“Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,
With the old Moon in her arms ;
And I fear, I fear, My Master dear !
We shall have a deadly storm.”
It was a fairly clear motzei Shabbat with a waxing moon peeking between the clouds which meant…kiddush levana! In truth, I had never participated in such a ceremony before, though I remember seeing men gathered outside batei knesset on Saturday evenings on my way back from long walks around Rehavia last year. I’d be rushing home to make havdalah and they’d be howling at the moon. At the time, I wanted no part of it.
But then today B invited me to participate in one of her kooky feminist rituals, a “reclamation” of kiddush l’vana, and I thought, what the heck? I’ll go once and call it a chavaya. I’m not sure what exactly she’s reclaiming, though apparently only men would do kiddush l’vana in the past. That in itself is surprising, since everything lunar is generally considered to be the province of women. If we can have Rosh Chodesh groups, shouldn’t we have kiddush l’vana groups as well? Furthermore, according to my Artscroll siddur, one who greets the moon is considered like one who greets the shechina — and B is just crazy about the shechina and the whole feminine aspect of God thing. So maybe that is what it was all about, at least for her.
When all of us had assembled in her backyard garden and located the wayward moon (“Wait, is that it?” “No, that’s an airplane”….), B began one of her breathy spiritual chants. Thank goodness this one was in Hebrew; I would have died if we had started singing a Debbie Friedman-esque “Mother moon, mother moon, you are with us, mother moon” or some such. I think we were singing the lines in El Adon about the creation of the m’orot, which, come to think of it, is a rather nice kavana. Anyway, we next recited a bunch of relevant tehilim, including #148 (halleluhu shemesh v’yareach) and #121 (esah einai). And then it was time to rise on our toes, “kadosh kadosh” style, and dance towards the moon. How does one dance towards the moon, you ask? Exactly.
This dancing part was accompanied by a lot of lines about the enemies that are pursuing us, e.g. “Just as I dance toward you but cannot touch you, so may none of my enemies be able to touch me.” B felt the need to change the word “enemies” to “internal demons,” though as usual, I preferred to remain faithful to the liturgy as written. Each of these verses was recited three times, as if it were an incantation: “Thrice the brind’d [ubiquitous Jerusalem] cat hath mewed.” I kept my eyes fixed on the moon above, and for a moment I thought that when I lowered them I’d be peering into a cauldron with frogs and lizards: “Double, double, toil and trouble…” We really did look like a bunch of weird sisters out there.
I suppose that if I were truly into it, I would have closed my eyes in holy dread, but instead I was too busy being amused by the bizarreness of it all. When I felt like I was about to start laughing, I tried to distract myself with sobering thoughts of Coleridge holding baby Hartley up to the window to see the icicles “quietly shining beneath the quiet moon.” “Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee” — was that his Birkat Hachodesh? And goodness, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much Coleridge there is in kiddush l’vana. Macbath captures the weirdness of it all, but “Dejection: An Ode” is a reminder that it is romantic, too, to peer skyward on a cloudy evening to find divinity in the heavens.
For lo! The New-moon winter-bright!
And overspread with phantom light,
With swimming phantom light o’erspread
But rimmed and circled by a silver thread.