Kislev – A Study in Opposites

This is the season of Fire within Water, according to Rabbi Jill Hammer in the The Jewish Book of Days .  The fire of the season is easy to see with the lighting of Hanukkah candles and in the way our Christian neighbors light up the nights with decorative lights.  The water, for many of us, appears in the form of snow or rain.  The astrological symbol of the month, the keshet (archer’s bow), is often seen as the rainbow, which is the result of the blending of fire of the sun and water from rain, and is the symbol of G!d/dess’ promise to humanity that the world will never again be destroyed through a flood.

In the traditional images of the Temperance card you will see irises, and some say the Angel in on the card is intended to be Iris: the Greek goddess who personified the rainbow1.  In this month where the triumph over the Greeks and Hellenized Jews is celebrated with the holiday of Hanukkah, it is synchronicitious that Greek goddess should hidden in plain site on the tarot card associated with the month.

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Kislev and its holiday, Hanukkah, are studies in contrast.  Both are personified by the Temperance card, in that it blends to to opposites to create a stronger whole (i.e. tempering steel).  It also requires moderation or a temperate disposition when looking at the different sides of the holiday.  For some it is a victory story and for others a solstice story, but the truth is more complicated once you begin to peel back the layers.  Hanukkah is the only holiday to span two months: Kislev and Tevet.  Hanukkah and the months of Kislev/Tevet is a test of our ability to hold two opposing ideas in each hand and make them work together.

The Tribe of Benjamin, the tribe associated with Kislev, is also symbol of opposites having to work together. Benjamin’s mother, Rachel, names him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) as she dies giving birth to him. His father immediately renames him Ben Yamin (son of good luck).  Benjamin must contain these two opposing ideas.

The Ba’alat Ov, the Shamaness, which is the Kohenet Netivah of the month of Kislev fits well here too.  The Ba’alat Ov, the Spirit Vessel, is a blender of worlds. A shamaness must be able to walk between the worlds to do her work, but always be anchored to this — or she may be lost.  It is easy to look at many versions of the Temperance card and see a Shamaness at work.

The Havdalah ritual is a true Jewish expression of the idea of creating a whole from opposites.  This ritual celebrates light/dark, silence/sound, shabbat/week, sacred/secular and culminates in the dipping of a candle in a cup of wine and the hiss of the steam in the silence. The image is very evocative of the angel on the Temperance card combining fire and water.  This year when Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice coincide the Havdalah correspondence is stronger than ever.  The first night of Hanukkah falls on the Winter Solstice this year.

The monthly Parshiyot for Kislev echo this theme of opposites.  Along with this, they bring in another important theme of the month: dreams. From the “dream” where Yaakov battles the angel and becomes Yisrael, the God-wrestler to the dreams of Yoseph.  Dreams, the tool of the Ba’alat Ov, play an important role in the month of Kislev.

1.  This is a fairly common correspondence for Temperance cards that are derivative of the traditional Rider-Waite deck.  Information about this ccan be found in many locations, including