1 Tishrei
Autumn Equinox
Rosh HaShanah

11 Cheshvan
Rachel's Death

1 Tevet
Winter Solstice

15 Shevat
Festival of Trees

1 Nisan
Spring Equinox

18 Iyar
Lag B'Omer
Torah and Manna

1 Tammuz
Summer Solstice
Mourning Jerusalem

15 Av
Tu B'Av
Harvest Dancing

The Bud

In the Jewish calendar, the first of the month of Nisan is the beginning to spring, and falls close to the spring equinox. It comes halfway between the playful holiday of Purim and the festival of Passover, when birds are beginning to sing and warmth and growth are beginning to take hold. The first of Nisan is one of the four new years of the Jewish calendar1, marking the “first of the months” (rosh chadashim)2, or the beginning of time itself. Nisan is also the date when the Shekhinah first appeared within the mishkan (Divine dwelling-place. It is the moment of the descent of the Divine into the world—the budding of divinity within creation. If Tu B’Shevat represents the Divine sap flowing within the world, the 1st of Nisan is the moment when that sap bursts forth in new buds. The new revelation of the Divine is paired with the new life and beauty that appears in the spring. Within two weeks, the full moon festival of freedom, Passover, will arrive.

There is a blessing for this newness occurring in the world. The Talmud speaks of Tekufat Nisan, the spring equinox, and the sages knew that the spring equinox does not always fall on the first of Nisan. They established a blessing for the years when the 1st of Nisan did fall on the spring equinox: Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, oseh vereishit. Blessed are You, God, sovereign of the world, who makes creation.3

Nisan photo

“The buds appear in the land, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the dove is heard in our land…” —Song of Songs 2:12

Element: Air
Direction: East
Angel: Uriel
Sefirah: Tiferet/Binah (Compassion/Understanding)
World: Beriyah (Intellect)

One Talmudic passage claims that the 1st of Nisan might be the anniversary of creation.4 A medieval tradition (see note 2) says that the first of Tishrei, near the fall equinox, is the “mother of the year,” a new year celebrating how God gave birth to the world, while the “first of the moons,” the first of Nisan, is the “father of the year”’—a celebration of the Holy One’s joyful “entry” into the universe. In ancient Israel, the reigns of kings were counted a year longer on the first of Nisan, not the first of Tishrei. So the first of Nisan is an appropriate time to celebrate and reaffirm the kingdom/queendom of the Holy One and the Shekhinah, and the budding of the tree of life. If Tishrei celebrates the day the world is born, this day celebrates
the courtship between the Holy One and the world.

“On the first month, the Tabernacle was set up. … When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the Divine Presence filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Divine Presence was filling the Tabernacle.” —Exodus 40:17, 33-35

“There are those who say that one should draw water at the end of every Sabbath, because the well of Miriam moves around at the end of every Sabbath to all the wells, and one who is wounded may drink from it and be healed from all hurt.” —Joseph Caro, Shulkhan Arukh (medieval Jewish law code), vol. 3, 299:8.

The Story of the Season


According to the Zohar, the Shekhinah’s descent into the universe is not easy. Many angels and demons stand in Her way, wanting to keep her from Her creation. So too, many forces keep us from claiming our own place, our own truth. The spring season is a time to gather up our own strength and fully enter into the world, using our gifts for good, knowing that we can embody the Shekhinah through our love and our righteous actions. It is a time when we nourish the buds that will blossom into our best selves. How do we nourish these buds? With the wind of Miriam’s drum and the waters of her well.

According to the Torah, the first of Nisan is the death date of Miriam the prophetess.5 This day is known as Ilui Miriam, the raising up of Miriam.6 Miriam is best known for dancing at the shores of the Sea of Reeds when the Israelites became free, playing a hand drum. Later, she led the people through the wilderness along with her brothers Moses and Aaron, providing healing and wisdom.7 A mysterious well of water followed her, sustaining the people and quenching their thirst.8 At the moment that Miriam’s breath departed, the mysterious well of water disappeared. Moses and the people had to search for the well and discover it in a new place. Miriam’s moving well represents the ever-flowing, ever-moving, Divine source, and the first of Nisan celebrates the journey toward freedom and change. On the first of Nisan, it is Miriam’s drum that sustains us—the heartbeat-rhythm that we feel only when we allow ourselves to be as free as the wind.

Miriam, the drumming prophetess who danced at the shore of the Sea of Reeds, is like other prophetesses in the ancient world who used the drum to represent the rhythm of time and the heartbeat of the Divine Mother.9 Miriam combines the air-ripples of the drum with the waters of birth. According to rabbinic legend, Miriam is a midwife. In Nisan, she midwives us into the flow of time, and on Passover she shows to us the Divine face of dancer, drummer, musician, and healer.

The 1st of Nisan is also a good time to remember Moses, who first set up the Tabernacle so that God’s presence could enter. In a rabbinic legend, the Holy One gives Moses the task of guiding the slaves to freedom because Moses gives water to a thirsty lamb. Moses, who parts the sea and who meets his wife-to-be by a well, also partakes of the water of life.

