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 Shavuot, 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 3,318 years.

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

The Epidemic

An epidemic claimed the lives of 24,000 Jewish scholars...

During this period of time between Passover and Shavuot, 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.

In Judaism's usual style of viewing historical episodes as part of an ongoing moral tale, the Talmud comments that the underlying spiritual reason for the disaster was the students' disrespect for one another. 1For 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 signs, 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, 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

...there are three types of human beings: sheep, bulls and 'twins'...

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 exactly 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 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.

...I can encounter a far deeper part of my self – my divine self — by embracing the self of the 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.

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.

Children, Teens and Adults

These three categories, in essence, 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 "important" 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, hopefully 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.

[This essay is based on Shem Mishmuel (by Reb Shmuel of Sochotschov) Parashat Kedoshim and Likkutei Sichos (by the Lubavitcher Rebbe) vol. 21 Parashat Yitro; Copyright © ]