Hope everyone had a great week. I’m home from Israel and I realized I’m not a great traveller so I won’t dwell on the passive-aggressive woman sitting next to me on the flight home – it wasn’t pretty.
I had an interesting Shabbat in Jerusalem though. I went to the Shira Hadasha minyan, which is an orthodox egalitarian service. A few things caught me by surprise. In Israel the Cohanim bless the congregation every Shabbat. They stand covered entirely with their Talit (looks a bit spooky). Under the Talit their arms are raised and their fingers form the letter ‘shin’ in Hebrew. The power of the minyan is said to draw the energy of the Shechinah through their fingers and onto the congregation. It is one of the most mystically powerful moments in Judaism.
Because it is so holy, tradition tells us not to look directly at a Cohen when being blessed. But at Shira Hadasha, for the first time in my life, there was a Cohen standing in front of the woman’s section covered in a Talit chanting the blessing. I didn’t know if it was a man or a woman and I had never had anyone stand in front of me doing this. Wanting to blend, I held the Siddur up to my face to cover my eyes – but I had to know. So…I slowly moved the Siddur away from one eye and quickly glanced at the person enveloped in the Talit. My eye moved to the feet where I clearly saw the hem of a dress. It was a woman. I heard her voice and watched her sway. Instantly, without my knowing, this woman led me to a moment of holiness. She was so close to me, she sounded like me. She was my threshold.
I thought about the parshah that Shabbat, Chukat, which is the portion we read this coming Shabbat outside of Israel. This is the parshah when Miriam dies and Israel has no water. God tells Moses to gather the people and speak to a rock to bring water from it. Moses, angered by the mob, hits the rock instead and as a result is told he will never enter the land of Israel. It is one of the most frustrating moments in Torah and as much as Moses will plead with God to enter the land, it will never be.
I’m struck by the fact that Moses’ fate is set so close after Miriam dies. I’m struck by the fact that his pronouncement of death occurs through an interaction with water – these things cannot be coincidental. Miriam’s actions as Moses’ older sister was to protect him. In fact, it is she who stood by the Nile and watched him as he floated toward Pharaoh’s daughter. It was she who protected him from the waters that were killing all the baby boys of Egypt. She is his guardian who kept the dangerous waters at bay. She changed his destiny and as long as she is alive he is safe. As soon as she dies, his original destiny returns and water will now be the cause of his death.
We owe everything to Miriam because without her there is no Moses. She creates the window of time within which Moses will live his life.
I thought of a pluralistic minyan I’m working on in Toronto. Some of the decisions about parts of the minyan are not my personal preference and I was uncomfortable. I struggled with the question of creating an expression of holiness that might not fit the nuances of my own expressions. But I think of these two women, one from the ancient world and one from the modern world. They both show me that at times our choices move beyond ourselves and build the doorway for someone else.
Thank you Cohen who stood so close and blessed me.
Thank you Miriam.