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Kavannah of Transformation

הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃ 

This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you.

While referring to the month of Nissan, this pasuk from Exodus is also the prooftext for the commandment to mark Rosh Hodesh—the new month—with ritual and blessing. Alongside the special Torah readings and liturgical additions, the new month is also to be marked with a lesser known practice: Kiddush Levana, translated as the Sanctification of the New Moon.

At a conference last summer for Jewish professionals and graduate students from across the denominational spectrum, I had the opportunity to partake in this ritual for the first time. Nearly eighty communal leaders—Orthodox and Reform, Conservative and Renewal, and everything in between and beyond—gathered outside the conference center to look at the newly-visible moon and recite the Biblical psalms, ancient berakhot, and kabbalistic texts that comprise this practice. Just earlier that day, we had concluded a week of intense—even at times volatile—study on the theme of gender; sessions on mysoginy and sexual violence, #metoo and clergy abuse, LGBTQ identity and feminism. Given our dramatically different backgrounds and religious orientations, these conversations were deeply challenging at times, often causing rifts and divides between colleagues and friends.

But in that very moment of gathering under the new moon, in the midst of the cacophony of melodies from our different backgrounds emerging from our throats, we were united in the collective power of our inherited tradition. Bavli Sanhedrin 42a teaches that to sanctify the new moon is akin to bringing in the shekhina; under the glowing moon, our ability to put aside our differences and challenges of the week felt truly like welcoming the divine.

As we enter into this time of introspection and teshuva, I think back to that evening over a year ago now, and the ways it profoundly changed me; remembering folks who came together even after their very values were questioned, their Jewish identity shaken, and their lived experiences looked over. If we could put all that aside for twenty minutes for the sake of the moon, I have renewed hope that we can continue to seek out ways to do this work of the world together.