The Torah counts the cycle of months from Nissan, for Nissan is the month that we were born as a people, as a nation and as a higher order unity called Knesset Yisrael, the mystical body of Israel. Just as a cell that makes up an animal has a life and identity of its own, an equally significant truth about that cell is its contribution to the larger organism of which it is a part.

And so that cell has two I’s, two levels of self-awareness, an “I” that experiences itself as a self-contained unit, a single, independent entity with its own nucleus and DNA, etc.; and a second “I” that identifies with the higher order unity, the animal, of which it is a part. Similarly, we are both individuals, and cells in a higher order unity called Knesset Yisrael, the mystical body of Israel.

The month of Iyar brings us from birth to betrothal

Now this collective entity, the Jewish people, was conceived (as it were) with Abraham and Sarah as they floated down the fallopian tube with Isaac, and implanted in the dark womb of Egypt when Jacob came down with his 70 souls. There, they gestated for 210 years until, when they reached a total of 600,000 family units (600,000 root souls), they were born on the seventh day of Passover when they passed through the Red Sea, the spiritual equivalent to the birth canal.

Now the cycle of months, beginning with Nissan, defines a logical sequence of development. Moving through the year from Passover to Shavuot, Tishah B’Av, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and then to Purim is a relatively smooth progression that makes sense. Passover is our birth as a nation. Then in the 50 days that follow until Shavuot, we develop and mature, characteristic by characteristic, day by day, and Shavuot is our wedding—the marriage ceremony between G‑d and the Jewish people. Yet, as is always the case, there quickly follows a fall from innocence, a fall from grace.

We sin with the calf, and the spies, or with causeless hatred, or with other sins and our world shatters, our Temple shatters. That’s Tisha B’Av. Yet out of the ashes the phoenix rises. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we pick ourselves up from the muck, clean ourselves off, do our repentance, and in so doing, repair our relationship with G‑d. Yet something has changed, and it’s actually for the better. For we know that those who have truly worked on themselves and rectified themselves stand on a level that even the completely righteous can’t stand (Brochot 34b).

Each year we repeat this cycle, but what does that really mean? How do these vast historical processes play themselves out for us on a yearly cycle? What is actually being born for us on Passover each year? So the mystical writings teach that from the moment we are born, our soul contains all the wisdom and insights that we will ever absorb throughout the course of our life. Yet these “lights” are not yet integrated into our personality. They exist in potential but are not actually part of us yet.

The part of our soul that is not yet integrated is called makif, which means literally, hovering, because it hovers around us, waiting for our vessel to stretch to be able to hold and contain more of its lights. On Passover, some new increment of soul, some new chunk of consciousness, comes in and becomes slowly integrated through the course of the year. Eventually, it must be absorbed so deeply that our instinctive and reflexive way of relating to the world is now conditioned by its truth.

Each family tree is both a bloodline and a lineage of neuroses

And what does it mean to be born? It means that a soul comes into a body. So each year, on Passover, a new increment of our soul is born, in the sense that it now (for the first time) comes down into our body, and brings with it all the lights and insights and lessons that we will absorb this coming year. Now, if Passover marks the birth of this new chunk of soul, then the month of Iyar is its infancy. And, as every mother knows, that is a labor-intensive time; newborns and young children require nearly constant care and attention. And so here, now, in our yearly cycle, we have the daily commandment of counting the omer. Iyar is the only month in the year where every day has a special, time-bound commandment to perform. This newborn chunk of soul is receiving daily work on ourselves.

So in Iyar we embark upon that first leg of our journey. The month of Iyar links Passover to Shavuot, and so brings us from birth to betrothal.

Let’s look more closely at what’s happening. Every Hebrew month has a unique sense attributed to that month, and corresponds to a different part of the body. The special sense of this month is hirhur—thinking, ruminating. According to Rabbi Tsadok, it is a term that refers more to the thoughts of the heart than to the thoughts of the head. And the part of the body that corresponds to the month is the right kidney. These two associations go quite well together.

In the Kabbalistic system of correspondences, kidneys are the subconscious/instinctive root of emotion, as opposed to the heart area (Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferet—kindness, strength and harmony) that express the conscious emotions. The test of whether a characteristic is truly integrated into a person is when the spontaneous impulses arising from the kidneys are always and only aligned with it.

According to Kabbalah, the chain of generations, the link that joins parent to child is first and foremost a primal bond at the level of kidneys. Children inherit the parent’s instinctive, unrectified (and also rectified) roots of emotion. These are the raw materials—the psycho-spiritual inheritance—out of which our personality gets built. Each family tree is both a bloodline and a lineage of neuroses, which parents transmit to children metaphorically through their kidneys. The children then rectify whatever they can in the course of their lives and pass the baton on to their kids.