And, it is water that we use to begin to clean for Passover. The journey from slavery to freedom, like the journey from winter to spring, gives a sense of expansiveness and purpose. The intense cleaning that goes on before Passover, often beginning around the 1st of Nisan, is a physical reminder of the difficult journey into a new life. The hard work gives us a bodily action that points us toward change and growth.

Perhaps the story of the building of the mishkan, in which all the Israelites generously gave gifts to build a house for God, is related to the story of Miriam’s well. The mishkan, completed on the 1st of Nisan, travels with the people, and is taken apart and put back together over and over again, just as we take apart our houses every year before Passover and put them back together. The mishkan gets put together using connecting sockets called “adanim”— a word that sounds very much like Adonai, God. The work of the mishkan, like the water in Miriam’s well and the cleaning for Passover is a purification rite that readies us for the promise of spring. This month, as the trees bud, we will read texts that remind us of the loving connection between the Holy One and human beings, between the Divine and the earth.

“When the Tabernacle was completed and the Shekhinah came down to earth, a celestial satan (accuser) stood at Her side and covered her face with a veil of thick darkness to prevent her from finding Her way down to earth. And a thousand five hundred myriads of accusing angels were around her. A multitude of exalted angels flew up before the throne of the Holy One, and said: Lord of the world! Our splendor and radiance comes from the Shekhinah of your Glory, and should she now descend to those below? But in that hour, the Shekhinah gathered up all her strength and, breaking through that darkness, like one breaking through strong barriers, came down to earth. As soon as they saw this the celestial beings cried mightily together: O God, how powerful is your name in all the earth!” —Zohar II, 140b

“If you listen to me once, you will have to go on listening.” —Alicia Ostriker, “The Song of Miriam.”

the shekhinah frees herself

the sea just past the horizon
it comes into her heart
its shifting language
sky falling rain

a taste of water
music that comes from nowhere

—Jill Hammer

Steps of the Season


Passover, the first-mentioned biblical festival, occurs on the 14th of Nisan, the full moon. Jews remove all leaven (“puffed-up-ness” or “sourness,” representing slavery, arrogance and wrongdoing) from the home. Then we celebrate Passover with a festive ritual meal and songs of praise. We tell stories and interpretations of the Exodus, and drink four cups of wine, representing God’s four promises of liberation. Mystical seder texts tell us that the Passover seder is the “meal of the Holy One and the Shekhinah” when masculine and feminine, transcendent and immanent are reconciled. Passover is a time both to remember what slavery was like in Egypt, and how God freed the people to follow their own destiny. On Passover we do our own spiritual work so that we can move into the future. As it says in the Passover seder, “One must see oneself as if one personally went out of Egypt.”10

Passover is also a spring harvest festival, when we celebrate the sprouting of the barley. Though the Jewish calendar is mostly lunar, it is always calculated so that Passover falls at the right time of spring. On the Sabbath that falls during the Passover holiday, we recite the Song of Songs, a biblical love poem, both as a lovesong between God and God’s people, and as a reminder of the beauty of the spring. The end of the eight-day festival of Passover marks the anniversary of the day the Israelites crossed the sea into freedom and danced to Miriam’s song.

From the second night of Passover through the revelation festival of Shavuot fifty days later, Jews count the omer. In Temple times, Jews set aside a bundle of grain for every day that passed—forty-nine days of the omer in all. In rabbinic, medieval, and modern times, Jews have counted each day, reciting a blessing over the act of counting. This time of counting the omer is a “wilderness” between Passover and Shavuot, a seven-week period of journeying from freedom to covenant, a “visionquest” for the Jewish people. In rabbinic times, the omer became a sad period, recalling plagues upon Torah students that happened then. In modern times, observances like Holocaust Rememberance Day (Yom haShoah) and Israeli Independence Day (Yom ha’Atzma’ut) fall during this time, as well as the festival of Lag B’Omer, which celebrates mystical nourishment and union. Kabbalists assign a unique combination of Divine qualities to each day of the omer: love within strength, compassion within severity, eternity within foundation, and so forth. The forty-nine days are thus a meditation on Divine qualities we wish to plant within ourselves.

Perhaps the most radical midrash about the forty-nine days of the omer is a mystical one: that these seven weeks represents the menstruation, as it were, of the Shekhinah, a time when She separates herself before Her wedding with the Holy One at Shavuot, the holiday of revelation. The Shekhinah has left Egypt with the Israelites and gone into freedom, but She requires time to prepare Herself before the great marriage of heaven and earth at Mount Sinai.11At Mount Sinai, the Shekhinah and Her people will come face to face. Lag B’Omer, the holiday marking the 33rd day of the Omer, represents a pause on this journey toward revelation, and is the gateway to the next season: summer.

Spring Equinox Prayer

Place four objects representing earth, water, air, and fire around you and recite the following verses from Ecclesiastes:

Earth: One generation goes and another comes, And the earth remains forever.

