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How to Create Peace Between Cultures

The Sheep, the Bull and the Twins

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • May 2, 2011
  • |
  • 28 Nisan 5771
  • Comment

Class Summary:

How to Create Peace between Cultures - The Sheep, the Bull and the Twins. This class explores the spiritual meaning behind the zodiac of the the first three Jewish months.

In loving memory of Sara Deitsch bas Mordechai, by her daughter Rochel Leah Sandman  

Master of the Home

Once, a salesman approached a home and heard a big commotion inside. When the door was opened by a man, the salesman asked if he could speak to the master of the home.

"Well, sir," came the reply, "you will have to wait around a bit; we are deciding just that right at this moment."

The Trio

It is well known that the first three months of the Jewish calendar -- Nissan, Iyar and Sivan (usually around April, May and June) -- constitute a trio. The first month commemorates the birth of an independent and free Jewish nation. Then, on the second day of Passover, we begin a count of 49 days that stretches through the end of the first month, the entire 29 days of the second month and the beginning of the third month. The 50th day is celebrated as the holiday of Shavuos, the day when the newly born Jewish nation received the Torah, and the Jewish people and G-d entered into a covenant that still lasts after 3,331 years.

What is the significance of this trio in the calendar and history of Judaism?

The Epidemic

During this period of time between Passover and Shavuos, we also commemorate a devastating tragedy. An epidemic claimed the lives of 24,000 Jewish scholars who were students of the great Talmudic sage, Rabbi Akiba (1).

In Judaism's usual style of viewing historical episodes as part of an ongoing moral tale, the Talmud (1) comments that the underlying spiritual reason for the disaster was the students' disrespect for one another. For this reason, the days of the counting are seen as a time of mourning; we don't perform weddings or engage in other festive activities during this time.

Here again, one wonders if this strife between the sages was also connected, in some way, to this trio of months.

The Zodiac

The zodiac, the 12 formations of stars corresponding to the 12 months of the year, are an important theme in the writings of the Midrash and the Kabbalah. These are their names: Aries, the ram; Taurus, the bull; Gemini, the twins; Cancer, the crab; Leo, the lion; Virgo, the maiden; Libra, the scales; Scorpio, the scorpion; Sagittarius, the archer; Capricorn, the goat; and Aquarius, the water bearer. The 12th and last month is associated with Pisces, the fishes.

A complete segment of one of the earliest Kabbalistic texts, the Book of Formation (Sefer Yetzirah), is dedicated to highlighting the mystical meaning behind these parallels. In this essay, we will touch upon one of the numerous symbolisms behind the zodiac of Aries, Taurus and Gemini, which correspond to the first three months of the Jewish calendar, Nissan, Iyar and Sivan.

Hammers and Nails

Generally speaking, there are three types of human beings: sheep, bulls and twins. As a result, we usually encounter three forms of relationships among humans.

Sheep are meek, timid, docile and submissive. When you call somebody a sheep, that is the image you are attempting to conjure. Bulls, on the other hand, are resistant, individualistic and aggressive. When we define somebody as a "bully," we think of him as anything but tame and subservient.

Bulls are leaders; sheep are followers. Some people would rather be hammers; others have taken on the role of nails.

Who's the Boss?

As is usual the case, marriage can serve as a relevant example. Marriages usually come in one of two varieties: the singular, or Aries, marriage, and the twosome, or Taurus, marriage.

In the singular marriage, one individual is utterly consumed by the dominant other. The wife or the husband turns into the docile and gentle "sheep," allowing him or herself to be swallowed by the other partner's ego, identity and whims.

In their intense craving to assuage the demands and psychological needs of their partner, we often encounter the phenomenon of a woman or man allowing a piece of themselves to die inside, forfeiting their individual identity and spirit. In such a marriage there is only one single person -- the other has ceased to be an autonomous and distinct human being, owning her or his personal dignity.

Then there is the twosome marriage, or the bull-like marriage. In this scenario, both parties refuse to give up anything of their individual patterns, habits and desires. Here we encounter the Taurus marriage, in which both the husband and the wife are so full of their own presence all the time that they cannot compromise their identities for the sake of the greater whole.

This generates strife and turmoil, as each attempts to bully the other to win the competition. Like good and healthy bulls, both parties are well aware of how to gore, inflicting wounds on the other. This is reality of a twosome marriage -- two individuals who never really learn to integrate their lives.

In Jewish mysticism, the numbers one and two represent these two conflicting traits. In the sheep model, there is only one person, for the other one has become nullified; in the bull model there are two distinct humans competing over the same space. That is the deeper significance behind the Aries and Taurus corresponding to months one and two of the Jewish calendar.

