Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Water Rituals

Kos Miriam  sketch by Susan Armington
3/17/2015  Lab 2.0  by Susan Weinberg

What is ritual and why do we do it?

Thus started our latest session of the Artists' Lab led by Rani Halpern and Alison Morse.

It adds structure we replied. It brings things to mind, presents a physical way to tap spirituality. It brings meaning and order to our lives. Ritual marks time, defines our movement from the ordinary to the sacred. It connects us to prior generations, links us to people across the world.

But it can divide too we were reminded.

So what are Jewish rituals that involve water?

Washing hands

Salt water at the Seder

The mikvah

Tashlich-casting our sins on the water at Rosh Hashanah

Tarhara-ritual washing of the dead

Alison led us in a discussion of Tashlich where we cast off the past and start anew at the Jewish New Year. The ritual involves tossing bread in the water to represent our sins. Ideally we go to a river with fish representing that we are caught in a net of divine judgment. Fish have eyes that are always open representing God's eyes always upon us. Sin, like the waters, will move on thus creating a separation, a rupture between past and future.

Alison shared a powerful poem by Peter Cole titled The Song of the Shattering Vessels that speaks to rupture, a theme throughout our discussion.

Building on that theme Rani shared a poem with us from the blog of Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi Blog. The poem titled Firmament/Tearing explores a medieval Midrash based on Genesis 1:6-7. While the passage in Genesis speaks of God dividing the water between sky and earth, the Midrash tells of all the waters ascending and refusing to descend. God extended his finger and tore the waters in half forcing half to descend. Two words come into play, Keri'a which means "tear" and Raki'a which means "expanse". Each is an anagram of the other. The Midrash says "God said, let there be an expanse (Raki'a)--do not read expanse, but "tear" (Keri'a)".

This passage presents an analogy between human birth and God's creation. Each involves a tear in the waters to allow space for independent life.

Keri'a is in fact a ritual associated with death. At one time a Jew in mourning would tear their clothing. Now we receive a krea ribbon which we tear. We enter life with a tear and similarly we leave it with a tear.

Rani referenced the Jewish folklore about how the baby in utero can see everything before and to come. A touch by an angel at birth causes the child to forget and creates that indentation above our lips. Thus something is given up for something that is coming.

As a group of artists we recognized the destructive part of the creative act. Disruption is part of the process of creation.

We turned our attention to Miriam's Well. Miriam is the only female figure in the Torah who is not known as someone's wife or mother. When the Israelites left Egypt, God created a well that traveled with them for 40 years. Water went out from the well to the twelve tribes. It was known as Miriam's well and dried up upon her death. At that point Moses struck the rock for water.

A new ritual has begun to develop at Passover around the idea of Miriam's Well. The Kos Miriam, cup of Miriam, is filled with water as a symbol of Miriam's Well. It represents spirituality, nurturing and healing. While not created as a feminist symbol, some have interpreted it to represent the many untold women of the Torah.

We talked of where in the Seder we thought this ritual belonged. Suggestions included using it to fill water glasses and keeping a little bit within it or alternatively having each person pour some water into it.

We then each experimented with creating on paper a Miriam's cup for use at the Seder.

Alison and Rani left us with the following question to contemplate:

What kind of freedom might you want to help bring to others and/or yourself in honor of Passover? What might you have to leave behind, give up, tear or break away from, in order to help create that freedom?

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