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September 30, 2007

“Morning Star,” by Rachel Barenblat

The alarm at 5am is obnoxiously loud, breaking the stillness of night, and it’s all I can do not to curse as I fumble for it in the dark of my unfamiliar room. My heart is racing by the time I manage to silence it.

I shower, murmuring the blessing for God Who revives the dead, and then I walk slowly through the retreat center, stopping every few feet to tip my head back and gawk at the stars.

As people arrive at the gazebo, Rabbi Jill Hammer starts us singing “Let the way of the heart shine through.” We don’t all know the song, and our voices are shaky. Slowly they gain strength.

According to Jewish tradition, Adam and Eve were the first to notice and mark the solstices and equinoxes. They saw the sun slowly disappearing, and feared the world was ending. But when it became clear that it was not, they said, “ah — this is the way of the world,” and rejoiced. The autumn equinox is our chance to celebrate the shift toward darkness, into the dream-time. In the coming days we’ll read the opening portion of the Torah, cycling back to the start of our narrative again. This is the season to hear our oldest stories.

The chant we sing as we walk outside names all of us as holy. Holy is the darkness and holy is the light. The darkness is palpable; the air feels as thick as water. We kneel and place our foreheads on the dewy grass, touching the earth who sustains us, who spins and orbits, whose gravity holds us close. My feet are wet and cold, and my knees, and my face. My fingers tangle in the earth’s wet hair.

We light a pair of braided candles, flashes of light in the darkness. One of them refuses to ignite, and as someone struggles with the lighter we sing about earth and heavens, fire and water. As the sky begins to lighten and the stars to vanish, a long shofar blast rings out over the lake, echoing across the mountains. The moment of equinox, sun crossing the equator on the day when light and dark are perfectly balanced.

Pomegranates, Reb Jill says in the dark dusk, are ripe now in the land of Israel. We eat them on Rosh Hashanah, wishing each other that our creativity and our blessings be as plentiful as their seeds. Of course, the pomegranate is also the fruit from which Persephone ate when she descended into the dark mysteries of the underworld. And how do we know when one is ripe? Because when it is ready to be eaten, it bursts. We are standing around in the darkness waiting for something to burst. I almost giggle.

We make havdalah, a ritual of separation between one thing and the next. We bless the sweet spice of rosepetals, the fire of our candles, and the very work of creation. One by one we process beneath the prayer shawl held aloft, like a wedding canopy: our border into autumn. We blow out the candles, and I realize we can see each others’ faces now without the flame. The colors of the world are returning — our tradeoff for losing access to the night stars.

One last shofar blast and we are done. We hug and thank one another. People walk away in clusters, talking, heading for cups of coffee or morning meditation. As I sit silently and watch the sky begin to pink, a flock of wild Canada geese takes flight, their calliope chorus of honks like a dozen shofarot ringing out into the pregnant air of dawn.

by Rachel Barenblat

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  1. October 2, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you!

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