The Threesome Marriage

Neither of the above marriage patterns works very well. Judaism's perspective of marriage is the threesome marriage, or the Gemini model of marriage. That's why G-d chose to marry the Jewish people, as it were, during the third month, as He wished to give us a model for our own marriages and relationships.

Gemini, twins, are a unique phenomenon. When I look at my twin, I am gazing at somebody who is a distinct individual, independent of me. Yet, on the other hand, when I gaze at him, I encounter (a replica of) myself.

This is the paradox and beauty of twin-hood: I discover myself in the face of the other.

And this is the Torah vision of marriage -- where oneness is not achieved by the obliteration of the weaker partner, nor are the two partners in conflict with each other. Rather, it is the recognition of two individuals that the otherness of their spouse is not a reason for discomfort or annoyance, but rather an opportunity for each of them to grow beyond their egos and touch the truth to be found in the human other.

It stems from the understanding that I can encounter a far deeper part of my self – my divine self -- by embracing the self of the other.

Marriage, in the Jewish understanding, is the discovery that to find the G-d within my individuality, I must connect to the G-d within your individuality. Because all of us have a little piece of G-d, and none of us have it all; only together can we recreate the complete presence of G-d in our world (2).

Thus, a true marriage houses not a single, all-negating being nor two dichotomized beings, but rather a threesome - a third element, the element of spirituality, within whose context two distinct beings translate into a harmonious whole.

How to Create World-Peace?

This approach is the secret to create genuine peace between nations, cultures, tribes and civilizations. Differences between people are not a reason for animosity and conflict; on the contrary, through these very differences each of us is given the opportunity to expand our own horizons and discover sparks of truths we lack within ourselves. You may not be in my image, but you are still in G-d’s image; I may not be in your image, but I am still in G-d’s image.

There are absolute universal standards of morality and ethics that bind us all. We cannot tolerate behavior which undermines the life of innocent people. But within that framework, authentic religion must welcome, not fear, diversity and individualistic expression. When you truly cultivate a relationship with G-d, you know that in the presence of otherness, you can encounter a fragment of truth that you could never access within your own framework. As in the model of twins, you will encounter the depth of your own image in otherness.

Children, Teens and Adults

These three categories – the sheep, the bull and the twins -- can be applied to the development of each person's life.

When you are a child, you are like a sheep. You are dependent and subservient to the will and the love of your parents and family. This is the "first era" of life, equivalent to the first month of the calendar, when the Jewish people emerged as a newly born infant nation.

Then you assume the role of teen-ager, when it becomes a "mitzvah" to rebel against your parents in order to establish your personal identity beyond your mother's worrying and your father's expecting. "When will you stop controlling every aspect of my life?" is the usual lament of the healthy teen-ager. “Stop telling me whom to hang out with and when to come home.”

This is the second era of life, symbolized in the second month of the Jewish calendar, when we metamorphose from sheep to bull. That is why the friction and strife between the students of Rabbi Akiba reached its peak during this month. As individuality blossoms, the potential for disrespect and animosity grows stronger.

The teen years, though important for self-development, need to pave the way for the third era of life, symbolized by the third month in the calendar, when we discover the art of twin-hood.

This is the era of marriage, when we learn how to cherish our personal individual gifts while honoring the dignity of difference (2).

1) Talmud Yevamos 62b. See Sulchan Aruch Harav Orach Chaim section 489 as to the exact time of this tragedy.
2) This essay is based on Shem Mishmuel (by Reb Shmuel of Sochotschov) Parshas Kedoshim and Likkutei Sichos (by the Lubavitcher Rebbe) vol. 21 Parshas Yisro.


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  • MRO

    Meir R. Ober -5 years ago

    Peace Is Not What It Seems

    My late and great Rabbi noted many times that historically when the nations and non-Jews of a nation have peace, then they formulate a bond of peace between them and then attack the Jews.  Therefore, peace between nations is not peace for us.  Also, peace and love between people in this country has created an atmosphere of assimilation with 75% of Jewish college students intermarrying.  What religious Jews have to learn is good middos, proper driving habbits and general safety rules (never leave lit candles on Sabbath and Holidays/Chanuka unattended), not talking in hallways and not speaking loudly in the street (especially at night), since Practical Torah is the best Torah and is a prerequsite for being a loyal Torah Jew in the first place.

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • May 2, 2011
  • |
  • 28 Nisan 5771
  • |
  • Comment

In loving memory of Sara Deitsch bas Mordechai, by her daughter Rochel Leah Sandman  

Class Summary:

How to Create Peace between Cultures - The Sheep, the Bull and the Twins. This class explores the spiritual meaning behind the zodiac of the the first three Jewish months.

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