11-1

It’s the first day of November, the eleventh month of the year. That simple fact is reflected on our smartphones and desktop computers. Perhaps you have a wall calendar with monthly pictures of your favorite breed of dog or cat, or a digital clock on your nightstand glowing out the time and date. Unless 11/1 is your birthday or your anniversary or some other lifecycle event, or if you get paid the first of every month, youre probably utterly indifferent to today’s date.

For our ancestors and for some Jews, up to this very day, a new month is a reason for celebration and prayer. It is always announced at the Shabbat before it arrives. A new month is greeted with open arms.  There are special prayers and rituals and a general sense of gratitude and joy when rosh hodesh comes.

Highlighting the new month has to do with so many things. For one, hearing it announced reminds us of what holidays are coming up. It puts us in the right  mood for the month.

There are deeper connections than that. At its most fundamental level, marking the beginning of every month is about establishing the rhythm of the Universe. It’s the cycle of Jewish time, orbiting around the transcendent presence of God. The beginning of every month coincides with the new moon.

The cycles of Jewish time appear in all spheres of our lives. For centuries, Jewish women have connected the cycle of their bodies with the lunar cycle. Some of the most soulful and innovative Jewish observances come out of women celebrating rosh hodesh. Because women were creating it in a patriarchal framework, these rituals developed quietly, and were kept through oral tradition. That’s been changing over the last 50 years. There are now many groups of women actively connecting for rosh hodesh.

Another significant explanation for marking the new month is that, to quote Steve Miller, “Time keeps on slippin’ into the future.” To say a prayer praising God for this new month reminds us to be grateful for the unspeakable beauty of the world in which we live.

“But”, you may ask, “What about the stuff that drives us crazy, acts of depredation and violence, of hunger and disease?” Yes, that’s there too. And for that reason we are called upon to have faith, and to hope.

We mark a new month according to the arrival of the new moon. The odd thing is that a new moon is essentially not visible.  There are several reasons why it is impossible for us to see the New Moon in the sky. The alignment of the Sun, the Moon, and Earth, leaves the side of the Moon that faces Earth in complete darkness. Technically, this is called a conjunction or Syzygy in the Sun-Earth-Moon system. In addition, the New Moon rises and sets around the same time as the Sun, bringing it too close to the Sun’s glare to be seen with the naked eye.

It’s all about having faith that the new moon is there, even when we can’t see it. We could spend our time in desperation and anxiety, waiting for the first sliver of the waxing moon. Or we just keep going, having faith in the cycle of the Universe, in the rhythm of the saints.

There’s a beautiful tradition called birkat hachodesh: blessing the new month. It is recited outside at the advent of the new month/new moon. It’s not done so much anymore, which is a shame. Because on the night of a new moon, the sky is so dark, yet so filled with stars. It reminds us just how tiny we are – and that we are so lucky, in this moment, to be alive, that everything will ultimately be alright as we are embraced by the Holy One, and by each other.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who by sacred speech created the heavens, and by the breath of Your mouth all of the stars and the planets. You set for them a law and a time, that they should not deviate from their task. And they are joyous and glad to perform the will of their Owner; they are workers of truth whose work is truth. And to the moon You said that it should renew itself as a crown of beauty for those God carried from the womb, as they are destined to be renewed like it, and to praise their realms. Blessed are You God, who renews the months.

There is a cosmic harmony. We live in a Universe of such transcendence. We live: with hope. Keep the faith.

[I am aware of the fact that the tradition of celebrating rosh hodesh is around the Jewish calendar – we welcomed the month of Heshvan 4 days ago. But don’t let that stop you. Put on your coat tonight, walk outside, take a deep breath and look at the sky: find the waxing moon. And say thank you.]

Shabbat Shalom

rebhayim

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