Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5782
This is Kislev, the month of sleep, the month of darkness.
In the Kohenet Wheel of the Year, we are moving now from the West to the North. Those of you whose houseplants thrive better than mine know that a south-facing window is highly desirable because it gives plants the most light. The north-facing windows are darker, just as our year is darker as we move toward the winter solstice and the shortest day/longest night of the year.
We are between holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, are behind us, and only the minor holiday of Hanukkah is directly ahead. We are in the days of rain, including rain in its frozen forms, and the cloudy, gray days add to our darkness.
In addition to where we are in the yearly cycle, we are also at the darkest time of the month. The moon has completely waned to total darkness – some kabbalists name the day before Rosh Chodesh “Yom Kippur Katan,” a sort of mini-Day of Atonement, a day for fasting and prayers and repentance.
What’s this about, all this darkness coming right on the heels of the new year? Isn’t this supposed to be a time of new beginnings, of growth, of celebration? We so often misunderstand the darkness. It’s not a bad thing. The darkness of night makes deep, restorative sleep possible. The rich dark earth nourishes plant roots to grow deep and strong. The rains that pour out from dark clouds enable those same plants to grow tall and sturdy.
So we can see this time of year also as one of roots, of tradition, of honoring our ancestors; we can use the time for introspection, for growing individual faith, for strengthening all our spiritual muscles.
Nonetheless, like our houseplants, we thrive in the light. And so we gather each month to celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the day each month on which the first sliver of moonlight is seen. The celebration of Rosh Chodesh goes back in history for millenia, and it has always been a holiday associated with women. Women and the moon have always had a special affinity for each other. We have a physiology that is monthly, mirroring the monthly phases of the moon. Many also see parallels in the midrash of the sun and the moon; the moon is made secondary to the sun for no good reason, other than that there has to be a hierarchy. The moon is associated with water, as it draws the tides, and women, too, are linked with water through Miriam’s Well.
In ancient days, before atomic clocks and standardized calendars, before modern telecommunications and the Internet, when two witnesses were required to certify the new moon, the word was spread from hilltop to hilltop by lighting bonfires. See a bonfire, light a bonfire. Spread the word.
Women were the traditional firekeepers and hearth minders. Surely they were among those who lit bonfires. When we light candles on Rosh Chodesh, we are continuing the tradition of those women – bringing light, sharing news, tending our home fires, tending our souls.
beruchah at shekhinah, eloteinu ruach ha’olam,
asher kidshatnu bemitzvoteha vetzivatnu lehadlik ner shel Rosh Chodesh
Blessed are you, Shekhina, Eternal and Indwelling Spirit of all that is,
who blessed our mothers Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah.
We ask you to bless us as well
and draw us close to you through the lighting of Rosh Chodesh candles.
As our foremothers lit bonfires to announce the New Moon and dispel the darkness,
May we bring light to the darkness of the year and dispel any darkness that does not serve us.
To read more about the Wheel of the Year, see Jill Hammer’s book, The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons (Jewish Publication Society, 2006).