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Shevat Transposition

The holy Arizal taught that each month of the year has its own tzeruf (combination of the letters of God’s Name, Havayah) that is alluded to in one of the verses of the Bible. The allusion for the month of Shevat is concealed in the book of Leviticus: “He shall not inquire whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it; and if he changes it at all, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.[1]” In Hebrew, the words for “and if he changes it at all, then both it” "הָמֵר יְמִירֶנּוּ וְהָיָה הוּא" are an acronym for the permutation of God’s Name  היוה.

Kingdom Emerges from the Pen

As always, we are looking at an enigma. What is the connection between our verse and the month of Shevat? The first step is to understand this verse. The verse that precedes it says: “And all the tithe of the herd or the flock, whatsoever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to God.[2]” This is referring to the commandment of tithing animals. When we have our Holy Temple in Jerusalem, we are commanded to set aside one-tenth of the animals born to us during the year in the following manner: All the lambs are herded into the barn, while their mothers wait outside. The lambs then exit the barn one by one through a small opening. They are counted with a rod, and the tenth is painted with a red mark. If the tenth is unblemished, it is offered as a sacrifice in the Temple and eaten in a state of holiness. If the tenth is blemished, it is eaten anywhere (in accordance with special laws). It is forbidden to interfere with the process and to determine which lamb will be the tenth in advance.  After the tenth lamb has exited, it is forbidden to exchange it for a different lamb. And if nevertheless, the owner said, “This lamb in exchange for that lamb” – both lambs are holy, “both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy.”


The clue that we are looking for is in the laws: The tithing of the animals is done by means of a shevet (שֵבֶט rod), which shares the same letters with the month of Shevat (שבָט). Let us deepen our contemplation: The animal owner counts “one, two three…ten” and then says “the tenth is holy.” This is the most basic structure of the ten sefirot (which is compared to a tree, befitting for the month of Shevat, the month of the new year of the trees). Generally, the order of the sefirot is from above to below. The tenth, lowest sefirah is the sefirah of kingdom. Hence, our month of Shevat is particularly connected to the sefirah of kingdom.

Furthermore, the word “shevet” itself is also used as a title for a king and kingdom, as in the versesThe scepter (shevet) shall not depart from Judah[3]” or “a scepter (shevet) of equity is the scepter of Your kingdom.[4]” The shevet is the scepter of kingdom. We skip between the Divine sefirah of kingdom and human kingdom here on earth because the kingdom of earth is like the kingdom of heaven. Even an evil kingdom draws its power in some manner from the sefirah of kingdom. This is certainly true of King Mashiach who represents the kingdom of God and sits on the throne of God, as it were.

Get Involved in the World

What is special about the sefirah of kingdom? The ten sefirot are a description of the upper, Divine world – the World of Emanation. All is good and beautiful in the World of Emanation. No evil exists there. As soon as we exit the World of Emanation for the lower worlds, we are more distant from the Divine Source and blemishes begin to appear. These blemishes and states of lack increase as the distance from the Divine Source increases, all the way down to our world, the lowest World of Action, where evil flourishes.

All the sefirot are completely ensconced in the World of Emanation, like in an illuminated cocoon – except for the sefirah of kingdom, which is a gate and passageway from the Divine worlds to the lower worlds. Furthermore, the sefirah of kingdom itself descends, like Divine light concealed in the world. Its role is to make clarifications and to lead the world to its ultimate purpose. The sefirot are generally called adam – a person. The prophets saw the image of a person. Only the sefirah of kingdom is called beheimah (animal) because it exits into an area in which there is not a clear recognition of God. Hence, it is possible to think that the sefirah of kingdom is not part of the story told by the sefirot. This, however, is “cutting down the saplings” which is considered idol worship. The “tenth is holy“ specifically because its ultimate purpose is to achieve kingdom and rectify the entire world.

The sefirot are also ‘the map of man’s soul.’ In this case, as well, the sefirah of kingdom is the way out – to other people and to the world in which a person takes action and expresses himself. It may be more comfortable to remain cloaked within ourselves, not to take responsibility and not to risk life experiments that may not work out well. But it is incumbent upon us to dare to take some risks, to decide to move forward and exit our internal world and enter the reality that is replete with dangers and surprises – but also with fascinating opportunity.

This is the secret of exchange. “And if he changes it at all, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy.” The sefirah of kingdom goes out into the world that is full of transposition. It takes a gamble, as in the tithing of the animals, when we do not know which animal will turn out to be the tenth. Once we have embarked on our journey, however, we can no longer make the exchange. We have exited our inner world into reality and now it is impossible to return home. If we attempt to find a replacement, we have committed a sin. The original kingdom cannot be exchanged.

This is expressed in the stories about King David. David falls into sin on various occasions – but we do not despair and remove him from his role as king. David falls and rises, he repents and proves that there is no despair in the world. The kingdom will rise – and it will be holy!

[1] Leviticus 27:33.

[2] Leviticus 27:32.

[3] Genesis 49:10.

[4] Psalms 45:7.

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