Pesach is coming. Of course we know this, as we have been preparing our homes and our hearts for it. This Shabbat, we celebrate its imminent arrival with the new moon, Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Rosh Chodesh Nisan is important because it was the first new moon after our liberation from Egypt. In Exodus 12:2, the Israelites are commanded by God to regard Nisan as “the first month of the months of the year,” for in Nisan we began our journey as a nation.
In honor of the lunar foundation of the Jewish calendar, and cyclical nature of our spiritual lives, let’s take a new look at an old literary tradition – the Yiddish literary genre of the tkhine. Tkhines, popular in Central and Eastern Europe from the late Sixteenth Century to the Twentieth, were prayers written specifically for women to daven. Why were they specifically for women? For two main reasons. First, they were written in the vernacular – originally in Yiddish or translated into Yiddish — rather than the Hebrew of the rabbis, scholars, and study halls. Second, while many tkhines were prayers for weekdays, Sabbaths, and holidays, they also address women’s day to day needs and lifecycle events. And also, tkhines were written almost exclusively by women (except when men tried to write them under pseudonyms to make money, which many did).
Now, in recognition of the passionate integrity and moral courage the young people in our community and communities throughout the country have shown this week, below is an excerpt of a prayer for the new moon, from a bestseller of its time, Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women (edited and adapted into verse by Dinah Berland).
To the moon, you [God] spoke: Let it renew itself
And be a gleaming, wondrous sight
For the children of the earth,
That its thinning and renewing light
Might be a reflection of our own shifting, changing
To the young, the moon speaks
With muted yet mighty eloquence:
you who stand in the new moon of life,
Take my model as your teacher.
Just as my light increases from day to day
And I climb higher on my path, so may you increase
The light and strength of your spirit each day
And always strive to rise higher
Along the path of your convictions.
May Rosh Chodesh Nisan bring blessings for all of us.
Written for and presented at Shomrei Torah Synagogue in Los Angeles, California.