This is not only a spiritual metaphor. It also applies on the physiological level as well. First of all, the adrenal glands are attached to the kidneys and they produce and control the hormones that regulate our reproductive functions. And second, when Kabbalah refers to the kidneys, it is actually referring to the entire area of the body defined by the lower three sefirot called Netzach, Hod, Yesod—victory, splendor and foundation—which include not only the kidneys and adrenals, but also the ovaries, womb, testicles and genitals.

Children learn a little from what we say, and most from what we do

Thus, when Kabbalah refers to the kidneys as the link between generations, it is referring to the entire lower torso occupied by the kidneys along with the reproductive organs that produce the egg and sperm and hormones that will become the next generation. Every cell in a child’s body contains something of the physical material of its parents, and this genetic material that is the bridge between generations derives from the kidney area of the parents. So both the physical and psychological transmission from parent to child occurs at the levels of the kidneys and lower torso.

According to Kabbalah, the further something is from the head, the more unconscious it is. So these areas are the more unconscious realms of the soul. Just as the physical transmission of influence happens outside our conscious involvement, this is generally true for the psychological component as well. Both nature and nurture are generally unconscious. The actual mechanics of conception and reproduction are not under our conscious control. And similarly, for our psychological transmission, it seems clear that children learn a little from what we say, and most from what we do, who we are. They seem to have an incredible receptivity to the more subtle energetic realities we create around ourselves through our thoughts.

And so, we learn our lessons and try to become more conscious and do our rectifications and integrate them into our kidneys. We chip away at the vein of neurosis that is our family tree and hopefully transit a slightly more cleaned and healthy inheritance on to our children. That is why the greatest gift we can give to our parents is the progress we make in bringing rectification and consciousness to our lives. That’s what it means to carry on their work.

Now, as we’ve said, the sense associated with the month of Iyar is thinking, ruminating. This implies that our primary front of effort this month should focus on our flow of thoughts. That is the place for us to direct our efforts in Iyar. The idea is that our patterns of thought define our patterns of our life. And, as anyone who meditates knows quite well, there are different layers of thought happening simultaneously at all times. Some are superficial and some are very deep. We can learn a lot about ourselves from paying attention to our thoughts. In general that requires setting aside a period of time — 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes for just sitting and watching the flow of thoughts that pass through awareness. You will quickly learn about your own particular brand of neurosis through the habits of thought you unearth in this practice. And that’s just the first step.

Our patterns of thought define patterns of our life

The second step is called labeling, where as soon as you notice a thought, you identify its category, for example: judging, coveting, predicting the worst. It is here that the patterns begin to emerge . . . “Wow, I just had 15 judging thoughts in less than five minutes.” It’s shocking to discover all the self-defeating and spiritually unproductive things we say to ourselves in the course of a day.

Now for the third and final step. The idea is to cause “truth” to rule over the “thought.” Once you have spent some time watching and labeling your thoughts, and have identified the self-sabotaging patterns that are actively arising in the present, it becomes possible to make use of a technique that is called in chassidut yichudim. The idea is that every spiritually unproductive thought is based on a lie. Its power comes from concealing the untruth that lurks at its core. The practice of yichudim is a technique that exposes the lie by speaking the truth that is its undoing. The counter-truth serves as an infinitely potent antidote that dissolves the destructive thought at its root.

For example: Let us say one discovers a pattern of jealous thoughts: I want a husband like hers. I want a child like hers. I want a body like hers.

A possible counter statement might be: G‑d knows my life’s mission even better than I. He designed it, He wills it, and He is bound by an irrevocable covenant to assist its fulfillment from cradle to grave. Not a moment passes where He fails to provide the resources required for my next step in personal and spiritual growth. The blessings that I covet in other people’s lives would only be obstacles to my soul’s work. This moment is perfect. It has all that I need. I KNOW that this is true.

This technique, when properly employed, can dissolve deeply engrained patterns at their root. It is extremely potent and cost efficient. It takes minimal effort and yields bountiful results. And, it is the special work of this month.

So I want to bless us, as individuals and as a nation, that we be warm, wise and loving parents to the newborn-infant-souls that are everywhere around us (and within us). That we seize this opportunity to clean out the level of thoughts, thereby dissolving at least one of the self-defeating patterns of our lives. And that we, and all our brothers and sisters, should absorb the healing lights of this holy month. They should bring relief and recovery to all our ails, immediately. And the space created by all this cleansing should pull the lights of redemption into the world now!