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  • Writer's pictureIOWA Project

Shvat Wisdom

Graphic with text over a photo. Photo shows a night sky, the new moon bright, with the shadow of the full moon in view. Dark branches of trees line the bottom of the photo, some covering the view of the moon. Text reads: Shvat 5781.

Like many of us, I felt hope and despair/outrage last Wednesday with the Senate victories in Georgia in the morning followed by the violent insurrection at the Capitol building. At the same time as brilliant and gritty community organizing created an unbelievable progressive win, the ugliness of white supremacy and white nationalism burst into the open in the most public way possible. Over the past week I’ve struggled to hold the implications of both in my mind and heart at the same time.

Jewish wisdom embedded in the month of Shvat offers a helpful perspective.

The month of Shvat is the new year of the trees, marking the time when the sap begins to rise in the trees of the land of Israel. There is disagreement among the ancient sages as to when that moment actually occurs. The School of Shammai says it is today, Rosh Chodesh Shvat, while the School of Hillel says it occurs on the 15th day of the month, the time of the full moon. Rav Nosson of Breslov (d. 1844, Ukraine) offers a spiritual explanation of the difference between the two schools by noting the difference between the new and full moons. The new moon arrives when the sky is at its darkest point. This moment symbolizes when we feel the most despair and disconnection. It is in that place that the hidden light is strongest. The birth of the new moon on Rosh Chodesh symbolizes the recognition that light/hope is still there despite the darkness, which is reason for celebration and renewal. However, we only see a sliver of the light/hope at that moment, shown by the tiny, sliver of moon that shines shortly after Rosh Chodesh. Much spiritual work needs to be done to take that glimmer of hope and bring it to its full realization, which is symbolized by the full moon two weeks later. Each month we are reminded of this cycle of fear/despair, remembering hope, and service that builds towards the fullness of our hope and vision.

Much spiritual work needs to be done to take that glimmer of hope and bring it to its full realization, which is symbolized by the full moon two weeks later.

How does this relate to our current political moment? As heinous as the violent coup attempt last Wednesday was, some are calling it the “death rattle of white supremacy,” meaning a loud, large demonstration that actually points to the end, rather than the beginning of vitality. Whether or not this is true, the insurrection certainly woke up many of this country’s corporate leaders and centrists to the danger of white nationalists and the president and politicians who’ve enabled them over the past four years. Last Wednesday afternoon can be compared to Rosh Chodesh, when the sky is darkest, yet also reveals the possibility and hope of white supremacy and white nationalism being seen for what they are – deep and real threats to the wellbeing of this country. But, this recognition is nowhere near enough for us to defeat white supremacy and white nationalism. It is just a sliver. Rigorous, hard work is needed. This is the work demonstrated by the political organizing led by Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown and many others that made the victories in Georgia a reality. It is this daily organizing that will move us from the sliver of hope to the fullness of our vision of finally ending white supremacy in this country.

Our ancient sages decided according to the School of Hillel that the new year of the trees is on the full moon, the 15th of the month and not on the new moon of Rosh Chodesh. Perhaps they are telling us that it is the fullness of our vision of a multicultural and multiracial democracy that we need to keep as our focus if we are to have the fortitude to do the long, hard work of daily organizing to move from a glimmer of hope of the downfall of white nationalism, to a country that finally subdues and heals from lies of white supremacy. With the change in administrations next week, we have an opportunity for a new beginning. I invite you to join us next week for a digital gathering where we will ground ourselves in the soul trait of Emunah/trustworthiness, as inspiration for both this new beginning, and for the continued work of building toward the fullness of our vision of liberation. Learn more and sign up below.

Chodesh Tov,


Graphic that shows text on top of an image of a crown of people protesting outside of the capitol building in DC. Text reads: A new Webinar from the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project. Inauguration and Beyond: Spiritual Sustenance for Rebuilding. Register at

Join us on Thursday, January 21st at 8pm EST / 5pm PST for our upcoming webinar, Inauguration and Beyond: Spiritual Sustenance for Rebuilding. Learn more and register at


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