Tonight is the Jewish New Year. We were supposed to celebrate with my family, but since E started daycare last month, there has been about one illness per week and I just couldn’t face packing, traveling, unpacking, packing, returning, and unpacking in the space of several days. It’s work enough just keeping everyone hydrated these days.
Instead, we bought a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and lit Ikea tea candles. Instead of wine, we blessed a bottle of Beck’s. Instead of challah, we blessed the heel of a loaf of multigrain bread. I was sad not to be with my family, but this version of the holiday was somehow fitting for our current life. E was able to eat all three of the foods in our meal. For some reason, this new fact of her culinary competence delights me every time. I love taking the food right off my plate, cutting it into tiny pieces, and watching her feed it to herself. It may sound odd, but I find it more satisfying than breastfeeding, perhaps because I am in no way anxious about it. What’s mine is hers, no nipple cream required! After dinner, while C put her to bed, I swept and mopped our dining room floor (not as common an occurrence in our household as it should be).
Jews count the years from the creation of the world, from “molad tohu,” or birth from nothing. Apparently some rabbis calculated backwards from the destruction of the Second Temple using the record of successive generations and came up with Monday, October 7, 3761 B.C.E. as the first moment ever. So now it’s 5773. Part of me thinks this is totally ludicrous and part of me is attracted to the ballsy exactness of it. I love that religion continues to stand its ground in the face of overwhelming evidence favoring other explanatory models. Well, I love it minus the bigotry, violence, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and confusingly hypocritical social policy that seem to go along with it. Basically, I just want there to be space in the world for mystery and for that which cannot be articulated. But religion is doggedly specific in its ideology and demands, and thus it’s Ikea tea candles and Beck’s for me!
But back to the first first:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the Earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.”
I love the existential and linguistic bravery of these lines. Sure, it’s impossible for there to be something before the first thing, but language forces us to imagine just that. The book could have begun with that first line “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and gone straight to the third line “And god said, “Let there be light” (the first speech act! I can’t get enough!) but instead the author wants to tell us what there was before anything was. The second line has always slayed me, from a poetics perspective: And the Earth was unformed and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. In the original Hebrew, there are internal rhymes, alliterations, a cadence that suggests both howling wind and stasis. It’s good stuff. The face of the deep: who has not seen that unseeable face? It’s the kind of language that can be spoken a billion, a trillion times and still remain fresh.
Molad tohu has new meaning for me this year, having been witness to the growth of E from a sub-micron in my darkest insensate recesses to a completely extant being who got tiny broccoli stalks stuck in her eyebrows from playing peek-a-boo during dinner. I have studied every step in the biological process that contributes to this remarkable transformation and yet it retains the quality of total mystery. The science of it does not negate the miracle of it. The science of it IS the miracle of it, and yet, for me, the miracle of it extends beyond the science into the realm of that which cannot be named, that which is unformed and void.
All of which is to say: Happy 5773, that is also 2012 years since the birth of Christ, plus or minus, that is also 13+ billion years since the birth of the universe, that is also a completely subjective experience that each of us is having beginning when we are born and ending when we die. Pass the apples and honey!
May the year be a sweet one.