As we enter parshat Re’eh, Moses reminds us of God’s words, as we prepare to cross into Israel. “I set before you blessing and curse — blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God … and curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path.”
This week, on Rosh Chodesh Elul [the first of the Hebrew month of Elul], we will cross another threshold into a time of repentance and return.
Last month on Rosh Chodesh Av, women wearing kippot, tallitot and tefillin prayed at the Western Wall, as they have each Rosh Chodesh for almost 25 years. The Women of the Wall have a mission “to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”
In response, another group, the Women for the Wall, organized thousands of women to pray there. Ronit Peskin, who co-founded the organization in April, writes that the Women for the Wall want “to keep the Kotel a place of unity and a place respectful to thousands of years of tradition … and to give a voice to the majority of regular women who feel this way.”
Many chose to pray at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Av. Some chose not to pray but to curse. They chose to curse, rather than to bless. A small group of haredi men, angry with women who were wearing tallitot, tefillin and kippot, turned away from God’s path. These young men and boys screamed, blew whistles and yelled, “Nazis!” Some threw eggs.
Every Rosh Chodesh offers the opportunity of renewal, but Rosh Chodesh Elul opens the gate to teshuvah, to return. We learn about return from our female ancestors.
Let us imagine we are at Sinai:
The men stand at Sinai. Forty days have passed. “It is dark,” the men say. “We see only the moon, the sand and each other. We are waiting, but Moses will not come. God has forgotten us.”
The women come together, creating a circle. “It is dark,” the women say. “We see only the moon, the sand and each other. But we are listening, and Moses will come. God is here.”
Each man makes a choice.
Some push Aaron: “Build us a god.”
Some bully the women: “Give us your gold.”
Some gain courage from the women: “Teach us to trust.”
The women respond, “A god is not built from fear and gold. Turn to each other. Return to God. You will be blessed.”
Because they choose not to create an idol, God rewards them with the Rosh Chodesh holiday.
Now, Rosh Chodesh Elul is upon us. Imagine…
It is Tuesday morning. We stand before the Kotel. We pray quietly.
We daven loudly. We wear black hats. We wear sheitels. We wear long skirts. We wear kippot and tallitot. We are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist. We are haredim and chassidim. We are nondenominational. We are post-denominational. We are joyful. We are angry. We are anxious. We are hopeful.
Our people stand at a threshold. What will we do? Each woman and each man will choose.
“Return to each other,” our ancestors say. “Turn to God. You will be blessed.”
Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff is a Jewish storyteller, educator and coach.