Fire: The sun rises and the sun sets
and returns to its place and shines there.

Air: Blowing to the south, turning northward,
Ever turning blows the wind.

Water: The rivers run to the sea, but the sea is never full, To the place from which they flow, the waters flow back again.

Mah ta’iri u’mah t’oreri (see Song of Songs 8:4)
You have awakened and aroused everything.




Shekhinah whose drum is time,
who moves the heavens
and turns the earth,
who draws worlds together
and breaks moons open,
who is light and darkness,
you have set this world on a tilt
so that we may dance with the sun,
knowing the cold deep thoughts of winter
and the bursting growth of spring,
knowing patience and balance.

May this planting time yield us a good harvest
Of blessing rather than curse
Of abundance rather than scarcity,
Of life rather than death.
May we consider carefully what seeds we plant
And nurture them to a good life in your presence.

May we know how to cleanse ourselves of what has stained us.
May the arks we build find their way to safe harbor.
May we be midwives to new redemption.

O you from whose womb come seeds and seas,
guide us to a new shore of sun-colored sand.
You are the tree of life;
we are your branches and your holy fruit.

Blessed are You, Holy One/Shekhinah, our divinity, Ruler of the universe, who has kept us in life, sustained, us, and helped us arrive at this time.

(Dedicate flowers, seeds, and/or cleaning objects for Pesach)

We give you only what is yours,
for we and all we have are yours.

(If it will be Shabbat this evening, light candles and say: Blessed are You, Holy One/Shekhinah, our divinity, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with your covenant-wishes, and asked us to light the Sabbath candles.)

May your light increase in us as it increases in the world.

Kein yehi ratzon.

If you wish, sing a song blessing the four angels/four directions:

Miyemini Michael
Umismoli Gavriel
Umilifanai Uriel
Umeacharai Refael
Ve’al roshi Shekhinah

On my right is Michael (angel of love, water, the south).
On my left is Gabriel (angel of strength, fire, the north).
Before me is Uriel (angel of balance, air, the east).
Behind me is Raphael (angel of healing, earth, the west).
And above my head is the Shekhinah.

—Jill Hammer

Other Paths


The spring equinox is celebrated by many cultures as a time of rebirth. In Greek culture, the spring equinox was the time Persephone arose from the underworld to return to her mother, Demeter, bringing the spring with her. The Iranian new year also falls near the spring equinox. Europeans celebrated March 21 in honor of Eostre or Ostara, the goddess of spring, often represented by a hare. The Christian holiday of Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus (though the English name for the holiday, Easter, refers to Eostre). Like Passover, these festivals celebrate the arising out of darkness toward new life.


Ideas for Celebration


One way to celebrate the first of Nisan is to make journeys to open fields or mountaintops to prepare ourselves for the spring festival season. I like to go out to see the signs of spring and make blessings over the new flowering trees, a traditional Jewish practice. A drum circle to celebrate the Israelites’ dancing at the Sea of Reeds is another way to bring in this joyful time. It is also a good custom from Jewish feminist practice to fill a Cup of Miriam (ritual object that represents Miriam’s well) with fresh water, and include it at the seder. Alternatively, put the cup in a special place on the first of Nisan, keeping it filled until the 21st of Nisan, the anniversary of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. I also use the first of Nisan to begin to clean my house for Passover, sweeping dirt and debris away, knowing that this cleaning is a spiritual process of preparing myself as a Tabernacle for the Divine presence.

Jill Hammer




[1] Babylonian Talmud, Rosh haShanah 2a. The other four new years are 1 Tishrei (the date of creation, directly opposite from 1 Nisan on the calendar), 15 Shevat (the new year for trees) and the first of Elul (the new year for animals). Back to [1]

[2] According to the commentator Rashi, the commandment “this month shall be to you the beginning of months” (Exodus 12:1) is the first commandment in the Torah. The baalei Tosafot (commentators on Rashi), claim that Nisan is associated with chesed, or abundant love. Later commentators call Nisan “the father of the year” because chesed is associated with the image of God as father, creator, and divine wisdom. Back to [2]

[3] Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 59b. Back to [3]

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Rosh haShanah 11a. Back to [4]

[5] Numbers 20:1. Back to [5]

[6] Adelman, Penina. Miriam’s Well: Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year (Biblio Press, 1986). Back to [6]

[7] Exodus 15:20, Micah 6:4. Back to [7]

[8] Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 9a, Bava Metzia 17a, Shabbat 35a; Song of Songs Rabbah 5:2. Back to [8]

[9] Redmond, Layne. When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm (Three Rivers Press, 1997). Back to [9]

[10] Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy (Beacon Press, 1991). Back to [10]

[11] Zohar II, 183a. There is no denying that this midrash represents a negative attitude toward menstruation, associating it with impurity and with the slavery of Egypt. Yet we can also read the “menses” of the Shekhinah as the Divine womb preparing for growth, just as the earth breaks up and becomes rich at the time of planting. Back to [11]

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