN – “fruit bearing tree”.

IMG_2477Seder Tu b’Shevat

Many celebrate Rosh HaShanah L’ILaN(oTH) the “New Year of the Tree(s)” with a festive meal or “Seder” – that includes tasting at least 12 different kinds of fruits. Taking part in this meal, and saying the blessings on it, actually restores a glimmer of paradise to its rightful centrality in our lives.

Four Worlds

To appreciate the powerful significance of this holiday and gain more of what it has to offer, we need to know, first of all, that there are four worlds. Beginning with the one that is most hidden, these worlds are:

1) Olam HaAtziluth “Realm of Proximity” – “near” the Unknowable Creator, Source of all good/light
2) Olam HaBriyah – “Realm of Creation” – the “throne room” of Hashem Yisborach
3) Olam HaYetzirah – “Realm of Formation” – the spiritual realm and all that it contains
4) Olam HaAsiyah – “Realm of Action” – the physical universe and all that it contains

Whatever we think, say, or do affects all four worlds — profoundly and eternally. Depending on our moment-to-moment life choices, we allow more light to permeate the physical world from Olam HaAtziluth, or we block that light.

At certain times, we are given a chance to create unusually large conduits (“KayLIM“) for Hashem’s blessing/light, and Tu B’Shevat is a window to such an opportunity.

Simply through enjoying the taste of different fruits, and saying the appropriate blessings, we actually correct the devastating mistake made by Adam and Chava when they helped themselves — prematurely — to the Tree of Knowledge.

Tasting 12 Different Fruits helps restore mankind’s relationship with this “Tree of Knowledge”. In Olam HaBriyah, the most refined of the knowable worlds, we taste not less than four — preferably ten — fruits that are entirely edible and do not have any unusable KLiPaH – “shell” – inside or out. These include: grapes/raisins, figs, blueberries, apples, pears, raspberries, kiwis, quince, carob, and similar fruits.

pomegbranchsky4x4To regain access to the original “ILaN” (fruit bearing tree) from which all understanding streams, in Olam HaYetzirah, we taste not less than four — preferably ten — fruits that have an edible exterior but inedible  interior or pit. These include: olives, dates, apricots, loquats, persimmons, cherries, peaches, plums, and similar fruits.

To repair the damage done in Olam HaAsiyah, we taste not less than four – preferably ten — fruits that have an inedible exterior, but edible interior, such as: pomegranates, orange, pomello, grapefruit, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.

The Seder

The order of priority in blessings on food is:
1. Hamotzi – Bread
2. Mezonoth (goods made from grain)
3. wine or grape juice, both red and white
4. olive
5. date
6. grape/raisin
7. fig
8. pomegranate
9. all other fruits, including ETHRoG (citron), nuts, etc.
10. fruits on which the blessing HaADaMaH is said (fruits that do not grow on a perennial tree) , such as pineapple, banana, papaya, etc.
11. foods on which the blessing SHeHaKoL is said, such as popcorn, watermelon seeds, beer (it’s made from barley!), etc.
12. the various blessing on fragrances

Taste, see, and enjoy the day!

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,