Awakening From Above

The Month of Nisan and Passover.

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Letter of the Month

The letter corresponding to Nisan is Hei. It is a 'silent letter', thus connected with the idea of 'rest'. The lower Hei in Hashem's name symbolizes the type of rest that manifests with each Shemitah year. During a Shemitah year, the earth is given rest from planting and sowing. The upper Hei symbolizes the type of rest that manifests in Yovel, the Jubilee year. This is a higher level of rest, in which slaves are set free.

Hei is thus the 'letter of freedom', restful freedom from the slavery of egocentric consciousness. This freedom comes unearned and undeserved, like the miraculous gift of Spring following the long barren winter.

Hei is also the letter from which Creation emerged, as the Talmud says, B'Hei nivrah olam hazeh--With the letter Hei this world was created.' Hashem speaks the world into being: "Let there be light," etc. Each of the letters of speech is an articulation of the simple outward flow of breath, which is the "hhh" sound of the letter Hei. Therefore, the letter Hei is at the root of Hashem's Creative process. The power of Hei also allows us human beings to create. For example, when Abraham and Sarah added the letter Hei to their names, AbraHam and SaraH, they miraculously gave birth to their children after long being barren.

On Passover, when we 'rest' from eating hametz, leavened foods representing egocentrism, we can open to receive the mystical Hei, the 'letter of miracles' into our name, into our being. Hei is humility, being open to receive. The word hametz and matzah contain three letters, two similar letters and one unique, hametz has a Het and matzah a Hei, Hei and Het are similar letters just in the Hei the left leg is suspended in mid air, representing humility, whereas in the letter Het the left leg rises up, representing egocentrism. When we rest from ego, we open ourselves to the letter Hei and thus become the conduits to receive miracles in our life.

Name of the Month

Prior to the Babylonian exile, Nisan was called Hodesh haAviv, 'the Month of Spring'. Aviv begins with the letters Aleph and Bet--the first and second letters of the alphabet--and then Yud, symbolizing Hashem. This spelling seems to say, 'from above to below is the flow from Hashem.'

Rabbeinu Bachya breaks the word aviv down and interprets it to mean av, 'the father of', iv or Yud-Bet, which is the number 12, signifying the twelve months of the year. In other words, Nisan is the first, the father of the twelve months of the year.

While Nisan is the beginning of 'the year of months', Tishrei is the beginning of 'the year of days'. Tishrei is spelled Tav-Shin-Reish, which is the last three letters of the alphabet in reverse order, and then Yud, again symbolizing Hashem. This tells us that Tishrei is about a movement from below to above, the opposite of Nisan. Tishrei has the first day of what we normally consider the Jewish year: Rosh Hashanah, the headquarters of shanah, linear 'time'. Shanah is related to the word yashan, which means 'old', or routine. On the other hand, the first chodesh, or 'month', is the headquarters of hadesh, newness. The moon is renewed every monthly cycle, breaking the monotony of linear time with a sense of the miraculous newness of life.
matzah and wine
After the Babylonian exile, this month has been called Nisan. There is an argument over the source of the current names of the months. Are they originally from the Torah, are they Hebrew names that were lost over history and then rediscovered, or are they names that we borrowed from our hosts in Babylon? If the name Nisan has a Hebrew source, the source is the root word nes, meaning 'miracle'. It is by definition the month of miracles. If, however, Nisan has a source in another cultures, then it comes from the Akkadian word nissanu, meaning 'to move' or 'to start'. In Nisan, Hashem inspires us with miracles, and moves us to start anew.

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Rabbi DovBer Pinson

Rabbi DovBer Pinson is the Rosh Yeshiva of the IYYUN Yeshiva, a Yeshiva for adults. He is also the founder of the IYYUN Center, a center for Jewish enrichment in Brooklyn, New York, and and is the author of more than ten books on Kabbalah and spirituality.