Spiral

October 9, 2005

Of course this Rosh Hashanah differs from every other. This year’s challah is a perfect snail-shell spiral; this year my oldest niece sat beside me in shul and sang every note of every prayer. Five years ago I read Mary Oliver under the turning trees. Ten years ago I served my housemates tsimmes and cornish hens in my grandmother’s memory. Five, ten, fifty years from now the holiday will be something else again.

But when my granddaughter places stones on my grave, marveling at the namesake she never knew, the new moon of Tishri will still be heralded with apples and honey, candles and wine. Repentance, prayer, and righteousness will still “avert the severity of the decree” and two Jews will still manifest three opinions on what “repentance,” “righteousness,” and “decree” mean. Every pomegranate seed will still bring blessing.

The spiral isn’t a circle, but neither is it a finite line. Change and continuity give each other meaning, like yin and yang, chesed and gevurah. They’re such skilled dance partners I can’t tell who’s leading and who’s doing all the steps backwards and in high heels. Revelation is constant; revelation is never the same.

The call of the shofar will reverberate through the spiralling horn of the galaxy long after earth-that-was is gone. Maybe we’ll migrate to planets we can’t now name, wandering writ large across heaven’s parchment. I like to think we’ll still stand before the cosmic throne, transparent before the mighty wind that breathes life into us and
distant nebulae alike, when the first new moons of autumn rise against those green or purple skies.


Author’s note: Chesed and gevurah are the divine qualities of lovingkindness and strength, considered by Jewish tradition to be complementary.

Written by Rachel Barenblat, of Velveteen Rabbi.

  1. R
    October 10, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    Very nice piece, i enjoyed it alot. From a non-practicing Jew who is sending her son to Hebrew School so he can celebrate and find the meaning in the holidays.

  2. October 10, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    You have a way of reminding us that the ancient faiths with their rituals, and symbols, their spiraling tradition, is a form of living poetry.

    I love the optimism of your last paragraph.

  3. October 10, 2005 at 3:06 pm

    Yes. A religious tradition is a thing like a city, or a language — you could say it’s just a conglomeration of things made by different people, but I don’t believe it New York *does* have a character, and so does English, and they only grow beautifully from the inside, when someone intuits — “you know, this is really more English than what we English-speakers currently say.” All these things can be deformed from the outside, but they only grow in a good way when someone who knows them and loves them nudges them toward what they really are.

  4. October 11, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    I love the image of the spiral bringing together change and continuity, and dancing with each other. Lovingkindness and strength being complementary. Thanks for this wonderful, generous piece.

  5. October 29, 2005 at 3:08 am

    i love the colors and textures of this piece, the spirals, and the coming together of earth and sky, past and present, ‘righteousness and repentance,’ and the span of generations. thank you for making me feel a part of your tradition for these moments.

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